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Why Does Insomnia Affect Some People But Not Others?

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Some 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. One of the most common sleep disorders is insomnia, which affects 1 in 3 adults. The sleep deprivation resulting from insomnia can have widespread physical and mental health effects. That’s why it is important to have insomnia evaluated. A health professional can diagnose and treat sleep problems and restore your sleep-wake cycle to normal. 

Please continue reading to learn more about the sleep cycle and sleep patterns, different types of sleep disorders, and why insomnia affects some people but not others.

What are the different types of sleep disorders?

More than 80 different sleep disorders have been identified. The most common ones are briefly described below. It is important to seek treatment for these conditions. They can affect all aspects of your life and cause safety issues due to daytime drowsiness. 

Obstructive sleep apnea

This condition is caused by the soft tissue at the back of the throat blocking the airway during sleep. As a result, people with sleep apnea stop breathing for a short duration repeatedly during sleep. Symptoms of sleep apnea may include snoring, restlessness, gasping for air during sleep, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue

Restless legs syndrome

This condition is characterized by an intense urge to move the legs. The symptoms of restless legs syndrome tend to occur in the evening hours, leading to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. The lack of sleep can cause daytime sleepiness and tiredness.

Narcolepsy sleep disorder

This is a sleep regulation disorder in which there are uncontrolled episodes of falling asleep in the daytime. The sleep attacks or daytime naps can occur at any time of day, including during activities. 

Insomnia

This is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or waking up frequently during the night and having trouble going back to sleep. People with insomnia wake up feeling unrefreshed and unrested. Chronic insomnia can also cause symptoms such as daytime sleepiness, fatigue, mood changes, problems with focus and concentration, and accidents while driving or at work due to poor sleep. 

Is insomnia a common problem?

Insomnia is indeed a common sleep disorder. Approximately 33% to 50% of adults experience insomnia symptoms. Experts estimate that chronic insomnia affects 10% to 15% of adults.

Are there different types of insomnia?

Yes, the two main types of insomnia are acute insomnia and chronic insomnia disorder. Acute or short-term insomnia happens for a brief period lasting days to weeks. Chronic insomnia lasts for 3 months or more. 

Different people can experience insomnia in different ways. For instance, some people may find it difficult to fall asleep, while others may find it difficult to stay asleep. 

A sleep specialist can diagnose and treat the condition based on its cause, severity, and other coexisting health conditions.

What causes insomnia?

Many things can interfere with sleep and lead to insomnia, including mental disorders like stress, depression, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder. Sleep problems can also result from physical health conditions like chronic pain or neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Some prescription drugs can affect sleep and cause insomnia as a side effect. Other common causes of insomnia include an irregular sleep schedule and poor sleeping habits. In many people, insomnia occurs from a combination of factors that cause it and/or make it worse. 

How does insomnia affect a person?

How much sleep is enough varies according to age and also varies from person to person. According to the Sleep Foundation, healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. It is worth noting that quality sleep is important. Meaning, if you are spending 10 hours in bed tossing and turning, that does not constitute a good night’s sleep. 

Healthy sleep is very important for physical and mental health. Whatever the reason for your sleep problems, whether it is insomnia or other sleep disorders, poor sleep can have a severe effect on all aspects of your life. 

Some of the potential complications of sleepless nights include poor performance in school or at work, difficulty concentrating, and slowed reaction time while driving, leading to an increased risk of accidents. 

Insomnia can also lead to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and mood changes, including irritability. 

Treating chronic insomnia is important because this condition is associated with an increased risk of physical health conditions like weight gain, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Why are some people more prone to insomnia? 

Some people are at increased risk of developing insomnia compared to others. For instance, those experiencing chronic pain or going through a stressful life situation may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. As mentioned above, other sleep disorders like restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea can make it difficult to get healthy sleep.

Another common reason that increases the risk of trouble falling asleep and staying asleep at night is an irregular sleep-wake cycle or schedule. Poor sleep habits weaken the body’s natural circadian clock, which regulates sleeping and wakefulness. People whose job involves shift work or frequent time zone changes are at particularly high risk of developing sleep difficulties. 

Other people prone to develop sleep disturbances include those who do not sleep and wake up at a regular time (night owls, for instance). People who are worriers by nature are also at risk of not getting sound sleep at night. Those who cannot unwind from daily stressors may find it challenging to enter deep sleep, which is restful and refreshing. 

Age and gender also play a role. Women are twice as likely to have trouble sleeping than men. Older adults are more likely to suffer from insomnia even when they have a healthy sleep schedule.

Lastly, there may be a genetic predisposition to insomnia. While no specific genes have been identified that are linked to insomnia, this type of sleep disturbance often runs in families, suggesting a genetic basis

How is insomnia treated?

Lifestyle changes and over-the-counter sleep aids are often all that is needed to treat short-term insomnia. People with chronic insomnia should be medically reviewed by a healthcare professional who can provide medical advice. Taking sleeping pills for the long term without professional medical evaluation can be dangerous. 

Chronic insomnia may need to be evaluated by a sleep medicine specialist who can diagnose insomnia. The sleep specialist may ask you to keep a sleep diary to help identify what disrupts sleep. In most people, insomnia can be effectively treated with medications and/or cognitive behavioral therapy. 

How to make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep?

Several things in your bedroom can interfere with sleep. To promote sound sleep, make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. 

Lifestyle changes and sleep habits can also aid in helping you fall asleep and get good sleep quality. Avoid large meals, alcohol, and caffeine in the hours before bedtime. Get regular physical exercise during the day, preferably outdoors. 

Sleep habits, like going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, can help prevent sleep loss. Put away your smartphone and laptop and switch off the TV - these are all things that can disturb sleep. Instead, practice meditation or unwind with relaxing music or a good book before bed.


References:

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11429-common-sleep-disorders
  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12119-insomnia
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167
  4. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/sleep/insomnia/causes/who-is-at-risk.html