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Addressing Sleep Concerns: What is Insomnia and What are the Causes?

It is found almost 60% of people regularly experience at least on sleep symptom, and around 15% of people have sleeping symptoms that could result in a diagnosis of clinical insomnia (Reynolds et al. 2019).

It is important to address sleep concerns as sleep plays a fundamental role in overall health and well-being- from working memory, mental health, physical health and more, there is nearly a good reason for every single person to ensure the best sleep they can get.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterised by persistent difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep, or achieving restorative sleep, despite having the opportunity and conditions for adequate sleep.

People with insomnia often experience dissatisfaction with their sleep, and may experience some of the following symptoms:

Difficulty Falling Asleep

Trouble initiating sleep, often lying awake for an extended period before finally falling asleep.

Difficulty Staying Asleep 

People with this type of insomnia may wake up during the night and struggle to return to sleep.

Early Morning Awakening

Involves waking up earlier than desired and being unable to go back to sleep, leading to a shortened overall duration of sleep.

Non-Restorative Sleep

Even if individuals with insomnia manage to sleep for a certain duration, the sleep may not be refreshing or restorative. They may wake up feeling tired and unrefreshed.

Causes of insomnia

Stress and Anxiety

Daily stressors, such as work pressure or relationship issues, can make it difficult for individuals to relax and fall asleep. Chronic anxiety conditions can exacerbate this effect, contributing to the onset and persistence of insomnia.

Medical Conditions

Chronic pain conditions, including arthritis or persistent headaches, may make sleeping chronically uncomfortable. Individuals with respiratory issues such as asthma or gastrointestinal problems may also experience discomfort that disrupts their ability to sleep restfully.

Psychiatric Disorders

Insomnia is closely linked to mental health issues such as particularly depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was assumed that the health issues created insomnia, however recent research has found insomnia can be a root cause to many issues. The complex interplay between mental health and sleep underscores the importance of addressing both aspects for effective treatment.

Sleep Environment

The physical surroundings where one sleeps play a crucial role in the quality of sleep. An uncomfortable mattress, too much brightness, excessive noise, or improper room temperature can create an environment that is not conducive to relaxation and restful sleep.

Irregular Sleep Schedule

Inconsistent sleep-wake times or irregular sleep patterns can disrupt the body's internal circadian rhythm. The body relies on a consistent sleep schedule to regulate various physiological processes, and deviations from this schedule can lead to difficulties in falling and staying asleep.

Substance Use

The consumption of stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, close to bedtime can interfere with the body's ability to wind down. It is also important to consider to not eat too much before you sleep, as well as drugs such as alcohol can be detrimental to the nights sleep. 

Poor Sleep Hygiene

Engaging in activities that hinder good sleep hygiene can contribute to insomnia. Excessive screen time before bed, especially exposure to the blue light emitted by electronic devices, can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Similarly, consuming heavy meals late at night can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep.

Understanding the specific factors contributing to an individual's insomnia is crucial for developing an effective treatment plan. In many cases, addressing the underlying causes, adopting healthy sleep practices, and making lifestyle adjustments can significantly improve sleep quality. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help tailor interventions to the unique circumstances of each person experiencing insomnia.

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