Each of us has likely faced, at least once in our lives, the difficulty of falling asleep or staying asleep, known as insomnia. Although it may seem like a minor problem, the effects of insomnia, especially chronic insomnia, can seriously impact health.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that affects millions of people and refers to the inability or difficulty falling asleep. People are dealing with insomnia when they wake up repeatedly during the night or when they wake up earlier than necessary. Restless sleep significantly affects the quality of life:

  • leads to low performance at work or school
  • leads to obesity, anxiety and/or depression
  • concentration problems and memory loss occur and generate irascibility
  • the immune system weakens, and frequent illnesses occur
  • it reduces reaction speed which can lead to accidents

Sleeping fewer hours than most people do is not always directly related to insomnia, primarily because each person needs a certain number of hours of sleep each day. Sleep schedule may vary depending on age, sex, and other factors of each individual.

Emotional stress plays an important causal role in the onset of insomnia as do certain other factors:

  • unsatisfactory interpersonal relationships
  • relatively low self-esteem
  • depressed mood
  • rumination
  • chronic anxiety
  • emotional inhibition
  • inability to express anger

Types of insomnia

Depending on the duration, there are three types of insomnia:

  • temporary or transient insomnia – symptoms do not last more than three nights
  • acute insomnia – also called short-term insomnia, and the symptoms persist for weeks
  • chronic insomnia – this type of insomnia can last from a few months to several years (in most cases in this category are caused by other, more serious medical problems)

Insomnia can be caused by:

  • the administration of medicines or other substances – occurs when undergoing long-term medical treatment for other diseases;
  • when consuming large amounts of coffee, energy drinks or alcohol
  • other medical conditions – this category includes mental disorders, but also other conditions, such as arthritis or apnea
  • unspecified – this type of insomnia can be caused by external factors such as noise, lack of optimal conditions of rest or extended work schedule

Risk factors

Insomnia is a condition that can occur in people of all ages and is more common among women. This may be due to hormonal changes, menopause, or menstruation, but there may also be genetic causes which make women more likely to suffer from insomnia rather than men.

Here are the categories of people prone to periods of insomnia:

  • people who travel frequently
  • employees working in rotating shift jobs
  • the elderly
  • teenagers and students
  • pregnant and menopausal women
  • people with mental disorders

Diagnosis of insomnia

Due to sleep deprivation, daytime sleepiness occurs. Insomniacs, on the other hand, despite their daytime fatigue, do not show increased drowsiness compared to people who enjoy a restful sleep but are paradoxically much more alert in comparison. They can also show changes in electroencephalographic investigations, suggestive of increased brain activation, both before and during sleep.

Unfortunately, insomnia remains an underdiagnosed and undertreated problem, given that more than half of those who are sufferers do not share it with their doctor in order to find a solution. Insomnia evaluation should include a detailed history of sleep-related habits (including sleep during the day), a careful medical history, a physical exam, a psychological exam and a list of substances and medicines that patients take daily.

Insomnia can be, however, the onset of mental disorders. A health specialist has the professional experience to determine the cause of an affective disorder. To be diagnosed with insomnia, sleep problems must have persisted for at least a month and must have significantly affected overall health; if you are dealing with the symptoms above it is necessary to make an appointment with a specialist. Our therapy specialists can help you; get in touch today with a dedicated treatment professional in the UK!

Symptoms of insomnia

Generally, insomnia is classified as lack of sleep, but there are other symptoms associated with this condition. These include:

  • difficulty falling asleep at night
  • frequent awakenings during the night
  • waking up in the early hours of the morning and inability to fall asleep again
  • drowsiness
  • irritability, anxiety, or depression episodes
  • lack of concentration
  • migraines
  • socialization issues
  • gastrointestinal pain

How do we prevent and treat insomnia?

The therapeutic approach in insomnia must aim not only to restore sleep but also to reduce overall emotional and physiological hyperactivity through cognitive behavioural therapy. This therapy for insomnia helps anyone identify and replace thoughts and behaviours that cause or worsen sleep problems with patterns that promote sound sleep.

In the case of short periods of insomnia, the patient is instructed to make lifestyle and diet changes to combat sleep deprivation:

  • avoid consuming large amounts of caffeine, stimulants, cigarettes, alcohol
  • establishing a constant bedtime routine
  • exercise regularly
  • avoid overeating in the evening or lipid-rich meals
  • elimination of disturbing factors (television, radio, computer) from the bedroom
  • ensuring a comfortable bedroom (temperature, light, etc.)
  • drinking herbal tea with positive effects on sleep (linden, mint, valerian, etc.) before bedtime

When insomnia becomes chronic, the need for long-term drug treatment must be discussed with a therapist. Hypnotic medicines may be prescribed for a limited time if the insomnia is having a severe effect on your day-to-day life.

Insomnia should not be seen only as a minor and temporary discomfort, because, in chronic cases, it becomes a medical problem that we must pay attention to and seek specialized medical help. Otherwise, insomnia will have serious effects on our lives. Do you suffer from insomnia? Schedule a medical session with one of the therapists you find on our online platform in several areas in the UK and let us help you get a good night’s sleep.