Most of us will struggle with sleeping issues at some point in our lives. Whether it’s trouble getting to sleep, waking up during the night or rising earlier than desired, sleep can be a tricky habit. Sleep problems become more prevalent as we age.
Sometimes sleeplessness (though frustrating) can be remedied in natural ways, such as reducing caffeine consumption, becoming aware of late night snacking habits or limiting screen time before bed. Other times, though, sleep issues can be more serious, evolving into full blown chronic insomnia.
What is insomnia and when is it chronic?
Insomnia regularly affects millions of people worldwide and, according to Medical News Today, an estimated 30-40% of Americans each year. The sleep disorder leads to unpleasant associated symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings, and an overall feeling of being physically/mentally unwell.
Insomnia has also been associated with a weakened immune system and a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
If someone’s insomnia stems from a secondary cause (such as lifestyle or a co-occurring illness), it can typically be addressed via lifestyle changes and/or treating the underlying condition. These cases will typically be referred to as transient insomnia (when symptoms last up to three nights) or acute insomnia (persists for several weeks, also called “short-term insomnia”).
Chronic insomnia, however, is a form of insomnia that lasts more than three months (and sometimes years), and causes notable disruption to daily activities. This form of the disorder is sometimes caused by psychological factors, medications, hormone levels, or other primary problems.
Though all three forms of insomnia are important to address, chronic insomnia can be especially troublesome and overwhelming.
The characteristics of chronic insomnia may include:
- Daytime fatigue or sleepiness.
- Difficulty socializing.
- Poor concentration and focus.
- Irritability, depression, or anxiety.
- Being uncoordinated, an increase in errors or accidents.
- Tension headaches (ie. the feeling of a tight band around the head).
- Gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Worrying about/dreading sleeping.
How to overcome chronic insomnia
If insomnia is transient or acute, sometimes it will wear off on its own, or fixed by lifestyle adjustments and proper sleep hygiene.
Chronic insomnia, though, typically requires medical treatment such as prescription sleeping pills, antidepressants, sleep aids, or antihistamines. Non-pharmacological approaches may include group therapy or one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
If you think your sleep issues have escalated into chronic insomnia, it’s crucial to talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist to find the best treatment plan for your condition. Medical professionals may ask you to keep a sleep diary along with running tests in order to help regulate your sleep-wake patterns.