WHAT IS INSOMNIA?

Insomnia (also known as sleep deprivation) is a

sleep disorder where people have difficulty in

getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough

to feel refreshed.

It can either be chronic (experienced for more than 3 months) or acute and varies widely in severity by each sufferer.  You are in no terms alone in this – it is a very common problem, and one that takes a toll on your energy, mood, and ability to function during the day.

While it is a widely experienced problem, with an estimated 40% of the population suffering with sleep issues, many sufferers feel they do not get the support they need or that their concerns are not taken seriously.  Some people struggle to get to sleep no matter how tired they are. Others wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake for hours, anxiously watching the clock. But, because different people need different amounts of sleep, insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping—not the number of hours you sleep or how quickly you doze off. Even if you’re spending eight hours a night in bed, if you feel drowsy and fatigued during the day, you may be experiencing insomnia.

Sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing and insomnia can take a toll on your energy, mood and ability to function during the day.  Chronic insomnia may also contribute to serious health problems and is linked to various serious health conditions including heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, depression and dementia – and may shorten your life expectancy.  A lack of sleep also suppresses your immune system making you more vulnerable to infections and metabolic and hormone changes. Research has found that getting a good night’s sleep strengthens the immune response suggesting that the release of certain hormones during sleep boosts the immune system

A good night’s sleep is vital as a restorative time and plays a significant role in healing and repairing the heart and blood vessels.

It also gives the immune system and the cardiovascular system a rest and allows other organs to be restored.

Although insomnia is the most common sleep complaint, it is not a single sleep disorder. It’s more accurate to think of it as a symptom of another problem, whether it’s something as simple as drinking too much caffeine during the day or something more complex like feeling overloaded with stress.

Lady with pillow
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Types of Insomnia

There are five types of insomnia: Acute; Chronic; Onset; Maintenance; and Behavioural insomnia of childhood

Acute insomnia is the most common type of insomnia. It is short term and lasts for a few days up to a month. It is also commonly called adjustment insomnia because it is usually caused by a change in environment or stressful events. Some common causes of acute insomnia include:

  • New environment and unfamiliarity
  • New-born baby
  • Excessive noise or light
  • Extremes of temperature
  • New job or school
  • Relocation to a new place
  • Jet lag
  • Work deadlines or examinations
  • Death of a relative or close friend
  • Difficulties in a relationship
  • Physical discomfort such as pain
  • Certain medications

Insomnia is typically a short-term condition. However, in some cases insomnia can become chronic or long term. Insomnia is said to be chronic if the patient experiences difficulties in sleeping at least three days a week for at least a few months. Chronic insomnia may be primary or secondary. Primary chronic insomnia is also called idiopathic insomnia because there is no specific cause. Secondary chronic insomnia is more common than primary insomnia and occurs due to other underlying reasons or medical conditions.

Common causes of chronic insomnia include the following:

  • Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnea, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain
  • Psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Medications such as anti-hypertensives, respiratory medications, anti-histamines, hormonal medication, anti-epileptic drugs, anti-depressants and chemotherapy
  • Stimulants such as nicotine and excessive caffeine
  • Lifestyle factors such as frequent travel causing jet lag, constantly rotating shift work, irregular naps and sleep timings
  • Age (Insomnia becomes more common with age)

Onset insomnia is difficulty initiating sleep. This type of insomnia may be short term or chronic. The common causes are as follows:

  • Stimulants such as nicotine and excessive caffeine
  • Change in environment and unfamiliarity
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Chronic pain

Maintenance insomnia is when the patient has difficulty staying asleep or waking up too early and difficulty going back to sleep. Maintenance insomnia may be caused by chronic medical conditions or psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, or stress. Examples of medical conditions that may cause maintenance insomnia are as follows:

  • Asthma and other respiratory conditions
  • Sinus allergies
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Acid reflux disease
  • Chronic pain

Associations to sleep at an early age can affect a child’s sleep for years, this is known as Behavioural insomnia of childhood (BIC).  A good example includes someone who was rocked to sleep as a child, or was used to having background noise such as a TV or white noise being played when falling asleep.  There is a good chance that when older, this person will struggle to get to sleep without these tricks which may have helped as a child. 

BIC can usually be managed with appropriate behavioural therapy. BIC has three subtypes:

  • BIC sleep-onset: It can usually be resolved with a few behavioural changes such as creating a healthy sleep routine or learning self-soothing or relaxation techniques. It occurs due to negative associations with sleep, such as needing to go to sleep by being rocked or nursed or watching TV while going to bed.
  • BIC limit-setting: This occurs due to the child’s refusal to go to bed.
  • BIC combined type: This is a combination of both BIC subtypes.

FAQ

Can insomnia be cured?

The good news is that most cases of insomnia can be cured with changes you can make on your own—without relying on sleep specialists or turning to prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pills. By addressing the underlying causes and making simple changes to your daily habits and sleep environment, and combining this with natural sleep supplements you can put a stop to the frustration of insomnia and finally get a good night’s sleep.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

You have insomnia if you regularly:

  • find it hard to go to sleep
  • wake up several times during the night
  • lie awake at night
  • wake up early and cannot go back to sleep
  • still feel tired after waking up
  • find it hard to nap during the day even though you’re tired
  • feel tired and irritable during the day
  • find it difficult to concentrate during the day because you’re tired

If you have insomnia for a short time (less than 3 months) it’s called short-term insomnia. Insomnia that lasts 3 months or longer is called long-term insomnia, or chronic insomnia

Just one night of interrupted sleep negatively affects mood, attention span and cognitive ability. But an occasional night where sleep is disturbed won’t harm your health – you’ll just be tired the next day, and grumpier!

What’s causing your insomnia?

  • Are you under a lot of stress?
  • Are you depressed? Do you feel emotionally flat or hopeless?
  • Do you struggle with chronic feelings of anxiety or worry?
  • Have you recently gone through a traumatic experience?
  • Are you taking any medications that might be affecting your sleep?
  • Do you have any health problems that may be interfering with sleep?
  • Is your bedroom quiet and comfortable?
  • Is your bedroom too hot or cold?
  • Is your bed comfortable?
  • Do you take/drink alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or drugs?
  • Do you try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day?

Approximately 50% of insomnia cases are related to depression, anxiety or psychological stress.  Please refer to our mental wellbeing page for more information on this.

How much sleep do I need?

Everyone needs different amounts of sleep and as such insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping. While there is no magic number for how much sleep we should get, there is a general consensus that around seven to nine hours is best in adults and 9 to 13 in children. Experts believe that most adults require somewhere between six and nine hours in order to feel refreshed and to function well both mentally and physically. It’s important not to get too hung up on your sleep quantity – one size doesn’t fit all – but focus on sleep quality instead.

However research seems to show that regularly sleeping less than six hours is associated with many of the adverse effects of sleep deprivation. If you do find yourself regularly getting less than six hours a night and are exhausted the next day, then it might be time to overhaul your sleep and lifestyle habits.

How can I improve my sleep?

There are no magic solutions but there is support on this website to help you develop healthy sleeping habits to improve sleep quality. It’s surprising how quickly a minor issue can escalate into something more serious, such as chronic insomnia.

To ensure you experience good sleep it’s essential to follow good lifestyle habits and a sleep routine to eliminate the factors that are causing you disturbed sleep. For example make sure that your bedroom is the right environment (cool, dark and quiet), that your bed is comfortable, avoid foods and drinks that can hinder sleep. Avoid screen time at least an hour before bed and find alternative ways of relaxing like warm baths with calming scents, quiet soothing music, reading, gentle stretching and yoga. It’s also important to establish regular sleep pattern – going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time. Please refer to our Good Sleep Hygiene (or “your healthy bedtime routine”) page for more tips and information on what you can do to help improve the quality of your sleep.

Should I see a doctor about my insomnia?

Insomnia can have a seriously damaging effect on our mental and physical health and therefore should be taken seriously.

While insomnia is probably the most known sleep disorder, other and potentially more serious sleep disorders include sleep apnea, narcolepsy, sleepwalking and hypersomnia.  So it is important to see a doctor if you present more or different symptoms than those listed above.

If your insomnia is not improving after following the self-help tips listed on this website, then it could be time to talk to a GP.  A GP will rule out any medical reasons for insomnia or other sleep disorders. In some situations, they may refer to a sleep clinic or for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT can help change your thoughts and behaviours that could be affecting your sleep.

You may also be referred to a sleep clinic if you have symptoms of another sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea.

GPs now rarely prescribe sleeping pills to treat insomnia. Sleeping pills may help in the short term, but can have serious side effects and fail to address the underlying cause of your insomnia. Sleeping pills are only prescribed for a few days, or weeks at the most.  Ten:PM offer natural herbal products to help assist with you getting a good night’s sleep, these are not GP prescribed products so can be purchased directly from this website.

What are other types of sleep disorders apart from insomnia?

While Insomnia is the most common known sleep disorder, scientists have identified over 70 sleep disorders. The following list describes some of the most common ones.

Sleep Apnoea – In sleep apnoea, your breathing repeatedly stops and starts through the night. This condition disrupts your sleep as you wake up over and over. Even if you get a full night’s sleep, you feel tired during the day and may have other symptoms, like morning headaches and irritability. Many people with obstructive sleep apnea also suffer from depression.

Movement Disorders – Some of the sleep-related movement disorders includes restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement, sleep bruxism (grinding your teeth), and rhythmic movement disorders. Because these conditions can disrupt your sleep, they could impact your mental health.

Night Terrors – If you often scream, feel extremely fearful, or thrash around in your sleep, you might be having night terrors. People who have night terrors often experience sleepwalking as well. Although most people aren’t affected too strongly by night terrors, they can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and problems functioning during the day if they become more frequent. Sometimes, there’s an underlying medical condition causing the night terrors. Other times, it may be a result of excessive stress. No matter what the cause, if it disrupts your sleep, it can lead to mental health issues.

Please visit your GP if you feel you have one of these sleep disorders and they will try to get the right treatment for you.