Insomnia affects an estimated 30–50% of the population in the world and in some cultures it is believed to be even higher! We spend about one third of our lives asleep and it is essential for survival. During sleep, the body takes the opportunity to cleanse and regenerate, actively producing hormones that put humans in a state of growth, allowing for recovery and the healing of muscles and tissues. Because of the importance of sleep, insomnia presents a huge challenge and carries significant consequences, which can eventually affect every area of our lives.
Definition and Causes of Insomnia
Insomnia is generally defined as an individual’s inability to sleep. It is often thought of as both a sign and a symptom that can accompany several medical and psychiatric disorders, generally characterised by a persistent difficulty in falling asleep and staying asleep, waking too early or where sleep is unrestful. Typically, the sufferer will experience difficulties or impairment while awake, also feeling tired, irritable and unable to concentrate the next day.
Insomnia or sleeplessness is not the same as sleep deprivation, where sleep is curtailed as a result of limited opportunity for sleep, such as a nursing a baby or a sick relative, or an inability to sleep owing to excessive noise. Insomnia can be classed in two categories:
- Acute or short-term insomnia lasts for between one and four weeks.
- Chronic or long-term insomnia lasts for more than four weeks.
Insomnia can be grouped into primary and secondary (comorbid) insomnia. Primary insomnia, also referred to as an insomnia syndrome, is a disorder in its own right. It often has no obvious cause but may arise from behavioural factors, such as negative conditioning or physiological factors, including stress. In contrast, secondary insomnia arises from other conditions, including:
- Substance use: including prescribed medicines. If you believe you may be suffering from the side effects of any medication, you should consult your GP or medical provider.
- Lifestyle: eating later at night, alcohol consumption, nicotine, drugs.
- Jet lag: a temporary condition that can cause disturbed sleep patterns, digestion problems and a lack of energy (fatigue) following air travel across a number of time zones.
- Environmental factors: such as an uncomfortable bed, noise, or being too hot or cold.
- Shift work: a change in work shift patterns and corresponding changes in sleep/wake schedules.
- Psychological: anxiety, mood disorders, depression, grief.
- Medical: for example, chronic pain caused by conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, severe headaches, fibromyalgia.
- Neurological disorders: including Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome.
- Sleep disorders: including obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome and restless legs syndrome.
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