If you have difficulty sleeping, you are likely to have one or more various sleep complaints, including: insomnia, parasomnias, narcolepsy, among many others!
You might have looked up the definition to any one of these before, however, it’s still good to go through this article to get on the same page in terms of what we’ll be addressing and how you can know that your sleep is improving.
Lets begin with a very common sleep complaint…insomnia. This video helps us understand what it’s like to have insomnia…
If you could relate to the above video, then you are familiar with what insomnia feels like.
Do not fear though!
This blog aims to help give you more insight about how insomnia occurs, and offer tips on how to handle it — so keep reading!
So what is insomnia?
Insomnia and sleep deprivation
One important distinction to make is that insomnia is not the same as sleep deprivation.
Insomnia is when you have enough time to sleep but can’t fill that time with sleep. That’s part of the maddening nature of insomnia!
Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, is when you don’t have enough time to sleep but have no trouble filling that compressed time with sleep. This is quite common with work deadlines or too many social activities eating into your ability to set aside enough time for sleep.
Why make the distinction?
Strategies for each will be different.
For example, if you are having difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, odds are you’re spending a lot of time awake and worrying why you’re not sleeping while in bed.
Paradoxically, a good strategy for this would be to reduce that bed-with-worry association by reducing your time in bed. We’ll get into this more later, but the science shows that less time in bed helps reduce that wakefulness in bed.
Insomnia is defined as difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep or as poor quality sleep.
These difficulties have to occur at least 3x/week and for longer than 3 months to be considered chronic (under 3 months is considered acute insomnia).
But what is the threshold for becoming “difficult?”
Difficulties with sleep
“Difficulties with sleep” is when it takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep (sleep initiation), you fall asleep but then wake up in the middle of the night and spend longer than 30 minutes awake (sleep maintenance), or if you wake up 1–2 hours before your desired wake time (early morning awakening).
There are numerous causes for these difficulties including medical conditions, medications, psychological conditions, substance use, jet travel, etc. If the stressor is strong enough, just about anything can induce insomnia on an acute level.
What causes insomnia?
Heres an brief clip that provides a basic overview of what exactly can cause the onset of insomnia…
Common issues related to sleep initiation insomnia include the following:
Stress (work, relationships, upcoming trips, planning, ruminating on the past)
Taking a long nap earlier in the day
Exercising too late at night
Common issues related to sleep maintenance insomnia include:
Drinking alcohol (as the sugars are metabolized, your blood sugar drops and hormones are released to activate your body to regulate this change in blood sugar level)
Caffeine: It takes 30–45 min for caffeine to reach peak levels in your body. If you have too much, you may fall asleep but it’ll wake you up later.
Common issues related to early morning awakening include:
Depression: A major depressive episode is often preceded by early morning awakening 5 weeks earlier.
Prevalence of insomnia
There are a few official definitions of insomnia, which makes the prevalence rates even more tricky to pin down.
Depending upon the study you look at, insomnia occurs at rates ranging between 4–20% in the general population. It’s a high number and could be underreported, even at the top end.
Other risk factors for developing insomnia include age (older people are more likely to experience insomnia), traveling or working across timezones, shift work, medical or psychological conditions, or a family history of sleep difficulties.
Among those who experience insomnia, women are twice as likely to develop it compared to men. Part of this may be due to menopause (a common cause of insomnia) as well as the phenomenon that women are more likely to report and seek help for symptoms of distress than men.
Other sleep complaints might include…
These are disruptive sleep disorders that can occur during arousals from REM sleep or partial arousals from non-REM sleep. Parasomnias include nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, confusional arousals, and many others.
This is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times.
This is characterized by excessive sleepiness, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and in some cases episodes of cataplexy (partial or total loss of muscle control, often triggered by a strong emotion such as laughter).
Having gained a good understanding of the fundamentals regarding sleep complaints, here are 3 tips to try out yourselves the next time you want to achieve a healthy nights sleep…
…get up and out of bed when you can’t sleep — go to another room until you feel tired enough to get to sleep.
…use the bed for only sleeping (sex is an exception).
…do not eat a heavy meal near bedtime.
Click here to read our next blog that discusses remedies for these sleep complaints, and provides another 3 useful tips you can use yourself to help improve your sleep.