Another Sleepless Night? Insomnia Symptoms and Risk Factors
The Importance of SleepSleep is necessary for restoration of energy and function in your brain. Fun fact: Our brains do not “sleep” during rest. The brain has many functions during periods of sleep including; clearing waste, consolidating learned information, preserving memory and much more. Good sleep can improve your concentration, attention, and performance throughout your day. To read more about the benefits of sleep, click here.
What is Insomnia?The term Insomnia is defined as habitual sleeplessness and/or inability to sleep. Insomnia is classified as a sleep disorder, because it affects our ability to sleep, even when the opportunity is available. Insomnia symptoms also tend to lead to signs of distress, disturbing mood and/or performance. It is very common in adults, nearly 30% of the general population self-report having symptoms in the night and 10% report feel the symptoms bleed into the following day.
Insomnia SymptomsIf your insomnia continually gets in the way of your productivity, it may be time to consult a specialist. To be diagnosed with Insomnia by a physician, a patient must display one or more of the following symptoms below.
Insomnia Symptoms – Night:During the night, if you have insomnia, one or more of these characteristics/symptoms may affect your quality of sleep:
Difficulty initially falling asleep at nightCommonly referred to as Onset Insomnia, this insomnia symptom is defined as the inability to fall asleep at the beginning of the night when you would typically be able to fall asleep. On average and without external distractions, it normally takes a person 10 – 20 minutes to fall asleep after first climbing into bed. If it takes you more than an hour to fall asleep, you may have Onset Insomnia. This could potentially be caused by the fact that your body has a hard time relaxing and slowing down your “internal engine” at night
Difficulty staying asleep throughout the nightFormally known as Maintenance Insomnia, this is characterized by waking up during the night periodically and not being able to fall back asleep. We rhythmically go through 5 stages of sleep in order to properly restore from all of the energy exerted by our brains the previous day. Disrupting restoration by frequently waking up can lead to unwanted consequences the following day.
Waking up too early in the morningThe average person needs about 7 to 9 hours of sleep in order to feel properly rejuvenated. People who suffer from insomnia frequently self-report waking up “too early” and not getting enough sleep. Waking up 10 minutes before our alarms once in a while is definitely unpleasant, but nothing to the extent of what someone with Insomnia may endure. Typically, people who suffer from insomnia wake up hours before their alarm and have trouble falling back asleep, barely squeezing in a couple hours of rest.
Insomnia Symptoms – Day:Persistent sleepless nights have a way of following you into the daytime, typically leading to unwanted side effects/symptoms including:
Non-restorative sleepThis basically means you feel “un-refreshed” after waking up. As previously mentioned in the beginning of the article, sleep is restorative for brain function. Without a good nights rest, it can affect the brain’s ability to perform optimally the next day.
Daytime FatigueAlthough people who suffer from Insomnia are sleep deprived, during the day they tend to feel more tired than sleepy. Lack of sleep caused by insomnia can lead to fatigue or low energy throughout the day. You can feel tired throughout the day but typically you would not be able to fall asleep during sedentary periods of time. Daytime fatigue makes it difficult to do normal activities in your daily routine.
Problems with attention, concentration or memoryDaytime fatigue can interfere with your ability to concentrate on a given task. Insomnia can be considered a culprit to attention disorders. There are actually a lot of overlapping symptoms between attention disorders (Ex: ADHD) and sleep deprivation. Symptoms of sleep-related attention complications include:
- Trouble focusing
- Trouble sitting still
- Lack of impulse control, risky behavior
- Learning difficulties
- Problems maintaining
- Noticeably shorter attention span
Disturbances in moodNoticeable changes in mood that are associated with sleep deprivation are very common when you are not getting adequate amounts of sleep. Insomnia symptoms and mood disorders seemingly coincide with one another. Sometimes lack of sleep may lead to the onset of a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression. On the contrary, having a mood disorder may disrupt your normal sleep patterns. Some medications used to treat mood disorders may interfere with your ability to sleep. If you have noticed this after taking a new medication, feel free to discuss this with your doctor.
Difficulty at work/schoolWork takes up a lot of energy, and if we are not feeling at our best, how can we be reliable workers? Many people begin to feel frustrated once affects of insomnia reak havoc in others areas of their lifes. If you are constantly fatigued throughout the day and have problems maintaining concentration, it will ultimately affects our performance at school or work. Poor sleep can affect our abilites to multi-task, slows your productivity down, worsens memory and impairs your ability to engage in creative thinking.
Difficulty seen in personal relationshipsA study done in the UK suggest that people who have insomnia were four times more likely to report problems in their relationships with others, and three times more likely to report feeling depression and have a lack of focus concentrating. In order to maintain healthy relations with others, you need to ensure that your health is intact. It is very difficult to give our all to others when our own overall health is at stake.
Behavior ProblemsLack of sleep can make a person feel more irritable, irrate or even depressive. It can bring upon other risky behavior problems like impulsive behavior, aggressive mannerisms and lack of overall motivation. Insomnia affects the activity in the prefrontal cortex of our brain. Poor functioning in the prefrontal cortex leads to an inclination to engage in impulsive behavior.
Concern and/or frustration about sleepHaving difficulties maintaining a decent night sleep can create an unpleasant cycle of anxiety about your lack of sleep. This cycle may potentially cause you to lose sleep in following nights when you are worrying about your lack of sleep. Sleep is vital for our health so it is no wonder we get very stressful at the thought of losing a good night sleep. To read more about sleep anxiety.
Chronic vs. Acute InsomniaInsomnia is characterized based on the condition’s duration. Acute insomnia last typically for a brief period, usually caused by certain life stressors and can be cured without any sort of treatment. An example of this would include pulling an all-nighter in order to study for an important exam. Chronic Insomnia is more problematic in comparison. In order to properly diagnose chronic insomnia, symptoms must occur at least three nights a week for a three-month period of time. Fixed changes in a person’s daily routine can lead to adjustment’s in a person’s circadian rhythym and overall sleep pattern, or lack of. In certain cases, being afflicted with insomnia can be considered comorbid, meaning that the insomnia itself is a symptom of another health problem.
Risk Factors for developing InsomniaThere are also certain risk factors that increase your chance for developing insomnia. These factors include:
- Obstructive Sleep Apena
- Traveling frequently, especially through multiple time zones
- Working shifts and frequently changing from day to night shift
- Poor diet
- Excessive amounts of caffeine
- Persistent use of illicit drugs
- Use of prescription medication (Pain medications or Anti-depressants)
- Old age
Chronic Insomnia and Health ProblemsRelentless sleep deprivation can increase your likelihood for developing certain medical conditions such as:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Asthma Attacks
- Weakened Immune System
- Mood Disorders such as Anxiety or Depression
Do not let another sleepless night interfere with your life!! Please leave comments below 🙂
Genevieve is a recent college graduate from the University at Albany, where she studied Psychology and Neuroscience. Genevieve was involved in the CAFE Project, a research lab affliatied with the University at Albany. CAFE Project was focused on family and community violence experienced in childhood and the effects on long term adjustment, as well as MBSR techniques and the benefits they have on reduction of psychophysiology. Genevieve also worked as a Behavioral Therapist for early intervention programs helpful for teaching developmental milestones for children who have ASD. Currently, she is involved in an Evolutionary Psychology lab through State University of New York at New Paltz. She plans to go to graduate school in Fall 2019.