What is Insomnia (Symptoms)
Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by having trouble sleeping and/or staying asleep . People with insomnia may spend hours rolling around in bed before falling asleep or wake up in the middle of night wide awake.
Insomnia comes in two forms:
- Chronic insomnia: long term, such as from a few weeks or longer; and
- Acute insomnia: short-term, such as from one night to a few weeks.
It’s important not to confuse natural sleep cycles with insomnia – some people naturally go to bed earlier, some people naturally go to bed later. Insomnia is characterized by the following symptoms that interfere with natural function:
- Very hard time falling asleep;
- Waking up and having very hard time falling back asleep;
- Waking up very early in the morning (when you would rather be sleeping); and
- Waking up completely exhausted
The best way to determine the severity of insomnia and begin the process of recovery from insomnia are to get a sleep study. Untreated long term insomnia can have physical, mental, and or mood effects that range from minor to life-interfering.
Long Term Physical Health Effects of Untreated Insomnia
Though discussions about insomnia and lack of sleep tend to focus on the mental/emotional effects, chronic and acute insomnia have significant effects on our daily physical functioning:
- Reduced sex drive;
- Chronic fatigue or exhaustion;
- Quicker exhaustion during physical activity;
- Decreased physical performance during physical activity;
- Increased pain sensitivity; and
In short, not getting enough sleep can deteriorate just about everything you do. You are still you, just a lower-performing, more in pain, more tired version of your normal self.
Untreated chronic insomnia does not just affect daily physical function, but it can also increase your risk for, or increate the severity, medical conditions such as:
- Heart disease;
- Cardiovascular problems;
- Chronically being sick (low immune system);
- High blood pressure; and
The physical effects of insomnia are very real and can be truly debilitating, greatly affecting work, athletics, play, relationships, and other aspects of physical health.
Long Term Mental Health Effects of Untreated Insomnia
It almost goes without saying that insomnia greatly effects mental health and performance. We’ve all felt tired, and we all know how much feeling tired affects us by [WebMD]:
- Inhibiting concentration and focus;
- Reducing ability to think quickly or rationally;
- Making us feel like a “different person”;
- Trouble learning;
- Causing memory loss, short and long term; and
- Causing “flightiness”; and
- Erratic, non-normal behavior.
Sleep deprivation caused by insomnia lowers your ability to learn and perform. Insomnia can cripple your ability to perform in jobs that require a high degree of technical skill or focus. It can impair relationships and social interactions by reducing your ability to listen or have a coherent discussion.
Long Term Mood Effects of Untreated Insomnia
Insomnia has long term mood effects as well. Over time, limited sleep has a strong tendency to make you susceptible to:
- Mood swings – vacillating between mania and apathy;
- Impulsiveness or aggression;
- Behaving like a “different person.”
What these effects amount to in real life is that people with chronic insomnia can tend have two emotional gears: high and low. They may lash out or overact, be “on edge” all the time, or make risky or reckless decisions (not necessarily on purpose). Depression and anxiety are particularly insidious as they can perpetuate insomnia.
Final Thought: What to Do About Insomnia
Breaking the cycle of insomnia will sometimes happen naturally, such as in the case of acute insomnia when the cause of your insomnia is removed from your life – i.e., you change jobs, time passes after death/divorce, etc.
However, individuals with chronic insomnia may need to seek the help of sleep specialists. Undergoing a sleep study is a fantastic place to start, as it gives you a chance to:
- Consult with a sleep specialist and ask questions;
- Evaluate how severe your insomnia is; and
- Assess insomnia treatment options.