Taking Sleep for Granted: Insomnia and Its Causes


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Human nature consists of eating, breathing, talking, and sleeping. Some of those things we tend to take for granted, such as sleeping. Our lives tend to be quite busy and because of this we make sleep a low priority. But believe it or not, about 70 million people in the world suffer from sleeping disorders; insomnia being the most common. Understanding sleep disorder symptoms and how they can affect a person physiologically, can ease anxiety about the sleep disorder and result in effective treatment.

Humans spend about one third of their life sleeping, and although that may seem like a waste of time to some, it’s actually quite neccessary (Nardo 12). Most of us tend to think that sleep is where we go to bed and our brains “shut off” for a few hours until we wake up again. But the truth is that it’s the complete opposite of what we many assume. So if it isn’t just our brains shutting off, what is sleep? Sleep is triggered by chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters. They allow our muscles and body to relax, repair, and control when we are awake or asleep (Understanding). The neurons produce seratonin that keep us awake and active during the day. This is also known as our internal clock, or circadian rythym. (Esherick 21).

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Statistics show that humans don’t get as much sleep as they should. But how much sleep is actually healthy for an individual? Infants younger than a year old should get twelve to eighteen hours. Ages one to ten should typically get eleven to fourteen hours of sleep. And teenagers and those any older should get at least seven to nine hours of substancial sleep (Nardo 22). Sleep is a neccesity for everyone because it allows us to rest and gain physical and mental reguvination for the next day. Just as food and water are important for us, so it sleep (Understanding).

Most of don’t know that there are multiple stages of sleep because typically we can’t tell the difference. During sleep, humans go through two stages of sleep: Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). The NREM stage is considered more of a deep sleep but REM sleep is lighter and is the stage known as “dream sleep” (Esherick 17). There are four stages of NREM sleep. The first stage happens in the first ten minutes of going to bed where your body begins to relax. In the second stage, your body falls into a light sleep. Your heart begins to beat slower and you start to lose consciousness of your surroundings. This happens for about five to twenty minutes. Last, reaching stages three and four mean you have entered “deep sleep”. Our bodies reach an “unconsience state of mind” and we no longer have recollections of our surroundings. The process of NREM takes about one hour to complete (Esherick 17). During this stage it’s very common for children to have nightmares, sleepwalking, or wetting the bed (Understanding). When our bodies reach the REM stage, our brain becomes very active. Your blood pressure begins to rise, and our eyes move back and forth, but we don’t move. This is why we call this stage Rapid Eye Movement (Esherick 18).

Sleep is important for everyone because it allows us to restore our energy for the next day. If we don’t get proper sleep it will start to have negative effects on us such as sleep deprivation. One type of disorder that explains this is called Insomnia (Esherick 36). Acccording to the book, “Sleep Disorders: The State of Mental Illness and it’s Therapy” Esherick defines insomnia as a chronic difficulty falling alseep or staying alseep (Esherick 36). For those that are unsure if they have insomnia there are few symtoms that can help indicate if you do or not. If you can’t fall or stay alseep, wake up early, or feel fatigued, there’s a good chance you might have insomnia (Esherick 35). There are two kinds of insomnia as well. Primary insomnia is medically diagnosed and secondary insomnia is caused by surroundings or other issues (Nardo 32). Dyssomnias are a broad term for the inability to sleep for a healthy amount of time, length, or quality. Types of dyssomnias include: primary insomnia, primary hypersomnia, narolepsy, breathing related sleeping disorders, and circadian rhythm sleeping disorder (Esherick 32). Parasomnias are sleeping disorders that can make you act a certain way while you sleep. Some examples of this include experiencing nightmares, having sleep terrors, and sometimes sleepwalking (Esherick 32). Narcolepsy is the complete opposite where you fall alseep without much warning. Usually the person has trouble staying awake and can fall alseep doing everyday activies (Nardo 55).

About 22% of the world’s population has insomnia. It’s more likely for women to experience this though (Nardo 27). Another reason for insomnia is because of irregular sleep patterns, less physcial activity, worsened health, or change in medications (Insomnia). Stress can be a factor because the person’s brain is very active and it makes it hard for them to relax and sleep. People over the age of 60 tend to have more trouble falling alseep, and for various reasons (Insomnia).

The severity of most insomnia disorders is not very high. But for those who have been diagnosed with chronic insomnia are likely to suffer more consequences. Chronic insomnia has a very low chance of death, but it is possible and is called Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI). This is a very rare scenario, but it can start with exaustion, dementia, coma, and eventually death. Only 24 people are known to have died from this disorder. The odds of getting FFI is one in a million (Insomnia).

Different symptoms of insomia can be change in mood, fatigue, weak immune system, weight gain over time, diabetes, or depression (Nardo 26). Often times there is confusion between the insomnia disorder and sleep deprivation. They are different in the sense that insomnia can rob you from good sleep, therefore it can lead to sleep deprivation over time (Insomnia).

For those who have trouble sleeping there could be a few causes for this. Having anxiety, staying up late, taking long naps, or eating sugar too late at night can cause sleeplessness (Esherick 40). One of the common causes is consuming caffiene, such as coffee or energy drinks. Many adults usually drink a cup or two of coffee before heading to work for the day. Although it’s not completely bad for you, drinking it at the right time is definetly important. When drinking pop or coffee, there are certain times where it is okay to drink it. From the morning to three o’ clock, it’s okay to drink caffiene because it gives your body time to allow your body become tired again at night. If you drink caffiene past six o’ clock there is a chance that you’ll have trouble going to bed (Esherick 71). Nicotene is also a danger that can impact the quality of your sleep. Because nicotene is a stimulant, it affects your body by exciting your nervous system. Stimulants work in such a way that it will continue craving the nicotene that it wants. If you are doing any activities that include tobacco, nicotene, or smoking products, your sleep can easily be disrupted (Nardo 39).

Over time if you insomnia goes untreated can lead to higher blood pressure and a faster heart rate. Apart from that, sleep is crucial because it allows your body to repair itself. For those who don’t get a lot of sleep, it can make their immune system weaker too. In children, sleep is really important because it helps in the process of growing (Nardo 17). Stress can have a big impact on teenagers and adults especially. Minor instances such as school like projects or tests the next day can cause stress for an individual. These instances are short-term and maybe disrupt sleep for a night or two. For an individual who is having repeated troubles, chronic PTSD, dealing with the loss of a loved one, or having anxiety about financial situations can cause more restlessness as well. This can lead to a higher probablity of insomnia (Nardo 35).

Some consequences of bad sleep can not only be physical but also mental in a way that can affect you. For a student at school who is struggling with getting enough sleep can suffer the consequences of being struggle with staying focused and alert during the day (Nardo 15). The risks of having insomnia can lead to your sleep cycle becoming inconsistent making it harder and harder to fall alseep. Insomnia can also mask other issues such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD (Esherick 99). The National Institute of Health (NIH) says people from the ages of 12-25 are more likely to develop worsened memory, depression, and a worse work performance from insomnia (Esherick 13).

Insomnia can be treated a few ways. The first way is performing an exam with your family doctor at a clinic. If you explain your symptoms doctors can get an idea if you might have insomnia or not. Doctors also take blood tests to help figure out if you could possibly have a sleeping disorder (Treatment). If they believe you could have insomnia, they’ll refer you to other doctors that specialize in sleep studies (Insomnia). Because genetics may also play a role in insomnia, it’s good to know ahead of time if your family has a history of sleeping disorders. Specific genes tend to trigger insomnia and have been linked to diabetes and depression (Insomnia). Another way doctors can diagnose their patients is by something called 3×3 Insomnia. Doctors most likely know if you have insomnia by observing your sleep patterns. If the patient can’t sleep for at least three days for three weeks in a row, it gives a good indication you could have insomnia (Insomnia).

There are a few ways you can treat insomnia, which can either be self-treated or by doctors. If the insomnia is fairly mild, making better habits of going to bed at the same time or not eating after seven o’ clock will help with that. But for some people, it may require drugs or therapy (Esherick 71). A lot of drugs throughout history have been created, banned, and altered over time. But the most common drug used for mild insomnia today is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by our bodies and controls our internal clock. For example, during the night when it gets dark, our bodies begin making more melatonin for our bodies, making us tired. For those who struggle to sleep well, melatonin helps our body produce more amounts of it so we can sleep (Esherick 112). For major sleep disorders, sleep studies may be the best option. Polysomnograms are used to monitor the patient’s NREM and REM cycle, blood pressure, and brain activity (Nardo 43).

Cognative behavioral therapy, also known as CBT, is a type of psychological therapy used for people that have mental illnesses. It is commonly used for patients that have depression, PTSD, OCD, or anorexia. One kind of CBT is called stimulus control therapy. In this process, the doctor listens to your symptoms and customizes a routine based off of it. For someone who suffers with insomnia, they recommend that the patient wakes and sleeps at consistent times, avoiding napping during the day, and waiting to go to bed until you’re tired. CBT is usually an effective treatment, and is recommended for patients because it is usually more effective temporarily or in the long run.

Hypnosis can also be an effective treatment if used correctly. It is useful for helping with a person’s stress, pain relief, behavioral change, or mental health. Hypnosis is considered a state of mind where you are no longer in control of your actions. This “trance” gives you more focus and concentration. Because everything comes with a risk, hypnosis does too. The side effects of hypnosis can include headache, tiredness, or anxiety. But these may not happen as it depends on the person (Hypnosis).

As humans, we often have very busy lives filled with anxiety and other factors that can cause cases of insomnia. The good news is that there are things we can do on our own to help avoid mild cases of insomnia. Having a consistent bedtime routine will help your internal clock stay on track. It is also important to stay active and avoid naps until you go to bed so you can be tired enough to sleep at night. Also if you know that you have trouble falling alseep, do not drink caffiene or use nicotene products because they will keep you awake (Insomnia). Following these steps can help you avoid being one of the 70 million people world-wide who suffer with insomnia.

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