Insomnia: Definition, Causes and Cures

insomnia - woman wide awake looking at clockWhat is Insomnia ?

Insomnia is a diagnosis for people who have difficulty in falling or staying asleep. The symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Some sufferers eventually fall asleep after a period of time; others stay awake for much of the night, with short sleep periods through sheer exhaustion. 

Acute insomnia is short lasting and may occur during a period of intense stress or anxiety.  However, sufferers of chronic insomnia are often in a pattern of sleep difficulties where they experience symptoms three nights or more a week and where the problem has been occurring for months or years at a time. However, there are ways of curing insomnia.

Insomnia symptoms fall into the following groups

  • Difficulty in falling asleep
  • Falling asleep fairly easily but waking too soon  – or repeatedly during the night
  • Difficulty in falling asleep and waking too soon

The effects of insomnia can be extremely debilitating due to the sufferer having little sleep or sleep that is of very poor quality. 

Recent research has shown that a third of adults suffer from insomnia and a massive 50% of the population still feel tired upon waking.  That’s a lot of very sleepy people!

Insomnia and Stress

It will come as no great surprise to learn that most sleep problems are caused by stress and anxiety – although some are caused by chronic pain, restless leg syndrome or sleep apnoea.   Given the recent financial crisis, the economic downturn, increasing pressure at work and within the home, it’s understandable that many people are suffering from stress And finding it difficult to sleep. As a result they are unable to perform effectively. 

Insomnia and Health

Lack of sleep not only causes us to feel tired and lacking in energy but it also contributes towards a range of health conditions: memory and concentration difficulties, increased risk of infections, headaches, high blood pressure, increased anxiety and depression. 

Sleep enables us to thrive by contributing to a healthy immune system and plays an important part in the regulation of our hormones that are essential for growth and metabolism.    

Insomnia and Weight Gain

Research has shown that lack of sleep contributes to weight gain due to hormones getting out of balance.  Sleep deprivation causes the appetite promoting hormone ghrelin to increase and the satiety producing hormone leptin to reduce and as a result makes us feel hungrier and wanting to eat more. 

In one 2005 study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, overweight people were found to sleep less than people of normal weight (Vorona et al., 2005).

The Biochemistry of Sleep

A good night’s sleep is essential for rebalancing the body on a biochemical level as well as ensuring that we feel refreshed on waking.  If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. 

Sleep experts usually recommend an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for adults although some people can function effectively on less.  The quality and type of sleep that we experience varies in stages during the course of the night and it is essential that we experience all these stages for the necessary rest and recuperation of the mind and body to take place.

For further information about causes and remedies for overcoming insomnia see our other articles on insomnia:

Curing insomnia

Causes of insomnia

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