What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia, also known as difficulty sleeping, is a common disorder that affects millions of people all over the globe.
While many people have difficulty sleeping once in a while, when this occurs on a regular basis, it is classified as a medical disorder.
Insomnia can present in many ways. Some people may find it difficult to fall asleep, while others may have no problem falling asleep but struggle to sleep through the night. They wake after only a short period of time and may then find it difficult to get back to sleep. Some people experience both of these situations.
Insomnia is not a trivial disorder. When people do not sleep well they often feel tired and unrefreshed. They can experience mood changes and irritability, which in turn can have a significant impact either at work or in school. Ultimately they experience a fall in the quality of their life.
How much sleep someone needs varies from person to person. However, experts suggest that most healthy adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
There are three types of insomnia,
- Transient. People experience difficulty sleeping for less than a week
- Short Term. Sleeping difficulties are experienced for a period up to three weeks
- Chronic. Symptoms persist for more than three weeks
The exact number of people who experience insomnia is unknown because many people never see a healthcare provider. Surveys in the US and UK indicate that anywhere from 30-40% of adults have short term insomnia but only 5-10% have chronic insomnia.
The condition affects people of all ages and both genders.
Main Causes Of Insomnia
In the past it was assumed that insomnia was always due to a mental health problem. However today it is recognized that there are many causes of insomnia, with more than 50% of cases not related to any type of psychiatric problem. However, it should be noted than chronic insomnia is a risk factor for developing anxiety or depression.
Common causes of insomnia include the following:
- Existing Medical Conditions. This includes a whole range of illnesses such as,
- Cancer and Arthritis which lead to chronic pain
- Chronic obstructive lung disease causing sufferers to wake with breathing difficulties
- Benign prostatic hypertrophy, resulting in men having to get up frequently in the middle of the night to urinate
- Chronic renal disease, especially if the individual is on dialysis.
- Chronic fatigue
- Neuroglial disorders like Parkinson disease, cluster headaches or any other movement disorder.
- Psychiatric disorders, the most common of which is depression. In depression people tend to wake up early in the morning and cannot fall back to sleep.
- Stimulants. These include alcohol, coffee and use of sedatives.
- Menopause. Hot flushes can be disruptive to sleep.
- Nighttime Activity. Some people are not able to sleep because they perform physical activities close to bedtime, such as watching TV, snacking or reading.
- Work Patterns. Demands such as shift work, travel (particularly across time zones), working late and poor eating habits can all take their toll on sleep.
- Medications. These include the use of antidepressants, allergy medications, medications to treat heart disease and stimulants like Ritalin.
- Age. Insomnia is common with advancing age and this is believed to be due to alterations in the sleep wake cycle.
- Bedroom. In some cases, the bedroom is not conducive as a good sleeping environment and this leads to insomnia.
Symptoms Of Insomnia
Most common insomnia symptoms include the following:
- Difficulty falling sleep
- Frequently waking up from sleep
- Early morning awakening
- Feeling exhausted after a night’s sleep
- Continuing fatigue throughout the day
- Lack of energy
- Mood changes such as irritability, anger and anxiety
- Diminished work performance
- Difficulty concentrating at work or at school
- Feeling depressed and apprehensive
- Difficulty remembering things in the morning
- Developing headaches
- Upset stomach, heart burn
- Continual worry about going to sleep and wondering if sleep will come
In order for healthcare workers to make a diagnosis of insomnia, they’ll need to obtain a thorough medical and psychiatric history. They will also ask questions about your family history as a few rare sleeping disorders, such as fatal familial insomnia, are genetic.
Other areas they’ll need to discuss with you include your social history, such as job/school stress, situational stress, relationship difficulties and bereavement, your use of drugs, such as tobacco, caffeinated products and alcohol, and your medication history.
The diagnosis of insomnia is based on the clinical presentation and history. There is no blood test or imaging study that can make a diagnosis of this disorder. Healthcare workers will invariably ask the individuals to keep a sleep diary for several weeks before treatment to get a clearer picture of what is causing the sleep disturbance.
Can Lack Of Sleep Cause High Blood Pressure?
There is more evidence accumulating that lack of sleep is not only bad for the brain but it can also lead to heart disease including high blood pressure.
There are many studies showing that people who do not sleep well are prone to high blood pressure within a short time. The unfortunate thing is that since high blood pressure has no symptoms, most people have no idea that they have developed the disorder.
One recent study revealed that insomnia not only led to high blood pressure but was also associated with an increased incidence of heart disease and death.
Even short episodes of sleep disturbances have been associated with a rise in blood pressure. Furthermore, other studies have shown that the quality and quantity of sleep also correlates with future development of high blood pressure.
The important thing to understand is that if high blood pressure is not treated, it can lead to many complications like blindness, heart attack, renal failure and even stroke. Because of this increased risk of high blood pressure, people who have insomnia are now being advised to routinely check their blood pressure at home. Once the insomnia is treated, the blood pressure gradually comes to normal levels.
Insomnia is a very common medical disorder that affects millions of people globally.
Today, there is accumulating evidence that even short-term insomnia can affect the quality of life. A major concern is that insomnia can cause elevation of blood pressure, which if neglected can have devastating effects on the body. Thus, people who have insomnia should get in the habit of regularly monitoring their blood pressure.