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Insomnia & Sleep Issues
If there is one thing all humans have in common, it’s that we all need sleep. Without enough sleep, both our physical and mental health will suffer. And while finding it difficult to fall asleep every once in a while is entirely normal, those who find themselves consistently having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep should look into professional mental health help. This might be a sign of insomnia.
When someone experiences insomnia, they aren’t able to get enough sleep to function properly during the day. And because insomnia and other sleep disturbance disorders are often related to mental health conditions, those who deal with sleep problems, such as chronic insomnia, need to seek help for sleep problems and mental illnesses sooner rather than later.
How Common is Insomnia?
- A recent study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that approximately 25% of Americans experience acute insomnia every year.
- Around 15 to 20% of adults have bouts of insomnia that last less than three months.
- Chronic insomnia occurs in about 10% of adults, according to a study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
- The National Sleep Foundation shows that 50% of Americans experience at least one symptom of insomnia a few nights per week.
Warning Signs of a Sleep Disorder
Sleep problems may present themselves differently in different people, but some common warning signs of insomnia and other sleep disorders include:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up frequently during the night
- Feeling tired during the day
- Lessened mental functionality
- Difficulty focusing
- Irritability and anxiety
- Depression and other psychiatric disorders
Causes and Types of Sleep Issues
There are a few different types of insomnia and sleep disorders, including:
- Acute Insomnia: The most common type of insomnia is acute insomnia, which usually only lasts a few weeks. This short term insomnia can be caused by a stressful event, like a job change or family issues.
- Chronic Insomnia: If someone has difficulty falling asleep at least three nights every week, and this lasts more than three months, they may have chronic insomnia. Causes of this common sleep disorder vary, as do treatment options.
- Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea occurs when someone stops breathing during sleep, which can result in interruptions in sleep and is caused by an obstruction in the airway, called obstructive sleep apnea, or the brain failing to keep the body breathing.
- Restless Legs Syndrome: This condition creates an unpleasant feeling in the legs, which results in a need to keep the legs moving.
While chronic sleep problems may come in different forms for both those in adolescence and older adults, a few common causes of sleep problems and insomnia are:
- Medications: Some medications, such as those for mental health problems and high blood pressure, may have side effects that cause sleep disruption at bedtime.
- Mental health disorders: Mental illnesses and psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, may make it difficult to get restful sleep. Mental health troubles can also be a result of a regular lack of deep sleep.
- Stress: An increased stress level related to day-to-day life can result in sleepless nights and a late bedtime. Stressful events, like a traumatic event or the death of a family member, can hinder sleep and result in insomnia as well.
- Lifestyle: The choices people make can impact their sleep—if someone drinks caffeine late in the afternoon, eats before bed, or indulges in nicotine or alcohol, they may experience insomnia.
- Medical conditions: Some medical conditions could lead to poor sleep. Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, chronic pain, and asthma are just a few medical conditions that may have insomnia as a side effect.
Some additional risk factors of developing insomnia include being over the age of 60, having a mental health disorder, having increased stress levels, and not having a regular sleep schedule.
How Do Sleep Disorders Impact Daily Life?
Not getting enough hours of sleep on a regular basis will impact daily life—people who experience sleep deprivation or insomnia may see changes in their physical health, like weight gain, appetite changes, and overall feelings of fatigue. Additionally, a lack of sleep can increase anxiety, cause changes in mood, and increase the risk of developing mental illnesses. And if the body can’t enter the rapid eye movement sleep stage (REM sleep) due to a REM sleep behavior disorder, learning, memory, and emotional health may be impacted.
Overall, not getting enough sleep will result in excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulty focusing during the daytime. If a sleep disorder such as insomnia persists, there can be critical long-term effects, including an increased risk of heart disease and the development of mental health conditions and other health conditions.
Where to Find Help for Insomnia and Mental Illness
The good news is that there is help for those experiencing insomnia and other sleep problems.
- Changing sleep habits: Readjusting sleep patterns and good sleep hygiene is usually the first step in alleviating a sleep disorder like insomnia. A regular sleep schedule, adjusting jet lag, keeping a sleep diary, and having a strict bedtime can improve sleep over time.
- Therapy: Psychotherapy can help with many sleep issues, especially insomnia. A therapist will help the patient determine what exactly is keeping them awake — negative thoughts, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can cause insomnia, and learning to control these thoughts can help improve sleep.
- Lifestyle changes: Often, changing daily habits and behaviors can help alleviate insomnia. Exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced diet, and staying away from caffeine and alcohol can result in better sleep. Joining support groups like NAMI can help, too.
- Medicine: Taking prescription medication can allow people to get restful sleep, but medications aren’t usually taken for a long time and are prescribed for short-term insomnia. Additionally, herbal remedies and natural medicines have been found to help with sleep troubles.
Finding a Mental Healthcare Provider
Talking with your health care provider can put you on the right track for treating your insomnia or other sleep disorder. With a physical exam and tracking a sleep diary, you can find a diagnosis for your sleep troubles, reduce daytime sleepiness, and improve sleep.
Furthemore, using a dedicated service like WithTherapy allows people to identify and contact therapists with expertise in the onset and symptoms of psychiatric disorders and mental illnesses and appropriate forms of therapy to find relief from insomnia.
Client-therapist connections and online therapy sessions facilitated by WithTherapy enable people to find the support, help, and coping tools that they need to address their sleeping issues.