Lack of sleep is a widespread problem, but the pandemic has amplified it exponentially. Learn how to curb this problem.
Insomnia: the most common sleep disorder
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the general population. It is a decrease in our ability to sleep. “There are several forms of insomnia, giving rise to different types,” according to the European Sleep Institute.
Between 25% and 35% of the adult population suffers from transient insomnia.
On March 18, World Sleep Day, the SEN stated, “There are three basic aspects to determining whether a person has good sleep quality: duration, continuity and depth. In other words, if the time spent sleeping is not enough to feel rested the next day, if our sleep cycles are interrupted or if our sleep is not deep enough to be considered restorative, then we do not have a good quality of sleep and it is time to consult a professional”, explained Dr. Hernando Pérez Díaz, coordinator of the SEN Study Group on Sleep and Alertness Disorders.
Transient and chronic insomnia: the figures
Not being able to fall asleep or waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep happens to many people. According to the SEN, between 25% and 35% of the adult population suffers from transient insomnia and between 10% and 15%, or more than four million Spanish adults, suffer chronically. And these figures could be even higher after the pandemic, as shown in a study of “Psychiatric Research”.
The importance of sleep for health
Sleep is “a physiological process of vital importance for the overall health of human beings, for the survival of the individual and for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Thus, if we do not manage to sleep well, our quality of life decreases, the risk of hypertension increases, as well as the risk of stroke, and other diseases from which we suffer may worsen,” explains Dr. Hernando.
“In addition, our cognitive functions are affected: concentration and attention span decrease, reaction time increases, memory problems may occur, abrupt mood changes and alterations in decision-making, learning problems, etc. Therefore, having a good quality of sleep is essential,” he continues.
Environmental factors and different types of insomnia
The environmental conditions that surround us when we sleep, such as room temperature, noise or light, can play a significant role in the quality of our sleep. Recently, a study conducted by researchers at Stanford University in the United States indicated that nighttime street lighting, especially in large cities, can disrupt our sleep and make our rest less restorative.
Other factors, such as the comfort of the bed, the consumption of certain foods or beverages, or the use of electronic devices before going to bed, can also influence our sleep. Nevertheless, regardless of these factors, there are several types of insomnia:
- Maintenance insomnia: when the difficulty lies in maintaining sleep during the night on a continuous basis. The individuals concerned wake up frequently or very early and cannot go back to sleep.
- Insomnia of falling asleep: problems falling asleep in less than 30 minutes.
- Depending on the duration of insomnia, it can also be classified as temporary (days or weeks) or chronic (months or years).
Causes of insomnia and other sleep disorders
Insomnia may be the primary problem or may be associated with other conditions. The chronic condition is usually the result of stress, life events or habits that interrupt it, such as drinking, smoking… Treatment of the underlying cause can resolve it, but sometimes it can last for years.
Insomnia can make you spend the day yawning, but it can also be a reflection of other sleep diseases such as obstructive apnea or narcolepsy. In addition to these two conditions, there are other conditions that can cause this continuous feeling of sleepiness. This sleepiness can be due to various causes, such as diabetes, chronic pain, insomnia problems, highly variable work schedules, medications that affect sleep, hypercalcemia, hypothyroidism or sleep deprivation.
Sleepiness or hypersomnia “is an excessive ease of falling asleep during the day, in situations where most people do not. It is a symptom that can occur in many diseases or be related to medication.”
It is therefore crucial to delineate what is normal and what is not, taking into account the opinion of the patient and those around him. Complaining is already not normal, but to confirm this abnormality, it is important to ensure that it appears in unusual situations. Then, it is essential to know the cause and to decide if it is necessary to institute a treatment, either for the cause or for the symptom. To do this, additional tests must be performed.
In summary, insomnia is a common problem that can have a negative impact on our quality of life. It is important to identify the causes and to consult a professional if necessary, in order to adopt the appropriate measures to improve our sleep and well-being.
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