What You Need to Know about Insomnia

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine takes insomnia so seriously that it has designated an Insomnia Awareness Day.

According to their researchers, 30 to 35 percent of U.S. adults have at least brief bouts of sleeplessness. Around 10 percent have a chronic disorder. Left untreated, insomnia is more than a mere annoyance. In 2011, CNN reported that insomnia-related sick days and poor job performance drain $63 billion from the economy every year.

Keep reading to find out how this serious sleep disorder can affect your physical health, mental well-being and day-to-day functionality.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night. To date, there is no objective test for it, and the severity of the problem is evaluated based on duration.

Almost everyone has acute insomnia from time to time. That’s a temporary condition that stems from stressful circumstances like starting a new job or getting bad news from the IRS. It will improve when things take a better turn, and treatment is rarely necessary.

If sleeplessness occurs at least three times a week for at least three months, the condition may be chronic.

Scientists have long known that learning and memory have strong ties to sleep. The brain does some of its most impressive work while you’re out for the night. Neurotransmitters that are released while you sleep help you digest new bits of information you picked up during the day. They tidy up by organizing random thoughts.

Not only does your brain work to improve memory while you’re out, but it files your memories in order of importance. You don’t necessarily need to remember tomorrow that your wedding anniversary is seven months away, but you do need to remember to show up for your dental appointment and pick up your kids after school.

When you don’t sleep well, this important function is lost. You can’t keep your priorities straight.

Symptoms and Causes

Insomnia is marked by the following symptoms:

  • Inability to fall asleep even in prime conditions.
  • Inability to stay asleep.
  • Frequently waking up well before your alarm sounds.
  • Feeling unrefreshed even though you had adequate sleep.

Insomnia also has a negative impact on how people feel and function during waking hours. If you start to notice these symptoms during the day, see a doctor:

  • Marked fatigue or sleepiness.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Poor memory.
  • Mood swings.
  • Low energy and motivation.
  • Poor performance or uncharacteristic errors on the job.
  • Clumsiness or accidents.
  • Depression.
  • Increased blood pressure.

Like many health disorders, the causes of insomnia are hard to pin down. However, a handful of recent studies show promising results. One, a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University and published in Psychology Today magazine, found that the neurons in people with chronic insomnia are more excitable. Insomniacs seem to be in a constant, fast-paced state of information processing that interferes with rest.

Pinpointing chemical and neurobiological causes may someday lead to more accurate and effective treatments.

Common Treatment Options

Most professionals agree that cognitive behavioral therapy is best for long-term insomnia. Therapists work with insomniacs to change the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are interfering with sleep. Getting to the root of underlying conditions, like depression or anxiety, also works wonders.

Prescription drugs for temporary problems are shown with their brand names below:

  • Zolpidem (Ambien)
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Doxepine (Silenor)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)

One new drug approved in 2014, Suvorexant, has shown good results. It blocks the brain receptor that is believed to suppress the sleep drive. Suvorexant is sold under the brand name Belsomra.

Central nervous system depressants come with risks that range from lightheadedness to impaired mental alertness. This is even true of over-the-counter drugs. Take them only under the supervision of your doctor. Start with low doses, and report even minor side effects.

Alternative Treatments

Many people swear by natural methods. These could boil down to simple lifestyle changes like taking the TV out of the bedroom or changing your diet.

Here are some options that it never hurts to try:

  • Better nutrition.
  • More exercise.
  • Yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Aromatherapy.
  • Massage.
  • Herbal remedies such as chamomile, root of valerian, or passionflower.

Remember to discuss even organic solutions with your doctor before taking them.

Photographee.eu / Shutterstock