The effects of insomnia may seem all too familiar: you may be trying to fall asleep, counting sheep with your eyes closed, only to continue wrestling around in your bed.
Maybe you find yourself waking up numerous times throughout the night and struggle to fall back asleep. After countless minutes, you inevitably get up and start pacing around your home, looking for something — anything — to stop your mind from racing.
The next day, after one of those sleepless nights, as you’re fighting to stay alert at work, you begin to wonder: “what’s it going to take for me to get a good night’s sleep again?”
You’re not the only one going through this. In fact, it’s estimated that 25% of American’s suffer from insomnia each year. It’s important to keep this in mind, as there are many effective treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy to help you combat this sleep disorder. You don’t need to suffer.
It’s also important to recognize that insomnia goes beyond a problem that makes it difficult to fall asleep. Insomnia manifests itself in several ways, including an inability to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Consistent sleep interruptions have been linked to insomnia. And a number of medical conditions, from asthma to lingering back pain, have also been tied to insomnia.
There are several types of insomnia. Acute insomnia is the most common variation and is defined by short term sleep problems that last a few days to a few weeks. Chronic insomnia lasts longer than a month and can be exacerbated by medical conditions like diabetes. Other variations, including onset insomnia and maintenance insomnia, can also be an issue.
A lack of sleep impacts both your physical and mental health. It’s a problem — but one that can be dealt with. You don’t have to continue suffering from sleepless nights, lethargic days, or the long term health problems linked to insomnia.
Here are 5 surprising facts about the effects of insomnia that you, or someone you know, should be aware of when struggling with insomnia.
1. Insomnia Has Been Linked to Heart Disease and Strokes
Insomnia typically isn’t a standalone problem. Several other health issues are often tied to a lack of sleep, almost acting as a warning sign for bigger issues you need to be aware of.
In particular, heart disease and strokes have been increasingly linked to those suffering from insomnia.
A recent study highlighted this connection. Researchers looked at 10 years worth of sleep habits from participants and found those suffering from insomnia were 22% more likely to have coronary artery disease. You’re also 10% more likely to have a stroke if you’re unable to get a good night’s sleep, too, the researchers found.
This comes after a 2017 study, looking at 160,000 people, found those who have a hard time staying asleep were 27% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
2. Phone Use and Insomnia
It may be fun to lay in bed and read a quick article or scan Instagram, but those moments on your phone could be a major contributor to your sleep problems.
Harvard researchers have found blue light at night throws the body off its kilter. Instead of helping your mind and body wind down, your phone stimulates your brain and makes it tougher to get a good night’s sleep.
This adds to the link researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found between smartphones and insomnia. As smartphones have become more popular in the last decade, insomnia rates have also increased. The researchers found more screen-time was associated with worse sleep for 600 participants in their study. Exposure to blue light before sleep delayed production of melatonin, an important hormone that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep longer, the researchers found.
Limiting screen time before bed is critical. However, if you do need to use your phone or computer before falling asleep, buying blue light glasses will help your body counteract the negative effects of looking at your screen.
3. Sleep Apnea, Anxiety and Depression are Also Linked to Insomnia
It’s not just heart diseases and strokes that are connected to insomnia. A lack of sleep is often tied to several other health problems, including sleep apnea, depression and anxiety.
Anxiety and depression are both two of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders, and they can impact your sleep in several ways. Researchers have found 75% of people diagnosed with depression also deal with insomnia as a core symptom. Another 24-36% of people suffering from all types of anxiety also report problems with insomnia, and insomnia is considered a symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Sleep Apnea, meanwhile, often causes you to struggle to breathe, leading to snoring or forcing you to wake up during the night. This compounds the problems people with insomnia face. But treating sleep apnea, which can be an underlying cause of insomnia, can resolve the issue.
There are a number of symptoms connected to sleep apnea, including high blood pressure and weight problems.
4. Genetics Could Be Linked to Insomnia
Can you inherit your sleep problems just like you inherited your eye and hair color?
It turns out, a 2018 study of the human genome has confirmed that insomnia is at least partially genetic in nature.
We’ve written about the link between genetics and insomnia in the past, but the key thing to remember is that you can inherit a greater chance of suffering from insomnia, but not insomnia itself.
Your genes may be telling your body to go into hyperdrive at night, but your habits are also an integral part of the equation. Avoiding bad habits, like drinking caffeine close to when you’re going to sleep, can help you counteract a genetic predisposition to insomnia.
Even if the problem is genetic, insomnia is still something that can be treated — and the treatment is the same regardless of whether you have a predisposition or not. Consulting with a sleep specialist about the treatment plan that is right for you can help you to manage your insomnia and get a good night’s rest.
5. Insomnia Can Be Cured
The effects of insomnia are often debilitating and trying. But insomnia is also a common issue that can be resolved.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that 75% of Americans who experience insomnia overcome their symptoms within 12 months. Acute insomnia tends to be a short term issue that does not develop into long term sleep problems or chronic insomnia.
Still, the mental and physical drawbacks that come from having trouble falling asleep make it an important topic to understand better. The side-effects of short term sleep deprivation are worth reviewing, with insomnia connected to a number of mental conditions beyond anxiety and depression.
Most important to remember, insomnia is most often a short term problem, but the health ramifications that come with it can be dire. As mentioned earlier, the effects of insomnia are correlated to an increased risk of premature death. This is in part due to insomnia’s connection to health conditions like heart disease and obesity and its role in making you less alert while driving.
Here are some tips to reduce nighttime anxiety which may help reduce symptoms of insomnia. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, contact a sleep specialist who can help you get your sleep back on track.