Insomnia: Could It Be Something More?

Insomnia is not an uncommon issue for people at some point in their lives but when is it something to be concerned about? We’ll cover the different types of insomnia and when to see a doctor.

MHP Blog Insomnia

March is National Sleep Awareness Month and Sleep Awareness Week began at the start of daylight saving time when most Americans lose an hour of sleep by turning their clocks forward. 

Launched in 1998 by the National Sleep Foundation, Sleep Awareness Week highlights sleep as a key factor in overall health which is something many of us don’t prioritize or think of as a key health issue impacting things like weight and blood pressure. 

In reality, 1 in 3 adults worldwide lose sleep on a regular basis and have insomnia symptoms and about 10% of adults meet the criteria for an insomnia disorder.1 Insomnia can have life altering impacts so knowing the types of insomnia is important but so is educating yourself on the possibility that you may have sleep apnea and not know it. Below is an overview of the different types of insomnia and how to determine if you have sleep apnea.

The Main Types of Insomnia

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep on a consistent basis. It’s not the same as having a bad night of sleep once in a while because of staying up late or overindulging in alcohol or caffeine.

According to Stanford Medicine, there are three types of insomnia based on how long the insomnia lasts followed by the two major classifications of insomnia:

  1. Transient insomnia – Less than one month
  2. Short-term insomnia – Between one and six months
  3. Chronic insomnia – More than six months

Insomnia falls into two main categories:

Primary insomnia – Insomnia that occurs with no other diseases in the mix. Most studies on insomnia are done on people with primary insomnia.

Co-morbid insomnia –Insomnia that occurs along with another existing medical or psychiatric condition. Co-morbid insomnia does not have to be caused by or change with the accompanying disorder.

What Causes Your Insomnia?

There are a number of reasons that people have insomnia. The main causes are:

  • Stress/Major Life Changes: Having a new baby, the loss of a spouse or significant other, family member or friend, moving to a new home and significant life stress can all lead to altered sleep and insomnia. 

  • Medical or psychological conditions: Those with acid reflux, anxiety or depression have more issues with insomnia. 

  • Shift Work: People who work non-traditional hours and overnight shifts often have issues with insomnia. There’s even a condition called Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) which explains how shift work impacts sleep.

  • Medication Side Effects: Carefully study the side effects for the medications you might be taking as sometimes insomnia can be one of the side effects.

  • Pregnancy or Menopause: The hormonal and physical changes to a woman’s body during pregnancy and menopause often contribute to insomnia.

  • Sleep Apnea: In the next section, we’ll cover what sleep apnea is but sometimes undiagnosed sleep apnea leads to insomnia and the person has no idea that’s what’s causing their sleeplessness.

What About Sleep Apnea?

Many people don’t even know that they suffer from sleep apnea and it could not only risk their health, but left untreated it could shorten their life or cause a major medical event like a stroke. It used to be that mostly men were diagnosed with sleep apnea or if someone was overweight, they’d be more likely to receive a diagnosis but people who are of a normal weight can have sleep apnea and women also have sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is when you stop breathing during sleep. Also referred to as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) it’s a frequently missed diagnosis but can have significant health impacts if left untreated. If you snore or if your sleep partner notices that you are gasping for breath it’s likely that you may have an issue. 

It’s important to get a proper diagnosis by a physician or sleep apnea doctor. You can request a home sleep study from your general practitioner. This is the most common way of determining if you have sleep apnea or you can also have a sleep study in a sleep lab. You will wear a monitor across your chest and a nasal cannula and finger monitor to record your breathing and heart rate during the night. 

If it’s determined that you do have sleep apnea, you will be given several options for treatment which could include a continuous positive airway pressure CPAP machine, an oral appliance or even surgery. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you may have sleep apnea or at least to rule it out as it could make a huge difference in your health and longevity.

Treatments for Insomnia

There are multiple ways to treat insomnia. Below are a few common and not so common treatments.

  • Improve Your Sleep Hygiene: Whether you have a medically treatable form of insomnia or not, everyone will benefit from good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the practice of optimizing your behaviors and physical environment to be conducive to sleep. Things like cutting out caffeine after lunch, limiting your intake of alcohol, having a white noise machine, making sure your bedroom is dark and cool all help you ready for sleep. Only use your bedroom for sleep and not work or watching TV also helps.

  • Visit A Sleep Dentist: Sleep dentistry is a form of dental care that improves sleep. Most sleep dentists provide custom mouth guards and appliances that help move your jaw forward to help open the airway at night. 

  • Medication: Typically only prescribed for a short period of time, medications can be used to induce sleep but getting to the root of your insomnia is often the best course of action as many of the medications like benzodiazepines can be addictive and cause a rebound of insomnia after stopping use. 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A form of therapy that is the first line of treatment for insomnia, it involves reframing your negative thoughts about sleep and follows specific strategies and practices.

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