Beyond Sleepy: The Damaging Effects of Untreated Insomnia

American Academy of Sleep Medicine declares Insomnia Awareness Day

We all know that feeling after pulling an all-nighter or waking up a few hours earlier than normal: fatigued throughout the day with a fuzzy, groggy mind. While these sleepy days can be a grind and temporarily reduce our daytime performance, at least we look forward to a good, long recovery sleep. However, for some people — those who suffer from chronic insomnia — insufficient sleep is a regular occurrence, with no reliable relief in sight even when they spend plenty of time in bed.

Earlier this week, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine declared Insomnia Awareness Day, making this the perfect time to evaluate our sleep habits to ensure that occasional bouts of sleeplessness do not become chronic insomnia, which can take a toll on sufferers mentally, physically, emotionally and financially

Impact of Insomnia
 
While some forms of insomnia are temporary and easily resolved, chronic insomnia, or troubled sleep at least three nights per week persisting for more than three months, causes negative effects on overall wellness and daily functioning. Data show that health care costs are often higher in people with moderate to severe insomnia. If chronic insomnia remains untreated, sufferers are prone to health complications including an increased risk for depression and hypertension.

Chronic insomnia also has a negative impact on work and school performance, impairing concentration and motivation while increasing the risk of errors and accidents. According to a study in Sleep, insomnia is associated with an estimated 253 million days of lost work each year in the U.S. Another report in Sleep Medicine Reviews noted that insomnia causes more than $100 billion in annual costs, with the majority being spent on indirect costs such as poorer workplace performance, increased health care utilization, and increased accident risk.

Are you at risk?
 If you experience disrupted or insufficient sleep, ask yourself these questions to see if you may have chronic insomnia:

· Does it take you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, or do you wake up during the night and have trouble returning to sleep, or do you wake up at least 30 minutes earlier than desired?

· Do you have daytime symptoms such as fatigue, moodiness, sleepiness or reduced energy?

· Do you give yourself enough time in bed to get at least seven hours of sleep each night?

· Do you go to bed in a safe, dark and quiet environment that should allow you to sleep well?

· Does this sleep problem occur at least three times per week, and has it been present for at least three months?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, you may have chronic insomnia. Those suffering from chronic insomnia should get help from the sleep team at an AASM-accredited sleep center.

Treating Chronic Insomnia
 The primary treatment for chronic insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), an effective, long-term treatment that has few if any side effects. CBT-I involves a combination of behavioral modification and cognitive strategies, such as replacement of unrealistic fears about sleep with more positive expectations. CBT-I recommendations are customized to address each patient’s individual needs and symptoms.

Many chronic insomnia sufferers have other chronic physical and mental health problems that should be considered during treatment. Treatment by sleep specialists may help to address both insomnia and the other co-occurring problems — such as depression and chronic pain — to improve overall health and quality of life. Likewise, there are often other factors that can negatively impact a person’s ability to sleep, such as caffeine consumption or medication side-effects. Sleep specialists can help people who have insomnia to address these disrupters and improve sleep quality.

Concerns about insomnia should be discussed with a doctor. Help for an ongoing sleep problem is available from the sleep team at an accredited sleep center. For more information or to find an AASM-accredited sleep center, visit www.sleepeducation.org.