Whether it’s our ever-connected world, the added stresses of daily life or something in our diets, the rates of insomnia disorder across all demographics are continuing to rise. For lack of a better description, our population, on a global scale, is truly walking (or staggering) into a sleep-deprived future.
The latest data tells us that in the United States, more than 70 million people suffer from some type of sleep disorder and with insomnia being experienced by 30% of all adults at some point, we all must work to get better at better controlling our day, so we can get a handle on our sleep.
Today, it’s clear that lack of sleep causes more than just a slow day, with poor sleep habits causing a slew of medical conditions, reduced quality of life as well as mental disorders.
Below we’ll take a look at insomnia, a few of its symptoms as well as how to better manage insomnia and sleep issues if you’re suffering from them.
Insomnia and the Numbers
As you might expect, insomnia or a severe difficulty sleeping is a relatively common sleep problem on a global scale.
Although this is relatively concerning, it is good to note that the prevalence of insomnia and it’s impairment on the workforce has prompted many corporations and governments to fund sleep associations like the National Sleep Foundation and to develop products to better help our sleep and prevent daytime sleepiness.
The American Sleep Association outlined the following sleep insomnia data:
Around 10% of Americans have long-term insomnia
Around 30% of Americans experience short-term insomnia
Around 5% of Americans confess to falling asleep while driving
Around 40% of Americans accidentally fall asleep during the day
In all, 70 million Americans have some sort of sleep disorder or sleep pattern problems.
Australians as a whole seem to have better sleep durations than our American counterparts, with the Sleep Health Foundation outlining the following statistics:
Around 14% of Australians have long-term or clinical insomnia
Around 59% of Australians had trouble sleeping during the week
Around 22% of Australians wakeup routinely through the night as a result of sleep disturbances
In all, 90% of Australians are reported to have a sleeping disorder of some kind.
With those numbers in mind, it’s become increasingly more clear that both Australians and Americans suffer from serious sleep issues on a large scale, and millions experience insomnia explicitly. And when we factor in the detrimental productivity and mental health impacts of sleep loss, it’s clear to see that the anxiety and depression ‘epidemic’ might be underpinned by a chronic lack of sleep.
How is Insomnia Classified
Insomnia is broken down into classifications to better help medical professionals determine the severity of the issue and the types of treatment that will be required to treat certain symptoms of insomnia. The common classifications include acute and chronic or primary insomnia with transient being a sub-classification.
Acute Insomnia: lasting between a few days and up to a month.
Chronic Insomnia: lasting beyond 1 month and often longer than three months.
The sub-class of insomnia is a rather common type and relies on a trigger or obstructive event rather than a longterm issue or lifestyle problem. This type of insomnia is often sparked by the following:
Changes to an environment of physical stimuli which can include sleeping in a new environment or in a space that’s too loud, bright or distracting.
Mood disturbances may also play a role here, which can come as a result of menopause, or general stressors.
A highly aroused mental state due to emotional events which result in high levels of anxiety, pain, stress or from illness.
A poor sleep routine that doesn’t allow for the winding down and preparation of sleep.
A body clock disruption. Often as a result of travelling or the needing to stay up for an important event or work obligation.
Generally, chronic insomnia occurs as a result of hyperarousal which entirely blocks sleepers from falling asleep. Side effects of chronic insomnia include muscle fatigue, severe mental fatigue and hallucinations.
In many cases, a feeling of ‘slow motion’ often occurs in those with chronic insomnia or sleep difficulties as there is a sense of disconnect between real-time events and the person’s ability to perceive them.
The Health Effects of Insomnia
Over the past few decades, studies have shown that sleep is one of the most integral parts of our day and it is often the activity that keeps every bodily function in check. Sleep affects everything from our ability to focus, digest food, consolidate memories, regulate mood, repair muscle following exercise and much more.
When we take away our sleep or quality sleep, we’re opening up our bodies to a myriad of issues that begin with chronic yawning and can end with a risk of far earlier death. In all, research has revealed that sleeplessness or trouble falling asleep brings with it a range of risk factors.
A few of the most common health effects related to insomnia include:
- sensitivity to pain
- asthma attacks
- diabetes mellitus
- high blood pressure or hypertension
- heart disease
- weak immune system
On top of this, there’s also a high risk of immune system weakening, opening up the ‘tired’ Australians or insomniacs to a far more frequent risk of colds, cases of flu and other diseases. This is particularly troublesome for specific age groups like older adults along with those who have preexisting health conditions.
Mental Health Impacts
On top of physical health effects related to insomnia, there are some severe mental ones as well. As we sleep, our body works to stabilise hormones and regulate mood to keep us our generally happy and positive selves, however, without this essential process taking place, we have no time to fully reset after a days work.
A few of the most common mental health effects related to insomnia include:
One of the most serious outcomes of insomnia or not getting enough sleep in general, is, of course, the risk of a reduced life expectancy.
As we mentioned above, sleep is a vital process that helps our bodies repair, prepare and strengthen itself to take on the day ahead — and without this happening, we’re generally far weaker than we should be.
Healthline recently outlined a consolidation of 16 sleep studies to determine that from 1 million study participants, and 112,566 deaths, there was a clear correlation between lack of sleep (or insomnia) and early death.
In fact, poor sleep, or simply sleeping less in general, accounted for a 12 per cent jump in the chance of death when compared to other participants who slept for the ideal seven or eight hours each evening.
A second study completed more recently also solidified the poor sleep / death suspicion wherein there was a 97 per cent increased risk of early death in those with persistent or long-term insomnia.
The Most Common Causes of Insomnia
In many cases, there are a number of different reasons behind why someone may suffer from insomnia. These can extend from lifestyle habits, dietary changes and more.
However, beyond one-off bouts of stress or anxiety, there are some rather common causes of insomnia that have been pinpointed across various sleep studies.
These causes often include:
- The lack of a proper sleep routine
- Napping or sleeping for long periods during the day
- Night shift work that disrupts circadian rhythm
- A reduction in exercise or total lack of exercise
- Use of a smartphone up until bedtime
- Sleeping in a stimulating environment — too much noise, light or distraction
- Stress from events such as job loss, a breakup, etc
- Excitement for an impending event
- Timezone disruption or jet lag
Diet and substance abuse can also impact sleep. With the following causing poor sleep and aggravating insomnia:
- Caffeine consumption close to bedtime
- Smoking cigarettes or a nicotine dependence
- Drinking alcohol close to bedtime
- The use of illicit drugs
- Some types of cold medication
- Prescription medications
- Diet pills and meal replacements
With a vast majority of Australians and Americans consuming alcohol frequently as well as caffeine, there are wide-reaching lifestyle impacts that can affect and cause insomnia.
The Economic Impact of Insomnia
Although the tangible and emotional impact of insomnia is widely understood and not often overlooked by doctors or family and friend relationships — insomnia’s impact on economies is beginning to be put under the microscope.
As expected, a lethargic and unproductive workforce is not ideal for any business owner, corporation or nation, and recent studies have begun to quantify the true cost of insomnia.
Data from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine shows us that insomnia’s economic toll is seen in the form of:
- $2,280 in lost productivity across the year per person
- Around 11.3 days of work lost per worker across the year
- A combined loss of a staggering $63.2 billion in productivity in the US annually.
However, treatment for insomnia can be costly for individuals and businesses too, with the average treatment cost landing around:
- $200 per year for generic sleeping pills
- $1,200 per year for professional insomnia treatment
With that said, the cost of treatment for insomnia is still below the losses recorded for businesses, at least in the United States, and could work out to be a worthy investment for business owners.
Insomnia’s Impact on Healthcare Services
Not only is insomnia greatly impacting economies, but it’s also flooding healthcare services with patients that have caused accidents, injured themselves or others as well as died during an event caused by sleep deprivation.
The American Sleep Association’s latest data shows us that insomnia causes the following hospital injuries and hospital errors:
- Upwards of 40,000 injuries caused by driving drowsy
- Around 1,600 deaths as a direct result of poor sleep or reduced life expectancy
- Upwards of 100,000 deaths caused by medical errors linked to sleep-deprived medical workers
Professional Treatment and Recovery of Insomnia
Even though insomnia is a relatively detrimental and all-encompassing sleep disorder, there are a number of effective treatments available. And with a 75 per cent success rate, there is hope for the return to normalcy for a vast majority of anyone suffering from chronic insomnia.
As of 2020, the most common treatments for insomnia include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
Prescription sleeping pills
However, the numbers tell us that regardless of the chosen type of treatment, insomnia will almost begin to immediately improve once professional help is sought. Around 6 per cent of insomnia sufferers will go on to develop further symptoms, though, with persistent lifestyle changes and ongoing treatment, the disorder normally begins to fade.
Combatting Insomnia at Home
As is seen above, insomnia is a rather severe and detrimental disorder that not only affects the sufferers but people who interact with them as well. Insomniacs run the risk of losing out on some of their income, a reduced life expectancy, higher risk of accident and much more.
Thankfully, as corporate investment in sleep health has grown, there are simple and effective ways, enabled by products such as the Apple Watch, to get your sleep back on track.
At-home treatment studies by Mayo Clinic have show that the following changes can greatly enhance sleep quality and overall mood:
- Developing a solid sleep schedule that dictates your day’s activities. Sleep comes first, followed by your routine.
- Increasing the day’s exercise minutes to at least thirty and ideally an hour.
- Reducing daily naps to just a few minutes and ideally none at all. This increases tiredness toward the end of the day and entices a ‘shut down’ of the body at night.
- Strip caffeine and alcohol from diets, especially after midday.
- Deal with chronic pain that impacts sleep comfort and duration.
- Reduce meal sizes before bed to small, manageable and easily digestible quantities.
All of the above are effective ways to get the ball rolling against insomnia and to reduce the severe health effects it has on the body.
Insomnia continues to become more prevalent in day to day life for our global population. As more than 90 per cent of Australians suffer from a sleep disorder, along with 77 million Americans, the current situation is looking quite dire.
The most common types of insomnia are acute and chronic, with transient being the in-between of the two. Sufferers of acute insomnia will have sleeping issues for a few days to a couple of weeks, whereas chronic sufferers will see months of ongoing sleeping problems.
At the time of writing, insomnia is proven to reduce life expectancy by around 12 per cent in all individuals and to cause a slew of health problems including diabetes, increase risk of stroke, irritability, high blood pressure and much more.
Economically insomnia is predicated to cause losses of above $60 billion annually in the United States due to lack of productivity. Individual economic losses reach upwards of $2,000 per person as a result of poor workplace performance.
Research has highlighted that up to 100,000 wrongful deaths have occurred due to errors by medical staff suffering from sleep deprivation.
A fortunate 75 per cent of sufferers recover from insomnia with professional treatment such as Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and over the counter medications to encourage sleep.