According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1 in 3 adults in America don’t get the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. Some of this is due to lifestyle factors, but many people who don’t get enough sleep are suffering from the sleep disorder insomnia.
Many people think insomnia is something that occurs only for a moment in time and that it will pass. This is sometimes the case, yet some people suffering from this condition don’t realize that insomnia is an actual sleep disorder that may require the intervention of a sleep specialist.
Insomnia Makes You Feel Bad
Even infrequent insomnia can leave you feeling miserable, but can a chronic lack of sleep actually be fatal? Research says the answer may be yes, due to a combination of health conditions made worse by sleep deprivation.
Keep reading to learn more about the link between mortality risk and chronic insomnia.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
The amount of sleep you need depends on your age, lifestyle, and general level of health. On average, children and teens need more sleep than adults (9-12 hours for grade-schoolers, 8-12 hours for teens). The CDC recommends that adults get at least 7-9 hours of sleep in every 24-hour period.
Every person has different sleep needs, and yours may change over time. If you’re recovering from an illness or other stressful event, you’ll need more sleep than if you’ve been living a quiet, stress-free life.
The best way to know if you’re getting enough sleep is to evaluate how you feel during the day. If you experience daytime drowsiness, fatigue, or poor concentration, you might be experiencing sleep deprivation. If you fall asleep within five minutes of your head hitting the pillow, you may also be sleep deprived.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by the inability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep throughout the night. Many of us will experience intermittent insomnia throughout our lives. Intermittent insomnia is often linked to a stressful trigger or major life change, poor sleep environment, or pain and illness.
For some, persistent or chronic insomnia is a lifelong battle. The symptoms can interfere with your day-to-day life, leaving you feeling miserable. Aside from low sleep quality sufferers may experience:
- Waking up very early in the morning
- Drowsiness during the day
- Low energy and fatigue
- Poor or inconsistent mood
- General malaise
- Headache and nausea
- Decreased attention span and concentration
Chronic insomnia can result from a combination of factors, including medications, mood disorders, GERD, drug and alcohol use, and caffeine intake. Inconsistent sleep habits and eating before bed can also contribute, as can genetics and other disorders like sleep apnea.
Insomnia and Mortality Risk
Scientists still aren’t exactly sure why we need sleep to function or how long we can go without it. Studies in rats have found that they pass away within 11-32 days of constant wakefulness, even without an apparent anatomical cause. This can’t be tested on humans for obvious reasons, so no one knows how long a person has to be completely deprived of sleep before it results in death.
Emerging research has found that persistent low-quality sleep has been associated with mortality. When controlling for confounding factors, research has shown that adult men who experience persistent insomnia symptoms are at a moderate, but significantly higher risk of death from all causes. Another study found that older adults who took over 30 minutes to fall asleep had double the mortality risk of their non-insomniac counterparts.
So if sleep deprivation itself isn’t killing us, why is insomnia correlated with premature death?
Accident and Injury
Sleep deprivation was at least partially responsible for some of the most notable work-related accidents in history, including the Exxon oil spill, plane crashes, and the Chernobyl disaster.
Long shifts without breaks and working overnight can lower our awareness and reaction time. This makes accidents and injuries more likely to occur.
These factors are even worse when combined with persistent insomnia. It only takes a second to lose control of heavy machinery or spill toxic chemicals. If you work at a job where inattention poses a health and safety risk, it’s vital to get your sleeplessness under control.
Drivers that don’t get enough sleep are at a high risk of dozing off while they’re driving. It only takes a few seconds of shuteye behind the wheel for someone to drift off the road or into the path of another vehicle. In fact, drowsy driving and falling asleep are responsible for an estimated 6,000 fatal car accidents every year in the U.S.
But even if you don’t drift off all the way, driving while tired is still dangerous. Drowsiness can reduce your reaction time as much as consuming a moderate amount of alcohol. If you feel sleepy, make sure you catch a ride with someone else.
Chronic insomnia and other sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea) increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, both of which are leading causes of death in the United States.
Insomnia and sleep apnea might increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack because sleep loss increases levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in your bloodstream. CRP is a marker of systemic inflammation. Inflammation can damage your heart and the lining of your blood vessels over time.
A lack of sleep is also correlated with a higher risk of obesity and its comorbidities. Chronic exhaustion can lower your baseline metabolic rate. It also can disrupt your hunger and satiety hormones. Another factor is that being tired also hinders your willpower. This makes it harder to make healthy choices like eating well and exercising.
When these factors combine, they can lead to significant weight gain. Obesity can then, in turn, increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The combination of insomnia and OSA means that once you finally fall asleep, you’ll be interrupted throughout the night when a blocked airway repeatedly stops your breathing.
Getting Treatment for Insomnia
Ignoring chronic insomnia can increase your risk of death and it isn’t a mistake you can afford to make. If your persistent lack of sleep is negatively affecting your life, there are many solutions available to treat your specific condition.
The specialists at Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee, will help you get to the bottom of why you aren’t sleeping well and help you take steps to treat it. It’s time to find a solution for your restless nights—contact us today.