Insomnia is not just an annoyance. This can have serious effects on your health.

The first time Erika Zar saw a doctor for her inability to sleep or insomnia, she was 9 years old. “I mostly remember him asking me how many sodas I had,” he said. Unfortunately, the doctor could not help him. Erika’s insomnia continued into her adult life, compounding her mental health issues.

“For many years before I learned to deal with it, insomnia was definitely a contributing factor to the anxiety and depression I’ve had my whole life,” Erika said. “I remember many dark nights where I had almost suicidal feelings.”

Insomnia can affect physical and mental well-being over time, worsen mental health issues, and increase the risk of chronic disease. And it can also affect your ability to carry out your activities during the day. Fortunately, there are things you can do to sleep more and better.

Sleep disorders, including insomnia, affect millions of people

Sleep disorders, which are any condition that causes a change in the way you sleep, affect approximately 70 million Americans. Although there are 80 types of sleep disorders, the most common are insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and the narcolepsy.

Insomnia can be classified into two types: acute and chronic. Acute insomnia is a short-term problem that lasts from days to weeks and is often accompanied by a specific stressor, a worry that keeps you up at night.

Chronic insomnia is a long-term condition that lasts for months or more. Like acute insomnia, it can be linked to stressful situations, said the Dr. Smita Patelintegrative neurologist and specialist in sleep medicine at the iNeuro Institute and member of the Healthy Women’s Health Advisory Council (WHAC), for its acronyms in English). There can also be other causes, Dr. Patel said: irregular sleep schedules, poor sleep hygiene, persistent nightmares, mental health issues, hidden physical problems, medications, sharing a bed with someone who makes noise or moves a lot or other sleep disturbances. .

With both acute and chronic insomnia, people have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep to the point that it affects their ability to go about their daily activities during the day. Importantly, insomnia is not the same as sleep deprivation, Dr. Patel said:

“Usually people with insomnia want to sleep, they can go to bed at a regular time, etc., but usually they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep or wake up too early,” he said. . In other words, staying up late watching your favorite TV show is not considered insomnia.

Hormonal change and sleep disturbances

According to Dr. Patel, women are twice as likely as men to have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and hormones play a role in this gender difference. Since estrogen and progesterone influence sleep, insomnia is more common during the premenstrual period and postmenopausal years, when hormonal changes are more extreme.

Insomnia is also a major problem for women during perimenopause, the transition period before menopause. In one study, between 31 and 42% of women in perimenopause reported suffering from insomnia, with symptoms worsening as they approached menopause.

Stress and nutrition are some of the risk factors for insomnia

Stress is one of the biggest risk factors for insomnia, as many of us have come to shocking learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost 3 million people made queries for “insomnia” on Google in the United States in the first five months of 2020, an increase of 58% over the same period in the previous three years. Whether immediate (anxiety about a test the next day) or chronic (worries about the future), it can keep you from falling asleep or staying asleep.

Nutrition also plays an important role in insomnia. Dr Patel noted to research showing that a diet rich in sugar and trans fat and low fiber can negatively affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. The relationship between nutrition and insomnia is often a vicious cycle, as lack of sleep can make you want to eat types of food that can make insomnia worse.

Other risk factors for insomnia include being over 60, having a family history of insomnia, and being easily woken. It also seems that there is a link between psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and insomnia. “Many people with chronic insomnia have a psychiatric illness, and most people with psychiatric illness have insomnia,” Dr. Patel said.

Saundra Jain, PsyD, LPCpsychotherapist, assistant clinical researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and member of the WHAC of HealthyWomen, said she frequently hears about issues related to lack of sleep in her psychotherapy practice. “The data supports the idea that sleep difficulties are very common among people with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other conditions,” Dr. Jain said.

Long-term impacts of insomnia

In addition to making existing medical problems worse, insomnia can increase your risk of developing new ones. Lack of sleep is linked to chronic conditions as the the Depression and other mood disorders, with hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and obesity.

Insomnia can also be linked to brain problems, including memory loss and difficulty concentrating. “Long-term, sleep disturbances can put a person at higher risk for cognitive decline and dementia,” Dr. Patel said.

Sleep is useful for the brain to perform important maintenance tasks and to eliminate potentially harmful substances. “Studies show that even one night of sleep deprivation can increase beta-amyloid levels in the brain,” Dr. Patel said.

Take steps to improve sleep

The good news? Even the most severe cases of insomnia can be treated. Dr. Patel and Dr. Jain recommend these steps to improve sleep:

Set a consistent wake-up time. The time you wake up has a big impact on the quality of your sleep. Dr. Patel suggests getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends. When you wake up, let your body know it’s time to start the day by exposing it to bright light as soon as possible. Natural light is the best option, a full spectrum light box also works.

Add movement to your routine. “A lot of people, especially those who work from home, don’t move around enough during the day,” Dr Patel said. And Erika said, “I never fall asleep faster or better than when I do a bit of vigorous physical activity during the day.”

Consume carbohydrates and caffeine in moderation. Since high-carb diets are associated with poor sleep quality, people with insomnia may benefit from eating less. complex carbohydrates. When it comes to caffeine, Dr. Patel said the best option is to take it early in the morning if you’re sensitive to it.

Seek professional support Insomnia often causes excessive worry related to lack of sleep, Dr. Jain explained, which increases sleep difficulties and causes a negative cycle. recommend cognitive behavioral therapies for insomnia (CBT-i, for its acronym in English), a program that has helped many of its patients to break the cycle. Medication may also be an option for treating insomnia.

Coping with insomnia one night at a time

Although she still sometimes has bad nights, Erika is no longer at the mercy of insomnia. With continued practice of techniques such as those just suggested (including the help of a good therapist), Erika gets the rest she needs. Where in the past you worried about not being able to sleep, now you know you will, even if it takes a little effort.

This resource was prepared with assistance from Eisai.

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