Most people experience insomnia and have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at some point in their life. It is estimated that around 30% of the population has insomnia, making it a common sleep disorder. It can be acute, lasting as little as one-night, or it can be chronic, lasting as long as three months or more. As a sleep disorder insomnia has a wide range of symptoms, causes, and complications.
Symptoms and Causes
The most common symptoms of insomnia are difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, or earlier than normal in the morning. Lack of sleep from insomnia can cause daytime sleepiness, fatigue, irritability, and problems with concentration, or memory. Chronic, long-term insomnia can cause serious medical conditions or mental health disorders.
Insomnia can be caused by poor daily habits and other behavioral factors. For instance, eating large meals or consuming caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol late at night interfere with the body’s ability to sleep. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that prevent sleep, while alcohol lowers sleep quality. Inconsistent or poor sleep schedules also cause poor sleep quality. Working, playing video games, or using electronic devices late at night keep the brain active and make it harder to fall asleep. Napping or sleeping in can throw off the body’s internal clock and make it difficult to stay on a schedule. Stress can also contribute significantly to insomnia because it causes a physical response in the body that makes it harder to sleep. In turn, lack of sleep can become its own source of stress, creating a vicious cycle of stress and insomnia.
Certain chronic health conditions that cause pain or discomfort make it hard to sleep. Other sleep-related disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome that can interfere with sleep and lower sleep quality. Mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression are both known to disrupt sleep. Additionally, some medications used to treat health conditions or mental health disorders can interfere with sleep.
Eating large meals or consuming caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol late at night interfere with the body’s ability to sleep.
Sleep Cycles and Risk Factors
Age has a significant impact on a person’s sleep cycle. Children and teenagers typically stay up later and sleep later in the morning. As a person ages, his or her sleep cycle shifts and he or she gets tired earlier at night and begins getting up earlier in the morning. Despite these changes, older adults still need as much sleep as younger adults or teenagers.
Unfortunately, sleep becomes less restful as people age, with disturbances in the sleeping environment more likely to wake older adults. Additionally, older adults are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions, such as back pain or arthritis, or take medications that interfere with sleep. As a result, older adults are more prone to insomnia than children or young adults.
Those most at risk of insomnia are:
- Adults aged 60 and over
- Those with mental health disorders (40% of people with insomnia have a mental health disorder
Around 30% of the population has insomnia.
Getting enough sleep is critical to a healthy lifestyle. Sleep deprivation and insomnia can cause lower performance at work or school, as well as an increased risk of automobile accidents. Chronic, long-term insomnia can lead to health problems or mental health disorders, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Many of these complications make it even harder to get a good night’s sleep.
Prevention and Treatment
Fortunately, lifestyle changes and better habits can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. There are many things to avoid in order to get a good night’s sleep.
- Avoid late-night activities, such as working, playing video games, or using electronic devices.
- Limit napping and eliminate late-night meals and drinks. These make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Reduce caffeine consumption. Caffeine is a stimulant that prevents sleep.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption. As a depressant, alcohol can disrupt sleep.
- Avoid medication that may cause insomnia.
- Do not use nicotine.
The key to preventing insomnia is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Although a consistent schedule with regular activity and exercise is key, there are other considerations for getting a good night’s sleep:
- Turn the bedroom into a comfortable and relaxing sleeping environment. It should only be used for sex or sleeping.
- Finding a relaxing bedtime routine can make it easier to fall asleep. This is up to personal preference, but could include a warm bath, reading, or listening to music.
While short-term insomnia may not require treatment, treatments for insomnia should always be prescribed by a doctor. For long-term, chronic insomnia, the conditions or health problems causing insomnia need to be treated.