Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint, which one is unable to fall asleep or stay asleep as long as desired. You usually wake up still feeling tired, and the sleepiness may affect your mood and ability to work during the day. Chronic insomnia can contribute to serious health problems.

There are three types of insomnia:

  • Transient – lasts for less than a week
  • Acute – last more than a week and less than a month
  • Chronic – lasts more than a month

How much sleep do you need?

The amount of sleep one needs differs from person to person. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. But more importantly, it is the quality of sleep and how you feel after sleeping. Someone with insomnia takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, and may get only fewer than 6 hours of sleep for more than three nights a week. Even when you spend 8 hours in bed but wake up feeling tired every morning, you may be experiencing insomnia.

Symptoms of insomnia

–          Difficulty falling asleep at night despite being tired

–          Waking frequently during the night and having trouble falling back to sleep

–          Waking too early and unable to return to sleep

–          Not feeling refreshed upon waking

–          Daytime fatigue, drowsiness, or irritability

–          Mood disorders like depression or anxiety

–          Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks

–          Increased errors or accidents

–          Tension headaches

–          Gastrointestinal symptoms like stomach ulcers and constipation

Causes of Insomnia:

Here are some of the causes of insomnia. It can be caused by a few factors, usually due to an underlying medical condition, mental or physical issue. Some are temporary like jet lag or flu, and some are persistent like Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) or chronic stress.

–          Psychological problems – chronic stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.

–          Sleep disorders – Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy.

–          Medical conditions – allergies, chronic pain, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, asthma, thyroid, kidney disease, acid reflux.

–          Medications – flu and cold medicines that contain alcohol, pain relievers that contain caffeine,  high blood pressure medicine, thyroid hormones, corticosteroids, etc.

–          Lifestyle – poor sleep habits, irregular sleep patterns, eating too much in the evening, excessive caffeine consumption, work schedule, change in daily activities.

Complications of Sleep Deprivation

–          Weaken your immune system (as your body does most of its repairs during sleep)

–          Weight gain (as your body decreases production of leptin, the hormone which tells your brain there is no need for more food, and increases the levels of ghrelim, a hormone that triggers hunger)

–          Impair memory

–          Affect ability to function and concentrate

–          Less ability to fight cancer (as your body produces less melatonin – a hormone and antioxidant) and accelerates tumour growth

–          Prematurely ages you (by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released during sleep)

–          Increase risk and severity of long-term health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, arthritis, and cancer

It is important to develop good sleep habits:

  1. Sleep in total darkness – light signals to your brain that it is time to wake up and get ready for the day. Use black-out curtains and turn off any light-emitting devices in the room. Or wear an eye mask.
  2. Keep the bedroom temperature cool – the ideal room temperature for sleep is 21 degree Celsius. Or leave the windows open for fresh air and air circulation.
  3. Avoid heavy meals, snacks (especially those high in sugar and grains), caffeine (at least 6 to 8 hours before bedtime), alcohol, and excessive fluids at night.
  4. Exercise regularly – exercising is good for health and can aid the process of sleeping. However, avoid exercising right before bedtime or it may keep you awake.

Treatment of Insomnia

Sleeping pills don’t work. In the long term, it may cause more harm than good. Insomnia can be treated. Some simple treatments are:

  1. Light therapy
  2. Changing sleep habits
  3. Controlling sleep environment
  4. Correcting sleep misconceptions
  5. Behaviour management

If you are having sleep problems which are affecting your lifestyle and daytime functions, speak to our senior specialist Dr YT Pang at CENTAS for an evaluation. There may be other underlying medical conditions which are undiagnosed. The underlying causes are often treatable.

We offer hospital-based and home-based sleep study for your convenience. Treatment for sleep disorders results in improved physical and mental health and enhanced quality of life.