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Insomnia

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Insomnia is an acute difficulty in falling asleep or sleeplessness. There is a common misconception that insomnia is an independent condition, but in actuality it is a symptom of external factors. Insomnia has far reaching effects in the lives of those who suffer from it. It is estimated that about 40% of the population suffer from temporary insomnia.[1]

Symptoms

Insomnia is classified as a symptom in and of itself, as opposed to an actual disorder. In any case, there are many symptoms that come with insomnia but all of them have to do with inadequate sleep. Those afflicted with insomnia suffer from a hard time falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, adverse effects on cognitive functions (due to sleep deprivation), and drowsiness during the day. Insomnia can affect everything in one's daily life, especially when it comes to tasks that require a lot of focus. Poor motor skills, lack of coordination, fatigue, and memory complications are all very common symptoms of people suffering from insomnia. With these kinds of symptoms, it is plain to see that insomnia can affect all aspects of life and even cause death (if one were to be involved in a car crash).[2]

Types

As with many adverse medical conditions, Insomnia varies in degrees of severity. Primary insomnia is sleep deprivation without a direct cause from another condition while secondary insomnia is a symptom of another disorder. In addition to primary and secondary insomnia, there are classifications of insomnia that describe the length of the condition. Acute insomnia is sleep disturbance lasting for a relatively short amount of time such as one day or a week. Chronic insomnia is a long lasting deprivation of sleep occurring every week for months at a time. Intermittent insomnia is a term used to label cases of insomnia that do not fall into the same patterns as the other classifications.[3] One type of insomnia called idiopathic insomnia, has no known, underlying causes and starts at infancy.[4] Types of insomnia are quite different in how they are caused and how they impact one's life.

Insomnia can be found in all age groups, but women has it more than men. Insomnia is most common in lower income classes, chronic alcoholics, or mental health patients. But stress is the biggest cause of insomnia and if a person does not treat it right away it can become chronic insomnia. Both transient and short term insomnia are caused by jet lag, changes in work schedule, if the room temperature becomes too cold or too hot, many stressful things happen, presence of an acute medical or surgical illness or hospitalization, withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, or moving to high altitudes. Chronic insomnia is caused from psychological problems such as anxiety, stress, schizophrenia, mania (bipolar disorder), or depression. Some medications can cause insomnia for people. Travelers, senior citizens, young adults or teenagers, pregnant or menopausal women, or people with frequently changing work schedules are at the highest risk of getting insomnia. Many people believe that alcohol will help them sleep better, but it does the opposite because it will give an unrefreshed sleep feeling in the morning. People with disruptive bed partners can also get insomnia because their partner could keep them awake by snoring loudly or moving around a lot in bed.[1]

Chronic insomnia effects 10% to 15% of adults, but if people change their daily habits they will sleep better at night. As people age they become more likely to suffer from insomnia. This is true because as people get older they spend more time in stage one or two of sleeping. Stage one is transitional sleep and stage two is light sleep; if people do not get past stage one or two they never get deep, well rested sleep. Also as people get older they become less active or less social which can make their sleeping habits change because being active helps people fall asleep better. As people age they start to get more health problems, such as back problems, arthritis, or depression. This can mess with a person's sleeping habits because pain can keep a person awake for a long time. Many older people have to start taking many different kinds of medications that can change how they sleep or stay asleep.[2]

Causes

Primary insomnia is thought to be caused by a lesion on the brain attributed to a past disease that affects the control of the sleeping cycle in the brain or because of an extended period of anxiety related to sleeping causing an aversion to normal sleeping habits. The cause of secondary insomnia can be attributed to a separate condition. General stress can affect sleep patterns and the ability to fall asleep. The difficulty in falling asleep and maintaining that sleep over a long period of time may further aggravate conditions causing insomnia and worsen the problems one suffers. Although a medical condition can cause insomnia, it is not the only factor to consider. Small annoyances such as temperature, noise level, and jet lag can cause transient insomnia. Another cause of complications while sleeping or falling asleep are psychological conditions such as anxiety, stress, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Conditions that cause chronic pain (especially during the night) can contribute largely to insomnia. Medical conditions that cause insomnia include, but are not limited to, acid reflux disease, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, congestive heart failure, nocturnal asthma, and high blood pressure.[5]While many of these causes are out of one's control, the use of stimulants or psychoactive drugs are a cause of temporary insomnia that is. Whether these drugs are legal, such as caffeine and certain medications, or illicit, like cocaine, does not affect the severity of insomnia that can come with ingestion of them. Ironically, long term use or abuse of sleep aids can cause more severe insomnia than what one was experiencing before.[6]

Treatment

Sedatives are commonly used as sleep aids (sleeping pills).

There are three forms of treatment for insomnia and they are: therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. The most common treatment for insomnia is therapy and there are different types of therapy used. Before treatment for insomnia can begin, one must consult a doctor to see if there is a more serious underlying cause for the insomnia that can be treated seperately. One of these therapeutic methods is relaxation therapy and it involves meditation and muscle relaxing techniques to cease poor sleeping habits. Another therapeutic treatment used to help with insomnia is called cognitive-behavioral therapy that attempts to dismantle the beliefs that one holds about themselves or sleep in order to give them more consistent sleep patterns. In addition to the aforementioned techniques for treating insomnia through therapeutic means, there is the stimulus-control therapy. Stimulus-control therapy tries to establish the bed as a place of rest as opposed to a place of sleeplessness. Lastly, a common therapy used is the sleep-restriction therapy which restricts time in the bed exclusively for sleeping. Therapeutic treatment is an effective way of changing the sleep habits of those afflicted by insomnia but when it fails one must turn to seep-inducing medications. Antihistamines, antidepressants, nonprescription sleeping pills, and hypnotic medications all can be used to provide temporary relief from sleeplessness. The problem with these medications is that their effectiveness diminishes over time and are habit-forming, requiring long time users to take them everytime they want to sleep.[7]

References

  1. Insomnia WebMD, Inc. 2010
  2. Insomnia MFMER. January 9, 2008

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