All you need to know about Insomnia

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
July 15, 2020

Not long time back, people were not aware of this medical condition ‘Insomnia’ until lately when everyone not just knows about it but has faced it sometime or the other. Reasons can be many like; Stress, health conditions, relationship issues, mental ailments, poor habits and lifestyle can be the culprit behind sleeping disorders. Are there effective ways to manage Insomnia? What can be the complications of long-term insomnia? Let’s find out.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder which makes it troublesome for a person to fall asleep or maintaining sleep. People often complain of waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep and having sleep that is not refreshing. It can be Acute (short-term) that lasts for days or weeks or Chronic (long-term) that lasts for a month or more. Insomnia not just saps the energy but can affect overall health, performance level and quality of life. One can further categorize Insomnia into Primary or secondary:

Primary: Insomnia that is not associated with any medical or health condition.

Secondary: Insomnia which is due to a medical condition, medications or substance use (like alcohol).

what is insomnia

Are there any Risk factors?

Insomnia can affect people of any age, but there are certain risk factors which makes the condition more susceptible to some than others:

  1. Women: Insomnia is more common in women than men, as they suffer from hormonal changes during menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause. 
  2. Old age: Chances of insomnia increases with age due to changes in health conditions and sleep patterns.
  3. Mental health issues: Depression, anxiety disorders and other such mental ailments can lead to sleep disruption.
  4. High levels of stress: An unfortunate event or stressful times can lead to temporary insomnia. Long term stress can make it a chronic one.
  5. Not having a routine schedule: Having a job involving changing shifts can disrupt your sleeping cycle.
  6. Physical ailments: Health conditions such as asthma, cancer, arthritis, heartburn etc. can lead to troubled sleep.

What are the symptoms of Insomnia?

There can be one or multiple signs and symptoms indicating Insomnia:

  1. Difficulty in falling asleep at night.
  2. Waking up frequently during the night.
  3. Unrefreshing sleep and feeling tired after waking up.
  4. Waking up too early than desired.
  5. Frequent mood swings
  6. Daytime fatigue or sleepiness.
  7. Irritability, depression, or anxiety.
  8. Difficulty in concentrating and focusing on tasks or remembering. 
  9. Tension headaches (feels like a tight band around the head).
  10. Grumpiness
  11. Increased errors or accidents
  12. Ongoing worries about sleep

What are the causes of Insomnia?

Whether the insomnia is primary or secondary, there can be many causes to insomnia. Treating the underlying problem can resolve insomnia, else it can become chronic or lead to further complications.

The common causes of Insomnia are:

  • Stress: The most common cause of insomnia is stress. It can be concerning your work, family, finances, health, loss of loved one, or relationship issues.
  • Poor sleeping habits: Exposure to blue-light from televisions and smartphones before sleep affects natural melatonin levels and leads to increased waiting time to sleep. Uncomfortable sleep environment such as noise, too high or low temperature or varying lighting, along with irregular bedtime routine, daytime naps, or simply eating a heavy meal just before bedtime can lead to improper and light sleep.
  • Disruption of your body’s circadian rhythms: Can occur due to drastic temperature changes, jet lag, frequently changing shifts, etc. 
  • Medications: Corticosteroids, statins, alpha-blockers and beta-blockers, certain antidepressants etc. can lead to secondary insomnia.
  • Medical conditions: Cardiac conditions such as congestive heart failure and angina, Respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, Endocrinal disorders such as hyperthyroidism, chronic pain, stroke, brain lesions, tumours, sleep apnea, etc can contribute to insomnia. Not only physical conditions, but Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, or psychotic disorders can also cause insomnia. 
  • Substance use: Caffeine, tobacco, drugs or alcohol use

How is insomnia diagnosed?

Your doctor may do a physical examination to find out the underlying problem. He may also ask about your medical history and sleep history and might advise you to keep a sleep diary to analyze sleep patterns. Other tests might be advised to rule out certain medical conditions.

What are the complications related to Insomnia?

Our body needs sleep to give chance to the organs to repair themselves from daily wear and tear. The average duration of sleep differs from a person to person, yet a minimum of 6-7 hours of quality sleep is required for every individual. Sleep is as essential as a healthy diet and exercise. People with insomnia report a lower quality of life compared with people who are sleeping well.

Few complications associated with insomnia can be:

  • Increased risk of health problems like high blood pressure, weak immune system, diabetes, inflammation, obesity, and heart disease
  • A higher risk of falling and accidents
  • Trouble focusing and memory loss
  • Anxiety, depression, disorientation
  • Lack of judgement
  • Slow reaction time 
  • Lower performance on the job or at school

Can we prevent Insomnia?

It is essential to resolve the transient sleeping disorder before it turns out to be a chronic problem and leads to other complications. Here are a few tips that can help:

  • Set up a bedtime routine which should be followed even during weekends. A regular sleep-wake time helps a lot.
  • Switch off your gadgets like television, mobile or laptop at least 1 hour before sleep. Research suggests that their light affects sleep.
  • Stimulating drinks or foods should be avoided late in the day such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or junk foods which can cause acid reflux and disturb your sleep.
  • Keep your room tidy and comfortable in terms of lighting and temperature. Clutter in the room may be distracting. If the light is a problem, use a sleeping mask and try earplugs if noise is troublesome.
  • Regular exercise helps physically and mentally which in turn helps get sound sleep. Try to avoid exercising at least 3 to 4 hours before bed.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal late in the day. But a light snack before bedtime may help you sleep if you are hungry.
  • Relax and think positive before going to bed. Taking a bath or listening to soothing music or reading a good book can help you relax. 
  • Aromatherapy can help to promote and sustain sleep. A study suggested lavender oil to be especially useful for sleep.
  • Check your medications to see if they may contribute to insomnia.

If you think your insomnia is not getting any better by any means, it is best to approach a doctor who can help diagnose the root cause of the problem. It is best to act fast before it turns into a chronic problem.