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Insomnia Facts: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment of Poor Sleep

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As far as health complications go, insomnia is relatively prevalent. The condition currently affects millions of people every year. According to the American Sleep Association:

  • Nearly 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder
  • Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with 30% of adults experiencing short-term insomnia
  • About 10% of people have long-lasting insomnia
  • Almost 40% of people report accidentally falling asleep during the day
  • About 5% report falling asleep while driving

Even though adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night, about 35% of people get less than that. Age appears to be linked to lack of sleep, with 37% of people age 20–39 reporting low sleep duration and 40% of people age 40–59 getting too little sleep.

These insomnia prevalence rates are shocking considering the toll insomnia can take on mental and physical health. While the condition may seem benign, insomnia can have a dramatic effect on people’s daytime lives and even lead to death from accidents and decreased judgment.

infographic showing how common insomnia is

Diagnosing Insomnia

Someone who has chronic poor sleep or problematic sleep habits should seriously consider talking to a medical professional about their situation. A proper insomnia diagnosis can help someone receive the services they need to improve their sleep quality and overall health.

An accurate diagnosis of insomnia is especially important because, in many cases, the condition has physical and mental health origins. Insomnia is currently classified as a sleep-wake disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

According to the DSM-5, the criteria for insomnia disorder include:

  • Intense dissatisfaction with the quality or amount of sleep caused by trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep and waking up too early in the morning without being able to fall back asleep
  • Sleep issues create a significant amount of stress that begins to impact aspects of daily life
  • Sleep problems occur at least three nights each week and persist for at least three months
  • Poor sleep occurs even when there is enough time devoted to sleep and rest

To gather information about a person’s sleep patterns, a medical professional will ask questions about:

  • Medications used
  • Caffeine, tobacco and alcohol intake
  • Life stress and physical pain
  • What time they go to bed and wake up
  • How long they sleep for
  • How well they sleep
  • Snoring and breathing during sleep

One type of insomnia, called primary insomnia, lasts for a month or more and is related to external stressors in the person’s life. The causes of primary insomnia include:

  • Major life changes, like moving
  • High stress
  • Travel or work changes
  • Bad habits, like napping or going to bed too early or late

A secondary insomnia diagnosis is made when another condition causes sleep issues. A variety of problems can lead to secondary insomnia, including:

  • Mental health issues
  • Pain conditions
  • Heartburn
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Menopause

Because there are many factors involved in diagnosing insomnia, open and honest communication with the medical provider is essential to receiving an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

infographic on diagnosing insomnia

Rates of Insomnia and Co-Occurring Conditions

As mentioned, insomnia and co-occurring mental health or physical health complications are relatively common. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

  • Stress can result in adjustment insomnia, which may affect up to 20% of people each year
  • Poor sleeping habits in children can lead to behavioral insomnia of childhood, affecting 30% of children
  • Prescription drugs, substance abuse, medical disorders, and mental health conditions can cause insomnia, with about 3% of the population having this type of sleep issue. Specific causes include depression, drug withdrawal, obesity and anemia
  • A person with high anxiety and worry could have psychophysiological insomnia, a condition affecting about 2% of the population and about 15% of sleep center patients

Insomnia and Pregnancy

Pregnancy is another condition that may result in temporary insomnia. Nearly 4 in 5 pregnant women will experience some level of insomnia during pregnancy. Pregnancy triggers a number of changes known to result in insomnia, like:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Back pain
  • Heartburn
  • Frequent urges to urinate
  • High anxiety, worry, and stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Vivid dreams

Cost of Insomnia

Insomnia takes a heavy toll in the workplace. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, insomnia costs:

  • 11.3 days of work for the average worker every year
  • $2,280 in lost productivity for the average worker each year
  • A total of $63.2 billion for the entire nation in lost productivity per year

Treatments can be expensive as well. The cost of filling a generic sleeping pill prescription may run $200 per year, while a course of psychotherapy for insomnia can cost up to $1,200.

The American Sleep Association notes the human cost of insomnia is steep, with about 1,600 deaths and 40,000 injuries caused by drowsy driving each year. Additionally, a significant portion of the 100,000 hospital deaths caused by medical errors each year can be attributed to sleep deprivation.

Statistics on Insomnia Treatment

Though insomnia can cause a heavy burden, one must remember that treatment is available and effective. Some effective treatments for insomnia include:

Regardless of the treatments used, insomnia generally improves with professional treatment. Of those with insomnia, about 75% recover without their sleep problems persisting. Only about 6% of people with insomnia go on to develop chronic insomnia symptoms.

Insomnia Prognosis and Outlook

Overall, the prognosis and outlook for insomnia are favorable. However, it’s essential to keep in mind some risk factors associated with a poorer prognosis, including:

  • High anxiety, worry and tendency to repress feelings
  • Being an older woman
  • Family members with insomnia
  • Poor sleeping conditions
  • Excessive caffeine use
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Irregular sleep schedules
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