What is insomnia?
Insomnia is not a simple condition but a complicated one. If you have been having trouble sleeping, you might have insomnia. Insomnia is trouble falling or staying asleep, leading to low energy, irritability, tiredness, and mood or cognitive disturbances during the day. It might affect the performance of adults at work or children at school. Insomnia is a silent condition that might pass unnoticed but profoundly disrupts an individual's life.
We can classify insomnia according to its duration. Acute insomnia is when you suddenly can't sleep because of an event that happened or is going to happen. For example, you might have an exam tomorrow, or you think today's job interview went wrong. This transient form of insomnia usually resolves on its own and without any particular treatment. Chronic insomnia is when you can't sleep at least three times per week for the last three months. Its aetiology is more complicated than the acute one. The trigger for your chronic insomnia might be something that happens to you, such as a medical or mental illness, or an exogenous factor such as medication, job shifts, or changes in your environment.
A long-term pattern of insufficient sleep might be in the form of onset, maintenance, or early-morning insomnia. In this article, we will discuss the essential information regarding insomnia, and ways to fight it or improve it, such as using weighted blankets or making some lifestyle changes. Sometimes, insomnia might need treatment with drugs. Whatever the cause of insomnia, you can always make individual steps in your daily life to improve it.
How common is insomnia?
Insomnia is more common than we thought. Only in the UK, an estimated 16 million adults suffer from insufficient sleep. In other words, one out of three people have insomnia. Also, about 23% sleep less than five hours per night, and an estimated 67% reported a disrupted sleep. Almost half of the adult population of the UK does not get the right amount of sleep. The two most sleepless cities in the UK are Cardiff and Sheffield, with 37% and 36% of adults affected by insomnia, respectively.
Although the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night, adults in the UK sleep for an average of six hours. Women are more likely to say they get less sleep than they need than men, as they sleep an hour less on average. Surprisingly, about 13% of adults with insomnia take a tablet to sleep, while another 13% uses alcohol. The problem with insomnia is that people do not talk about it unless someone asks them.
What causes insomnia?
Insomnia can be the result of many medical or non-medical conditions. Mental illnesses, unhealthy sleep habits, or certain exogenous factors can lead to insomnia. Current research suggests that insomnia is the result of your brain's dysfunction regarding the balance between sleep and wake cycles. When we are awake, our sleep cycle switches off. Insomnia could be the result of either a weak sleep cycle or a difficult-to-switch-off wake cycle. However, the most important thing is to understand and identify what causes your insomnia.
Various medical conditions may lead to insomnia directly, or indirectly through symptoms that produce discomfort during the night. The following are some of the most well-established medical causes of insomnia:
- Nasal allergies
- Sinus allergies
- Reflux disease
- Parkinson's disease
- Chronic pain or low back pain
Sometimes, insomnia is the result of drugs' side effects. For example, many medications for hypertension, birth control, or thyroid disease cause insomnia. Also, sleep disorders are quite frequent causes of insomnia. Restless leg syndrome (RLS) and sleep apnoea syndrome are two examples. Restless leg syndrome is a neurological condition in which people have an urge to move their legs. Sleep apnoea syndrome is due to partial or complete obstruction of the airways. As a result, people with the condition may wake up due to breathlessness.
Some mental causes of insomnia are depression and anxiety. Most of the time, insomnia is a symptom of both diseases. However, it presents differently in each case. For example, in depression, people present with late-onset insomnia, whereas in anxiety with early-onset or maintenance. Symptoms and signs of anxiety and depression may interact with insomnia, worsening even more the general symptomatology of both conditions. Depression symptoms that may lead to insomnia are low energy, feelings of sadness, irritability, feelings of hopelessness, and loss of motivation. Anxiety symptoms and signs that may lead to insomnia are muscle tension, overthinking past events, unjustified worrying, and irritability.
Your lifestyle is a very critical factor regarding your sleep and wake cycles. Some people adopt unhealthy sleep habits that disturb the circadian rhythm or make secondary insomnia even worse than it was before. The following are some of the most well-known behaviours that disturb sleep and may lead to insomnia:
- You drink too much coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant that may make it hard for you to sleep. Too much coffee during the day may lead to insomnia during the night.
- You eat heavy meals before you sleep. Eating large quantities of food before you sleep might make it hard during the night, as your body is trying to metabolise it.
- You drink alcohol. Alcohol might make it easier to sleep but harder to maintain your sleep cycle.
- You smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant that may prevent you from sleeping, especially if you smoke before sleeping.
- You take naps during the day. If you frequently rest during the day, you might not feel tired enough during the night, causing you insomnia.
- You are a shift worker. Working a late or early shift, or frequently changing shifts might disrupt your wake-sleep cycle.
- You become older. Aging might lead to insomnia due to various factors, such as chronic pain, less physical activity during the day, or side effects of medication.
- You use electronic devices before you sleep. Being on your phone or in front of your laptop, or TV before you sleep, might make it hard for you to fall asleep.
Symptoms and signs of insomnia
By definition, insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. As a result, individuals wake up during the night or too early. Individuals that cannot get a sufficient amount of sleep, usually wake up tired and with low amounts of energy. They often experience daytime sleepiness and irritability. Insomnia might also trigger secondary depression or anxiety. Also, people who experience insomnia find it difficult to concentrate during the day. Therefore, they may face cognitive disturbances, such as memory problems or difficulties focusing. The attention span shortens, making people with insomnia prone to accidents or errors. Finally, a characteristic of people with insomnia is having constant worries about their sleep. Adults may notice a decreased performance at work, while children and adolescents may experience diminished school performance. In short, the following are the most common symptoms and signs of insomnia:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep
- Waking up too early or in the middle of the night
- Feeling tired or out of energy during the day
- Having difficulties focusing or remembering things
- Being anxious about sleep in general
What are the consequences of insomnia?
Insomnia might lead to chronic complications if not managed efficiently. Lack of sleep may cause metabolic disturbances or even developmental delays in children. Individuals with insomnia generally report having a lower quality of life and experiencing both mental and physical consequences. Can it make you sick?
Scientists suggest that most probably it can. Insomnia affects your immune system making you weaker against potential infection or recovery from it. The reason why this happens is that during sleep, we produce some proteins called cytokines. These compounds help you prevent or fight infections. When you don't get sufficient sleep, you produce fewer cytokines. On top of that, lack of sleep may lead to the production of fewer antibodies. Interestingly, long-term insomnia raises your chances of developing many metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Insomnia increases your risk for medical and psychological conditions.
Insomnia might increase your risk for certain conditions, such as stroke, asthma attacks, or seizures. As mentioned previously, long-term, untreated insomnia may weaken the immune system and raise the likelihood of presenting with obesity, diabetes, or heart problems in the future. Besides, lack of sleep might increase the risk of mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or confusion.
Insufficient amounts of sleep make people more prone to car accidents. Also, they generally have a decreased sexual libido. Finally, those with chronic insomnia usually have a shorter-than-average life expectancy. Many studies suggest that the correlation between premature death and chronic insomnia is strong. In other words, those that sleep less have a 12% higher risk for death.
Quick facts on insomnia
- Long-term insomnia raises your risk for metabolic and cardiovascular disease
- People who get insufficient sleep have a higher risk for mortality
- Insomnia might be the cause or the result of many medical or mental illnesses
- Insomnia might affect your social, sexual, or professional performance
- Insomnia might lead to secondary symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Sleeplessness may affect all age groups and genders, but women mostly report it as a problem
- insomnia can be of late-night, early-morning, or maintenance pattern
- Insomnia left untreated might lead to chronic somatic or psychological complications
Can you treat insomnia?
Most of the time, you can. There are many therapeutic strategies to treat insomnia. The medical community suggests lifestyle changes before trying any medication. Addressing the triggers behind insomnia is the first step you should take, as sleeplessness is usually a symptom of a medical or mental condition. Sometimes it's just unhealthy habits. Try and identify what makes it hard for you to sleep or what wakes you up at night, and concentrate your efforts around it. If you're unsuccessful, you might need cognitive-behavioural therapy or medication. Sometimes you might need a combination of both.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a very famous psycho-social intervention, widely used for various disorders or anxiety types. CBT for insomnia is a unique intervention that specializes in negative thoughts and cognitive distortions correlated with sleeplessness. Sometimes, all that keeps you awake is thoughts. CBT will help you relax and alter your cognitive schema, meaning the way you think. Negative thinking influences our brain functions in a very high degree. CBT is generally more effective when it comes to insomnia. It targets the thoughts and beliefs that keep you awake. Finally, you learn how to control them, or you eliminate them. Another thing that CBT might fight is the vicious cycle of feeling worried about not sleeping. The following are some of the most well-established strategies used for insomnia:
- Remaining passively awake
- Stimulus control therapy
- Sleep restriction
- Light therapy
- Relaxation techniques
Sleep medication can help you fight insomnia. Doctors do not usually recommend long-term use of such drugs, as they may be addictive. Current evidence suggests sleep-aid pills for no more than a few weeks, if necessary. Also, many drugs come with side effects. Talk with your doctor to establish whether you need sleep medication or not. CBT and lifestyle changes are usually the first step recommended when fighting insomnia.
Over-the-counter sleep pills are antihistaminic drugs that put you in a drowsy state. Doctors do not suggest their regular use as these drugs may cause dangerous side effects. Daytime-sleepiness, confusion, or dizziness may be some life-threatening examples, especially in older people.
Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. We naturally produce it in our bodies, but low levels might enhance insomnia. However, melatonin overdose may lead to adverse effects such as nausea or headache. Melatonin is an over-the-counter supplement that people generally use in the short-term to overcome insomnia. However, no evidence suggests that melatonin is entirely safe to use for this purpose. Consult your doctor before you decide to take any.
You can follow some tips that will help you sleep easier. Firstly, you could create a sleep schedule which you should respect. Pick a wake-up time and a bed-time constant throughout the week. Stay active during the day, and don't take too many naps. If this is impossible to do, try not to sleep for more than thirty minutes and once per day. In case you're on medication, make sure it's not what makes you sleepless during the night. Also, if you should stop smoking, drink less coffee, and consume less alcohol. Tobacco and caffeine are stimulants that may be responsible for your insomnia, in case you overuse them daily. Alcohol may be initially a sedative but tends to disturb the sleep cycle later on its course. Besides, avoid big or heavy meals at night or before you sleep. Large quantities of food may disturb your sleep by creating gastrointestinal disturbances. Finally, manage your pain and try to control it with appropriate interventions.
Weighted blankets for insomnia
Weighted blankets are covers with an evenly distributed weight that help people with mental or medical-induced insomnia sleep better. Originally, weighted blankets entered the market to help children with autism and adults with mental health conditions. However, research suggests that they could be beneficial in many more cases. If weighted blankets are effective in anxiety-induced insomnia, then they are also useful for every type of insomnia, regardless of its primary cause.
Today, people use weighted blankets because they provide them with deep pressure stimulation. (DPS). Evenly distributed DPS helps the body relax and sends appropriate messages to the brain that help an individual enter the sleep cycle easier. Weighted blankets are not a new concept. People decades ago, were customizing their weighted blankets using rice, beans, corn, or any round objects that could evenly distribute themselves throughout the lumen of the blanket. Today's knowledge and technology developed new designs that last for longer and are more effective against sleep disorders and insomnia.
How heavy should a weighted blanket be?
Choosing the right weight of the blanket is essential. Children or older people might need lighter ones, while adults might require heavier ones. In general, a lighter-than-it-should-be cover might not improve your insomnia. Similarly, a weighted blanket that is too heavy might increase your stress even more. Specialists suggest that an ideal weighted blanket should be around 10% of your total body weight, or a slightly heavier. Buy one today and fight insomnia naturally and drug-free, avoiding the restrictions and side effects medication might expose you to.
Quick facts on weighted blankets and insomnia
- Weighted blankets improve sleep and decrease feelings of anxiety associated with insomnia
- Weighted blankets help you secrete hormones that promote sleep
- DPS by weighted blankets has a calming and soothing effect on our nervous system
- Weighted blankets improve your ability to focus and concentrate your attention on one thing
- Weighted blankets are available for everyone without any special prescription
- Weighted blankets might help a child with anxiety, ADHD, aggressivity, PTSD, OCD, Autism, Tourette's, or restless leg syndrome
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