SciTech

Insomnia comes in a variety of forms

Credit: Alison Chiu/Advertising Staff Member Credit: Alison Chiu/Advertising Staff Member

The ability to quickly fall asleep and remain asleep after a long day is something that many people take for granted. Sleep disorders, however, can disturb this natural phenomenon and cause a variety of unpleasant side effects that can hinder an individual’s ability to properly function.

Insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, is a common disorder that affects many individuals worldwide. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, up to 10 percent of adults are affected by insomnia at any given time. Insomnia is influenced by a variety of factors, including traits such as gender and age; women and seniors over age 60 are particularly susceptible to bouts of insomnia. In addition to difficulty falling and staying asleep, individuals with insomnia can experience a variety of side effects such as fatigue, headaches, and anxiety. Lack of sleep can also feed into more serious problems, like depression, and can increase risk of stroke or diseases, like diabetes.

Insomnia can be split into primary and secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia is not caused by an external factor like stress or another health problem. Primary insomnia is further categorized into psychophysiological, idiopathic, and paradoxical insomnia. Psychophysiological insomniacs are individuals who worry about falling sleep. Their fear of not being able to fall asleep ironically prevents them from sleeping. Idiopathic insomniacs are individuals whose insomnia developed early in life and persists as a lifetime disorder. Paradoxical insomniacs are insomniacs who are unable to sleep, but experience no other symptoms of insomnia, like fatigue or anxiety.

Secondary insomnia is caused by an external factor. This could be anything from a stressful day at work, a shift in schedule, or a health concern such as bipolar disorder. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, about 80 percent of people who experience insomnia have secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia generally goes away without treatment if the cause is removed.

Insomnia can also be categorized by the length of time it is experienced. Transient, acute, and chronic are the three main classifications of insomnia based on duration. Transient insomnia lasts for a few days, and is generally caused by a specific event or circumstance, such as an upcoming deadline or stressful occasion. Acute insomnia is also short-term, but it generally lasts for several weeks. These short-term forms of insomnia are usually treated with lifestyle changes. Avoiding food, caffeine, and exercise before going to sleep; keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool; as well as having a regular sleep schedule can help prevent short-term insomnia.

Chronic insomnia is long-term insomnia. According to howstuffworks.com, chronic insomnia occurs when an individual is unable to sleep for six hours a night at least three nights a week over the duration of 30 days. Treatment for chronic insomnia includes various techniques in addition to lifestyle changes. One major treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, which attempts to reduce worry and anxiety about going to sleep. Other treatments involve therapy to alter the way the individual perceives their bed and reduce psychological stress associated with sleep. In addition to behavioral therapy, chronic insomnia can also be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medication.

Insomnia, whether moderate or severe, is a significant medical condition that can have a dramatic impact on various aspects of an individual’s life. As researchers continue to better understand the brain and the way that sleep works, new discoveries are constantly altering the way we understand insomnia and improving the methods used to treat the disease.