Insomnia, the experience of facing difficulty in sleeping, is common and can be acute, intermittent or chronic. It can be the presenting symptom for several common sleep disorders, but often also occurs comorbidly with mental and physical health conditions.
“Insomnia means you’re having difficulty falling asleep and or you wake up during the night and can’t get back to sleep,” Dr Sarah Silverman, an American sleep psychologist and holistic sleep wellness consultant, tells Happiest Health. “It could also mean you wake up much earlier in the morning than you’d like and experience poor sleep quality or unrefreshing sleep.”
Most experts say a person requires seven to eight hours of sleep ideally. But according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 30-35 per cent of adults have brief symptoms of insomnia, 15-20 per cent have acute insomnia lasting less than three months, and 10 per cent have chronic insomnia, which occurs at least three times per week for at least three months.
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A paper published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine says that while insomnia is resolved without any treatment in the majority of cases, a subset (~7 per cent) of those experiencing insomnia symptoms will go on to develop a chronic insomnia disorder, defined as having sleep issues at least three nights a week for at least three months often requiring treatment. The study found out that worldwide Google Trends data showed that over the past 16 years, the number of Google search queries for “insomnia” was significantly higher relative to queries for three other major sleep disorders — sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation — a not-for-profit health promotion charity based in Melbourne, Australia — insomnia could be due to:
- Some medicines and drugs (e.g., asthma or blood pressure medication), caffeine, alcohol or smoking
- Chronic pain and other uncomfortable illnesses
- Stress at work or in one’s personal life
- A friend or loved one passing away
- Anxiety and worrying, including worrying about not getting enough sleep
- Sometimes there is no clear cause for insomnia, in which case it is called primary insomnia
Some other causes of insomnia
- Genetics: Some people are born with genes that make their sleep irregular or disturbing. A study where researchers also found a strong genetic link between insomnia and type 2 diabetes.
- Light pollution: Exposure to light can hamper the quality of sleep
Major sleep disorders
- Insomnia: In insomnia, a person cannot sleep at night or has trouble completing the required amount of sleep
- Shift work sleep disorder: When a person works in different shifts, his body cannot adjust to a sleeping schedule. So, they cannot get enough sleep at any particular consistent time
- Restless legs syndrome: A person may feel an almost irresistible urge to move his legs (or sometimes arms) at night. This may result in pain while sleeping
- Narcolepsy: In this disorder, a person may feel sleepier during the daytime. He can have several ‘sleep attacks’ even when he is active.
How to beat insomnia
- Lifestyle: A healthy and sustainable lifestyle helps in having a good sleep routine. It helps the body understand your cardiac rhythm
- Food habits: At night, eat light food and avoid caffeine. Observe which foods hurt your sleep and avoid them after sunset
- Tiredness: When you get tired at the end of the day, you will automatically sleep on time at night. This is a practical solution for sleeping problems. Be active at your workplace or increase your physical activity levels
- Meditation: This is an evergreen and ancient solution. Meditation helps to cure breathing rhythm and remove stress. Doing it regularly provides lots of benefits
- Massage: Massage your body before bedtime. It helps in muscle movement and relaxation
- No to self-medication, yes to a sleep specialist: There is no need to cure your insomnia on your own. You can reach out to a doctor for a better solution
Consult a specialist
In some cases, doctors conduct a light exposure therapy for some people suffering from insomnia.
For many people, insomnia and sleep deprivation overlap (see box). Therefore, it’s important to see a sleep specialist who can dive deeper, explain these issues and determine the best course of action.