By Christopher Ruane
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is the experience of inadequate sleep or of poor quality sleep often typified by one or more of the following insomnia symptoms:
Difficulty getting off to sleep
Difficulty staying asleep or frequent night waking
Early morning waking, or
Sleep that doesn’t have a refreshing affect
With the daytime consequences being
Low energy levels
Lack of concentration
Around 30 to 40 percent of adults experience some level of insomnia within any year, and of these around 10 to 15 percent suffer from severe or chronic insomnia. As we have already seen, insomnia increases with age but is also more commonly experienced by women.
Sleeping disorders occur from infancy through to old age with a significant rise in incidence in old age. Most people don’t consult a doctor about their problem or resort to sleeping pills or tranquilizers to help. Lack of sleep accumulates into what is known as a sleep debt, with many people carrying a huge sleep debt without realizing. People with greater sleep debts are slower to recover from illness and are more vulnerable to catching infections, viruses and other illnesses.
How is insomnia diagnosed?
If you have disturbed sleep and think you have insomnia it is important to see a doctor. You may be asked to keep a sleep diary for a week or two, noting the patterns of your sleep (or lack of them) and your daily routines.
You will need to discuss your sleep diary with your doctor. It may be necessary for your doctor to do a physical examination as well as taking notes of your medical history. In some cases, you may be referred to a specialist sleep center.
Types of Insomnia
This is defined as periods of sleep loss that last from between one night and a few weeks. Acute insomnia can often be caused by emotional worries and anxiety or physical discomfort. Some common examples include:
Significant life stress, such as bereavement or marital breakdown Acute illness, or Environmental disturbances such as noise, light or temperature
Jet lag also counts as acute insomnia.
This is defined as periods of sleep loss that occur for at least three nights per week for one month or longer. Chronic insomnia can be caused by various different factors acting on their own or in combinations. These factors may occur along with other health problems.
Insomnia associated with psychiatric, medical or neurological disorders
Psychiatric disorders are a common source of chronic insomnia, however they account for less than 50 percent of cases. Anxiety and mood disorders are the most common psychiatric conditions that are associated with insomnia. Insomnia is also associated with a wide range of medical and neurological disorders.
Factors that cause problems throughout the day such as pain, immobility, breathing difficulties, dementia, and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy or menopause can also cause insomnia. Many medical disorders worsen at night such as asthma or acid reflux which is worsened by lying down.
Insomnia associated with medication and substance use
A variety of prescription drugs and non-prescription drugs can lead to wakefulness and poor-quality sleep. Some drugs, legal and non-legal, that are commonly related to insomnia include:
Some over the counter cold and flu remedies
Beta blockers, and
Recreational drugs such as ecstasy, amphetamines and cocaine
Insomnia associated with specific sleep disorders
Insomnia can be associated with specific sleep disorders including:
Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD)
Circadian rhythm sleep disorders such as jet lag
When other causes of insomnia have been investigated and ruled out, difficulty with sleep may be classified as primary insomnia. Factors such as chronic stress, hyper-arousal and behavioral conditioning may be contributors to Primary Insomnia.
Sleep patterns do alter as we get older with older, people tending to sleep more lightly. As our bodies age our quality of sleep becomes poorer and becomes lighter, less efficient and less restful.Your physician or other practitioner may prescribe insomnia medication to help you get to sleep, commonly known as sleeping tablets.
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