What Does It Really Mean to Have Insomnia?
We’ve all been there, tucked up in bed, exhausted, tired but unable to sleep. Cue tossing and turning, frustrated sighs, trips to the toilet, radio on/radio off, phone on/phone off, TV on/TV off, until you give in and realise that you’ll probably just have to lie there until sunrise. Even one night of restless sleep will leave you flagging for at least 48 hours, but if you suffer from regular bouts of insomnia—and it can last for months or years—it could cause a knock-on effect to your mind, body and well-being.
According to new research by Mintel’s Sleep Aid Report 2017, half of Britons struggle to sleep, and when we do sleep, on average, it’s for less than seven hours a night. And only a fifth of us can get to sleep without much difficulty. For the rest of us, bedtimes have become a battlefield. We’re officially a nation of insomniacs. Keep scrolling as we break down this sleep epidemic.
WHAT EXACTLY IS INSOMNIA?
Insomnia can rear its ugly head in many ways, whether it’s lying awake for hours once you get into bed, waking during the night or waking up mega early and not being able to get back to sleep. GP and sleep expert Roger Henderson says that he has patients who present various different symptoms but typically there are five types of insomnia:
Onset insomnia: when you struggle to fall asleep at the start of the night.
Maintenance insomnia: the inability to stay asleep resulting in toilet trips, anxious spats in the night and restlessness.
Comorbid insomnia: often linked to depression or other medical conditions that could cause pain making it difficult to sleep.
Acute insomnia: an episode of broken sleeping patterns usually triggered by a stressful incident such as moving house, bad news, travel or a change in routine.
Chronic insomnia: Long-term sleep issues when falling asleep or staying asleep becomes a problem more than three nights a week for three months or longer.
WHAT CAUSES INSOMNIA?
It’s usually tied to stress and anxiety, poor sleeping environment, lifestyle habits, your general health (sinus problems, hyperthyroidism, gastrointestinal reflux and sleep apnea are all sleep saboteurs), as well as certain medicines you’re taking. Any imbalances in any of those areas and you could be on a slippery slope to sleep deprivation.
According to Hera Crossan, personal care analyst at Mintel, it’s the middle-aged group or “sandwich generation” that are the ringing in as the biggest insomniacs. “Hormonal disruptions, lack of time caused by raising children and looking after parents alongside balancing employment means they’re struggling to find time to go to bed and struggling to get enough sleep once they get there.”
CAN YOU CURE INSOMNIA?
Some people are naturally prone to insomnia, but by making some lifestyle changes and being strict to implement them, you could find your natural sleep cycle improves. “Use thick or blackout curtains, a high-quality eye mask and comfortable earplugs to help you prevent being woken up by light and noise; don’t nap in the day and keep a notepad by your bed to write down your to-dos or worries and any ideas about how to solve them as this will help you forget about them until morning,” advises Henderson.
Other handy tip-offs—put laptops, phones and any other tech-led distractors away an hour before bed. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine or alcohol an hour before bed and avoid napping in the day. Exercise is prescribed (or not) on a case-by-case basis. For some, it expels any leftover energy and makes for a sounder sleep. For others, it leaves them fired up and invigorate—not what you want when your head hits the pillow.
There’s also the more softly softly approach of scented candles, sleep sprays, bathtime and mindfulness before bed, but ultimately you need to find what works for you. Lights, oral sprays, patches and sound machines are all areas that are beginning to grow according to Mintel.
DO INSOMNIACS EVER SLEEP?
Yes, but in serious cases, it’s more likely to be snatched pockets of sleep. What’s worse, sufferers can also struggle to shut down even if they’re exhausted, which means they’re prone to irritability and exhaustion throughout the day.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO DIE FROM INSOMNIA?
There’s a reason sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture since the 14th century. With the power to send you doolally, if you go without any shuteye for long enough, it can scupper your psychological state. Affecting reaction time, memory and cognitive functions, you could even suffer from hallucinations although that’s in extreme cases.
Sleep deprivation also has a knock-on effect to your immune system, leaving it wide open to diseases and conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. And while there is a gene for fatal familial insomnia, which can cause death by insomnia, if you haven’t had a family member with this problem it’s unlikely you’ll have it, affirms Sohère Roked, MD.
In short, insomnia isn’t life-threatening, but it does leave you in the high-risk zone. And even if you’re not a classic case insomniac, lack of sleep at night will put you in a bad place during the day. Read on to discover if acupuncture might be the answer to your restless behaviour.
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