What is Insomnia

woman with palm on forehead lying down on the bed at dawn

Anyone who has had a bad night of sleep can recognise how much it can affect their day, including their mood, their focus, and their energy levels. Multiply that by weeks, months, years, and (unfortunately for some patients) decades, and you will start to understand just how crippling insomnia can be.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes a patient to have difficulty initiating sleep, maintaining sleep, waking up too early, being unable to go back to sleep, or a combination of these. The sleeping problems will result in difficulties in their day-to-day lives and, if left untreated, can start to impact various aspects of a patient’s health.

Insomnia is a common problem, and it is estimated that 1 in every 3 adults struggles with insomnia symptoms, and 10% of the world population matches the criteria for insomnia disorder. But for such a common problem, knowing how to effectively prevent and treat it isn’t as widely known.

What are the different types of Insomnia?

Depending on how you consider insomnia, there are different types of insomnia or different ways to classify it. The most common way to classify insomnia is by the duration of the sleeping complaints. This is broken down into:

  • Acute Insomnia: Insomnia symptoms lasting less than 3 months.
  • Chronic Insomnia: Insomnia symptoms lasting longer than 3 months.

Some, however, prefer to categorise insomnia by its cause, and if that is the case, then there are the following types:

  • Primary Insomnia: Your sleep problems are not related to any other health condition or problem.
  • Secondary Insomnia: Your sleeping problem is caused by another medical condition, mental health problem, or other sleep disorder.

Additionally, if you choose to categorise insomnia by the time in which your complaints occur, insomnia can be further broken down into:

  • Onset Insomnia: Difficulties falling asleep at the beginning of your night.
  • Maintenance Insomnia: Waking up for a long period of time in the middle of your night.
  • Terminal Insomnia: Waking up early in the morning and not being able to fall back asleep.

Lastly, as always, there are a few exceptions to the rule.

  • Idiopathic Insomnia: A form of insomnia that appears to have its onset early in life (‘beginning in childhood if not at birth’) and has a clinical course that is chronic and relatively invariant.
  • Paradoxical Insomnia: A rare form of insomnia where the patient perceives themselves to be awake when they are asleep.
  • Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI): An extremely rare and genetic form of insomnia that is life-threatening.

What are the symptoms of Insomnia?

When we start dramatically reducing the amount of sleep we have every night, its effects on our well-being are multi-faceted. The reason for this is that sleep is vital for maintaining both our physical and mental health, so when we are deprived of sleep, our body’s systems start showing signs of the effects. Some of these symptoms of insomnia may include:

  • Difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep
  • Daytime fatigue or sleepiness
  • Lack of energy, a decline in motivation, or a reduction in exercise.
  • Difficulties focusing
  • Decline in memory
  • Mood changes / Mental health: such as an increase in irritability, aggression or depression
  • Struggles with work or school performance
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulties maintaining a healthy weight
  • An increase in worry or feeling anxious about your sleep

Insomnia can also cause underlying health conditions to develop or become more difficult to control in some patients. Once insomnia is treated, patients may find that other aspects of their health will also start to improve.

What causes Insomnia?

For some patients, it is obvious where their insomnia journey began. For others, a little more of a deep dive is needed to figure out the root cause. Some patients can identify a single entity that caused their issues, whereas other patients find that their insomnia was caused by a combination of events. Here are some common causes for insomnia:

  • Stress and Anxiety. Stress can be caused by life’s many challenges. Perhaps it’s your work, your relationship, or an unforeseen event that has your stress levels rising. When we are in this heightened state of stress, our body can enter what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response, and sleep becomes difficult. It is common that when stress is the cause, patients have difficulties falling asleep at the beginning of their night.
  • Poor Sleep Habits. Otherwise known as sleep hygiene, the environment in which we sleep and the things we do in the daytime can impact our ability to sleep well. Temperature, light/darkness, some foods, exercise and our routine can all play a role in our sleeping problems.
  • Medication. Sometimes we need to take medications for other health complaints, but one of their side effects is that they impact your sleep. Common medications known to play a role in sleeping problems are corticosteroids, anti-depressants and some blood pressure medications.
  • Other Health Conditions. The body is a delicate system, and sometimes when another health concern is wreaking havoc on us, it can have the side effect of interrupting our sleep. Menopause and pregnancy are perfect examples of this.
  • Other Sleep Disorders. When patients have another sleep disorder that causes them to involuntarily wake up in the night (such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome), this can cause insomnia to develop.

While it’s important to identify and understand what caused your insomnia to begin, once you have chronic insomnia, the treatment is often the same.

What are some Risk Factors of Insomnia?

Insomnia can have various causes and consequences, but some people are more likely to experience it than others. Some of the factors that increase the risk of insomnia are:

  • Being prone to worry or anxiety
  • Being female, especially during hormonal changes
  • Getting older, as sleep patterns change with age
  • Perfectionism
  • Having a personal or family history of insomnia or other sleep disorders
  • Having a history of mental health disorders
  • Having a medical condition that causes pain or discomfort, such as diabetes or arthritis

However, these factors do not necessarily mean that you will have insomnia. They just make you more vulnerable to it. There are also ways to prevent and treat insomnia, such as improving your sleep hygiene, seeking professional help, or taking medication if needed.

How is Insomnia diagnosed?

Most of the time, a simple chat with your doctor or healthcare professional is enough to diagnose insomnia. They will ask about your sleep concerns and your sleeping habits, as well as consider your overall health. They may ask you to keep a sleep diary over a set period of time to get a clearer understanding of your sleeping problems. If your healthcare provider suspects other sleep conditions may also be present, they may refer you for a sleep test or study (also known as a PSG).

The diagnostic criteria for chronic insomnia are taking 30 minutes or more to fall asleep or being awake for 30 minutes or more during the night. It needs to occur at least three nights per week and be present for at least three months. The lack of sleep also causes distress or impairment in social, occupational, educational, academic, behavioural, or other important areas of functioning. The sleeping problem should also occur despite adequate opportunity for sleep; for example, a parent of a newborn baby that repeatedly wakes up in the night is not considered to have insomnia if they would otherwise sleep well.

How is Insomnia treated?

Many people are misinformed about how to treat their insomnia. They may try various methods to fall asleep, such as drinking herbal teas, listening to podcasts, or even getting started on using prescription sleeping pills. However, these methods do not address the underlying causes of insomnia and may have negative side effects.

The most effective treatment for chronic insomnia is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). This is a proven and scientific approach that is recommended as the ‘gold standard’ treatment for chronic insomnia by leading health and sleep organisations in Australia and around the world. CBT-I works at addressing the cause of the issue and using a medication-free approach to restore your natural sleep patterns. CBT-I addresses behavioural factors as well as thought processes that affect your sleep quality.

TM Insomnia Treatment offers online CBT-I sessions from the comfort of your own home. You do not need a referral from your doctor, and wait times are currently low when compared to hospitals and specialised clinics. Visit our website to learn more and book your appointment today.

How can you prevent Insomnia?

The simple answer: you can’t. Insomnia is not always preventable, as it may be a natural reaction to stress or other factors beyond our control. However, you can take steps to ensure a single bad night doesn’t turn into a year of poor sleep (chronic insomnia). This is where you should consult an experienced health professional specifically trained in helping patients with sleeping problems or insomnia treatments.

What are the complications of Insomnia?

Sleep is essential for our health and well-being. If you’ve ever had sleeping problems, then you can fully understand the truth of that statement. Think of it this way: we spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping, and if it didn’t serve a special purpose, it would be one of nature’s biggest blunders.

When we don’t get enough sleep or the quality of our sleep is poor, then our body goes into survival mode (to put it simply), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as it’s temporary. If our bodies go into a continuous state of survival mode, then we can start to see a lot of consequences from this. Some of the possible complications of insomnia include:

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke
  • Increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increased risk of accidents and injuries due to fatigue and impaired attention
  • Increased risk of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and weight gain
  • Increased risk of gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux
  • Increased risk of fertility complications
  • Decreased mood and emotional regulation, leading to anxiety, depression and irritability

Simply put, there isn’t an area of our health that is not negatively affected by poor sleep. Insomnia can affect every aspect of our health and our overall quality of life. Therefore, it is important to seek help if you are suffering from chronic or severe insomnia.

At TM Insomnia Treatment, we offer evidence-based and personalised solutions to help you overcome your sleeping difficulties and enjoy a better night’s rest. Contact us today to start your journey towards better sleep and better health.