Having a sleepless night can leave you cranky and a little off your game for a few hours, but when minor sleep disruption turns into chronic insomnia, your lack of sleep can have serious effects on your mental and physical health.
Sleep is an essential aspect of the body’s processes of repair, so we spoke to Dr. Andrew Thornber, chief medical officer of online GP service Now Patient, about four important aspects of chronic insomnia everyone should know.
What Is Chronic Insomnia?
You may be under the impression that chronic insomnia predominantly applies to extreme cases of sleep deprivation, but Dr. Thornber insists that different patterns of disrupted sleep can be classed as chronic insomnia.
Although the disorder does affect “patients [who] struggle to actually sleep at all”, he says, “chronic insomnia is when the symptoms generally last for prolonged periods, so at least three nights a week for a month or longer.”
What Are Its Most Common Causes?
Plenty of factors can contribute to you developing chronic insomnia. According to Dr. Thornber, your sleep cycle can be disrupted by many things, from environmental factors like noise pollution, to physical and mental health reasons.
He explains that the sleep disorder can be caused by things such as “drug or alcohol abuse; psychiatric disorders like depression or anxiety; medical disorders, and poor sleep hygiene.” In addition to that, lifestyle choices can play a major role in the onset of chronic insomnia, Dr. Thornber says, “drinking too much alcohol and caffeine — especially before bedtime — can perpetuate chronic insomnia. Also, over use of mobile and technical devices before bedtime can stimulate the brain and have an impact on sleep.”
How Does Chronic Insomnia Affect Sufferers?
Disrupted sleep can have severe effects on your health and well-being because, as Dr. Thornber says, lack of rest “puts the body under pressure.”
Chronic insomnia in particular can disrupt many different areas of your life including, “your sex drive, your memory, and your judgment.” As well as that, “being low on energy can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, or irritation.”
How Should You Treat It?
Although there are holistic ways to treat sleep disorders such as chronic insomnia, Dr. Thornber says the remedies “can range from behavioral therapy, prescriptions for sleeping pills from a doctor, or over the counter sleep aids.”
Despite how readily available a lot of sleeping aids are, he advises that they should be “a last resort” due to their “addictive nature.”
According to Dr. Thornber, one of the most effective ways to treat chronic insomnia is through Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Which he says, “can help by changing the behaviors that are causing your chronic insomnia.” He explains that CBT is beneficial because, “some techniques you may learn in behavior therapy will include exercises that induce relaxation, recondition you, and counter sleep restriction. These techniques will help you relax, fall asleep and stay asleep longer.”