If you find yourself having difficulty going to sleep at night, waking in the middle of the night without being able to get back to sleep, or waking earlier than you had planned but still feeling tired throughout the day, chances are you might have insomnia.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder with over half of the U.S. population having reported symptoms of acute insomnia at some point in their lives and approximately 10-15% reporting symptoms of chronic insomnia.
While acute insomnia often goes away on its own or can be cured by practicing better sleep hygiene, chronic insomnia can lead to a lot of serious problems down the road.
Here we focus on some of the long-term consequences of insomnia, and why you should take steps now to alleviate your sleep troubles.
10 Reasons to Treat Insomnia Now
1. Insomnia can affect your cognitive abilities
Sleep is not a period of inactivity. Rather, when you sleep your brain and body are hard at work repairing themselves for the next day. During certain cycles of sleep, your brain is busy attempting to un-clutter itself by processing important information from the day and consolidating memories that may be important later.
When you're constantly losing sleep because of insomnia (or any other sleep disorder) your brain doesn't get the time it needs to perform these important tasks. Studies show that poor sleep quality leads to cognitive impairment including memory troubles, difficulty learning, poor judgment, and decreased concentration.
In turn, your cognitive troubles could lead to...
2. It can lead to decreased performance at work/school
Do you often find yourself at work nodding off at your desk, yawning in meetings, taking naps on your lunch break, or even showing up late because you slept in? Chances are if you're sleepy at work, you're not performing nearly as well as you could be.
When you're tired at work or school, your brain is not processing the information as quickly as it should. Often leaving you unable to learn or retain new information efficiently.
Some studies have even found that work itself can cause sleep deprivation, which in turn leads to poor work performance from being tired. A poll found most people do 4.5 hours of work each week from home, with approximately 20% doing 10 hours or more at home in addition to their 40 hour workweek.
In order to make up for the extra time needed for working on projects, many people sacrifice their sleep to get more done in a day, which turns out to be counterproductive as sleep loss makes them less efficient at their work.
3. It can impact your social life
Being chronically tired often means you will most likely sacrifice social and leisure activities in lieu of pursuing rest. Insomnia impacts social life because many people don't have the energy for simple activities like visiting friends, going to events, or even playing with their own children in the backyard.
Insomnia also has a devastating impact on mood. Even one night of sleep loss can make a person more irritable, short-tempered, and more sensitive to stress. All of which can impact close relationships with friends and family.
4. It can lead to depression or anxiety
The impact on mood and cognitive abilities over time can lead to developing depression in insomniacs. People suffering from insomnia are nearly five times more likely to suffer from depression compared to those without sleep troubles.
Trouble sleeping often leads to anxiety about getting sleep. Over time, chronic anxiety can lead to depression. And depression can lead to sleep problems. This creates a vicious cycle where depression and insomnia feed off each other and exacerbate each others' symptoms.
Treating insomnia or depression can help alleviate not only the targeted disorder but the other disorder as well.
5. It puts you at risk for driving and work accidents
What do the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill have in common? They all occurred due to human error influenced by sleep deprivation.
Workers who are sleep deprived are much more likely to make mistakes, have slower reaction speeds, and have poorer judgment than those who are refreshed from a good night's sleep. Studies have shown that people suffering from chronic sleep deprivation are twice as likely to have workplace accidents, and also twice as likely to die in a work-related accident.
Beyond the workplace, sleepiness is also the cause of many vehicle accidents. According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of Americans claimed to have driven while drowsy, and 37% admitted to falling asleep at the wheel in the past year.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 2.5% of fatal crashes and 2% of injury crashes involve drowsy driving. Although it is believed the estimates may be a bit conservative and that up to 5-6 thousand fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy driving.
6. It could lead to weight gain/obesity
Sleep deprivation can lead to increased weight gain and the likelihood of developing obesity. Many studies have looked at the relationship between poor sleep duration/quality and weight gain, and have found that patients suffering from sleep loss are more likely to gain weight.
There are several explanations as to why an increase in weight is linked to a deficiency of sleep.
Less sleep means more opportunities to eat. People who are awake more hours of the day simply have more time to eat.
People that are chronically sleepy are less likely to exercise. When caloric intake is greater than calories burned, weight increases.
Sleep deprivation disrupts hormone balance and production. Leptin (a hormone that inhibits appetite) production decreases leading to a false sense of hunger.
Sleep debt impairs the metabolism and the rate at which calories are burned.
7. It puts you at risk for health problems
Studies show that patients with chronic insomnia are at greater risk for developing cardiac problems than those with normal sleep patterns.
For normal sleepers, blood pressure is linked to sleep-wake cycles. During periods of wakefulness, blood pressure rises, and it dips down when asleep. For patients with insomnia, nighttime blood pressure doesn't dip as much as it should leading to overall higher blood pressure both when awake and when asleep.
High blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of developing or worsening cardiac conditions such as:
Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
A lot of serious consequences can directly be contributed to a lack of sleep. Getting help for any sleep disorder is vital to one's overall health. If you're suffering from insomnia and would like to seek treatment, contact your primary care physician to discuss your symptoms.
There are many treatment options available for insomnia including medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. If you live in Alaska and would like to speak to a sleep specialist about your chronic insomnia, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic by clicking the link below to receive a free 10-minute phone consultation with a sleep educator who can help you determine the next best course of action for your sleep troubles.