Insomnia: How Lack of Sleep Can Damage Your Health

What is Insomnia?

The average person spends approximately 1/3 of his or her life sleeping. Although we do not yet fully understand either the purpose or the mechanics of sleep, we do know that an insufficient amount can have far-reaching consequences: our work performance, our personal relationships, and our physical and mental health all depend on getting an appropriate amount of rest.

The inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep throughout the night is a condition known as insomnia, and it is among the most common of all medical complaints; approximately 1/3 of all people experience a period of insomnia at least once during their lifetime. Individuals with insomnia typically experience at least one of the following symptoms:

– Difficulties falling asleep;
– Inability to stay asleep, or waking up too early;
– Sleepiness during the day;
– Fatigue or lack of energy;
– Irritability;
– Headache;
– Decreased ability to concentrate;
– Increased errors or accidents;
– Depression and/or anxiety;
– Continual worry about sleep.

Health Risks of Insomnia

If you are not getting the sleep that you need, your insomnia may eventually lead to serious consequences for your health. In the short term, your alertness and focus are impaired, which can have a negative effect on your school or work performance. Relationship problems may result from irritability due to lack of sleep, while fatigue may prevent you from participating in your normal activities.

In the long-term, the complications of insomnia can be even more severe. Hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and mood disorders are all associated with chronic insomnia; these conditions can be life-threatening, and they will certainly reduce the quality of your life.

What Causes Insomnia?

Insomnia is symptomatic of a large number of physiological disorders; if you are having difficulty sleeping, chances are that an underlying health problem is to blame. Illness, infection, mental health disorders, and medications can all keep you from getting the proper amount of rest. Hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances can affect your body’s ability to fall asleep, and dietary deficiencies can cause insomnia, as well. Exposure to toxic elements such as heavy metals, molds, and other environmental pollutants have also been shown to impair sleep.

Finding the Cause of Insomnia

By determining what is causing your insomnia, your health care provider will be better able to help you design a plan for managing your sleep problem. To find out what is keeping you up at night, your doctor may ask you a series of questions about your lifestyle, your sleeping environment, and even the sleep habits of your partner. A variety of lab tests can also be useful in pinpointing the cause of your insomnia in the event that a health problem is involved.

Managing Insomnia

The first step to getting back to sleep is to treat the underlying cause. Establishing good sleep habits may include nutritional support, exercise, detoxification, and incorporating a relaxation technique into your daily routine.

Good sleep hygiene is important for getting the rest you need. By following the guidelines listed here, you will find yourself drifting off easily, without the constant worry about getting enough sleep every night.

– Stick to a constant sleep schedule, with a consistent bed time and wake-up time;
– Avoid bright lights (including the television and computer) for at least two hours before bedtime;
– Do not exercise within three hours of bedtime;
– Make sure your bedroom is for sleeping – keep the TV, computer, and any other distractions in another room;
– Make sure your sleeping environment is cool, dark and quiet;
– Avoid caffeine, smoking, and alcohol, especially before bed;
– Don’t eat right before you go to bed;
– Try a relaxation exercise such as deep breathing before you turn in.

Over-the-counter and prescription sleep medications are best avoided; they may help you fall asleep, but they can be habit-forming, and they have a variety of negative side effects. By identifying the cause of your insomnia and making some adjustments to your lifestyle, you should be able to overcome your sleep difficulties naturally.