Having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep is something that everyone experiences from time to time. Occasional poor sleep is normal, but when it becomes a regular occurrence, you may be experiencing chronic insomnia.
Chronic insomnia affects about one in 10 adults, and if you're among this 10%, you probably understand the frustrations and exhaustion that chronic insomnia brings. When do you need to see a doctor? Let's explore the differences between occasional poor sleep and chronic insomnia.
Insomnia is a sleep condition in which someone has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It encompasses not only the amount of a person's sleep but also their quality of sleep.
Symptoms of insomnia include:
Insomnia also has effects that hamper your daily life, including:
Insomnia has several causes, some of which are associated with other health conditions and some of which are a result of certain lifestyle habits. Stress, irregular work schedules or excessive travel, eating too much late at night and poor bedtime habits all affect your ability to fall asleep. Often, changing your habits may fix your sleep issues.
Acute, or short-term, insomnia is defined as experiencing insomnia over a period of a few weeks to a few months and can be common during periods of high stress or after a traumatic event.
Long-term, or chronic, insomnia, however, is a different condition, one in which someone experiences an inability to sleep or consistently wakes up halfway through the night over months or even years. Many cases of chronic insomnia are caused by an underlying health condition.
Getting a proper amount of sleep each night — most adults need between seven and eight hours — is important for both your physical and mental health. Chronic lack of sleep can affect your memory and ability to concentrate, and both these things can make work or school assignments increasingly difficult.
Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are also affected by lack of sleep. Poor sleep habits can lead to the onset of anxiety and depression and can exacerbate and worsen the symptoms for those who already have one or both of these conditions.
The risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure increases with chronic insomnia, and many people who suffer from one or both may find that their symptoms decrease as they're better able to get regular sleep.
Finding a cure for insomnia usually starts with determining what causes it in the first place. Talk to your doctor about your difficulty sleeping, and ask whether your medications or underlying health conditions may contribute to your poor sleep. Or, if you suspect you have sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, a sleep study, conducted in a sleep lab, can help diagnose these so you can be prescribed medication or the use of a CPAP machine.
Other ways to end insomnia can include lifestyle changes. Reduce your drinking and drug use, and opt not to eat within a few hours of your bedtime. If you have shift work, explore your options to change your schedule or work at a different job. For those who travel frequently, try altering when you fly or see if you can work remotely instead of traveling.
Whether you suffer from occasional poor sleep or chronic insomnia, there are several ways you can improve your overall sleep hygiene.
Getting a proper amount of sleep can have a big impact on your overall physical and mental health, help you focus and even improve your relationships. If you note that you're having consistent trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, consult your doctor and consider lifestyle changes that can help improve your sleep hygiene.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.