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Insomnia

The negative effects of not being able to sleep, otherwise known as insomnia

DEFINITION OF INSOMNIA

Even though humans spend a third of their lives asleep, little is known as to why. Even with vast amounts of research, all scientists know for sure is that we cannot live without it. Sleep deprivation has a very profound effect on both physical and mental health

When you do not get enough sleep, the lack of energy can cause your work performance, health, and overall quality of life to be significantly diminished. This inability to fall or stay asleep is known as insomnia. It is an incredibly common health complaint.

The typical signs and symptoms of insomnia include the following:

  • Problems falling asleep;
  • Difficulty staying asleep at night, or awakening too early;
  • Feeling unrested after a night’s sleep;
  • Sleepiness or fatigue during the day;
  • Increase in accidents or mistakes;
  • Decreased ability to focus;
  • Irritability;
  • Anxiety or depression;
  • Tension headaches;
  • Gastrointestinal complaints;
  • Continual worry about sleep.

At least one-third of all people (yes, even teenagers and children) experience insomnia from time to time, while there is a 10% to 15% of individuals experience chronic insomnia. What are the causes and the health consequences of this distressing condition?

nearly half of all americans are sleep deprived

CAUSES OF INSOMNIA

Commonly, insomnia is the result of an underlying physiological problem. Many possible factors contribute to difficulty in sleeping:

  • General Sleep Deterrents:
    • Emotional disorders – stress, anxiety, depression
    • Chronic pain
    • Restless leg syndrome
    • Sleep apnea
    • Side effects of medications
    • Smoking, recreational drugs, alcohol
    • Infections
    • Intestinal disturbance
    • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (heartburn, otherwise known as GERD)
    • Phase shift disorder (circadian rhythm disturbance)
    • Excessive noise
    • Restless sleep partner
    • Prostate problems, urinary frequency
    • Jet lag
    • Varying shift work.

HORMONAL & NEUROTRANSMITTER PROBLEMS

  • High levels of nighttime cortisol
  • Low levels of melatonin
  • Progesterone deficiency
  • Estrogen deficiency or excess
  • Low DHEA
  • Low levels of growth hormone
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances (such as low serotonin or high epinephrine/norepinephrine)
  • Adrenal deficiency

Nutritional Problems

  • Caffeine
  • Dietary deficiencies in the following:
    • Magnesium
    • Calcium
    • Iron
    • Vitamins B1, B5, B6
  • Excess levels of copper, chromium, vitamin D
  • Food Sensitivities
  • Alcoholism

Environmental Pollutants

  • Heavy metal poisoning;
  • Mold exposure;
  • Environmental illness.

A range of tests can help you to identify which of these issues may be causing your insomnia. A knowledgeable health care professional can assist you with these lab tests:

– Nutritional tests for vitamin and mineral deficiencies;
– Testing for thyroid problems and hormone imbalances;
– Neurotransmitter testing;
– Testing for intestinal microorganisms;
– Hair mineral analysis for toxic elements.

Discovering the cause(s) of your insomnia can help your health care provider better able to recommend a plan for treating and managing your insomnia.

Risk Factors

There may be a greater risk for certain individuals  for developing symptoms of insomnia. Due to hormonal fluctuations during menstruation and menopause, women are more likely to suffer from sleep problems. Over the age of 60, both men and women are likely to notice changes in their sleep patterns. Emotional disorders can also cause significant sleep issues, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. Finally, stress, night work, or having your shift change at work can disrupt sleep patterns as well.

HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF INSOMNIA

If you suffer from insomnia, there can be serious health consequences. These can be both short-term and long-term.

Short Term Complications:

  • Both alertness and performance will be impaired, which can lead to an increased risk of accidents and/or reduced performance at work or school
  • Cognition and memory may be impaired, thus leading to remembering information and/or difficulty concentrating on a task and processing
  • Fatique and Lethargy can dampen your ability to participate in activities you would otherwise enjoy
  • Stress and conflict in relationships due to increased irritability and disruption of partner’s sleep

Long Term Complications

  • Cardiovascular disease (stroke, heart attack, heart failure)
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Worsening of ADD/ADHD
  • Mood disorders
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Fetal developmental disorders
  • Mental impairment
  • Reduced quality of life

SOLUTIONS FOR INSOMNIA:

There is a high potential for long-term health-consequences if insomnia is left untreated. Thankfully, you can identify the root cause and develop and individualized plan for your sleep problems. When you do this, you can reverse the effects that will diminish your overall quality of life.

It is important to aim for the underlying causes of your insomnia. This can include exercise, detoxification, nutritional support with dietary sleep supplements, and relaxation techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises. If mood disorders are at the root of the problem, then cognitive therapy may be a good solution. If from a phase shift disorder, then light therapy may show results.

Here are some great sleep hygiene tips if you are having trouble falling and staying asleep:

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  • Follow a consistent sleep schedule, with a regular bedtime and wake-up time as much as you can
  • Avoid exposure to light while in bed
  • Avoid bright lights, television, and computers for at least 2 hours before bedtime
  • Avoid oversleeping as much as you can
  • Replace your mattress, bedding, and sleepwear if they are uncomfortable or worn out
  • Avoid napping during the day
  • Do not exercise within 3 hours of bedtime
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet
  • Use your bedroom only for sleeping – do not watch TV or use the computer
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking, especially before bedtime
  • If you can’t sleep, leave the bedroom and find something quiet and relaxing to do;
  • Try doing some relaxation exercises
  • Avoid drinking excessive fluids before bedtime to prevent the urge to urinate
  • Don’t eat right before bedtime; this can make you feel full and uncomfortable, and it increases the risk of heartburn and GERD
  • Avoid clock-watching – don’t keep a clock near your bed

While it is true that over-the-counter sleep medications may help you fall asleep initially, they will most likely reduce the quality of sleep and have unwanted side effects. It is best to avoid them if possible, especially since there is a chance you may become dependent on them.

But most importantly of all, it is best to not worry constantly about inability to sleep. The stress itself can keep you in  perpetual cycle of insomnia.

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