What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person experiences poor sleep or has trouble sleeping. Insomnia can involve:
Difficulty falling asleep
Difficulty staying asleep (that is, waking up many times during the night), without necessarily having had any difficulty falling asleep
Waking up too early in the morning
Not feeling refreshed after a night's sleep

In any of these cases the person feels tired the next day, or feels as if he or she did not have enough sleep.
Poor sleep for any length of time can lead to mood disturbances, lack of motivation, decreased attention span, trouble with concentration, low levels of energy, and increased fatigue.
About one-third of the average person's life is spent sleeping. Healthy sleep is vital to the human body and important for the optimal functioning of the brain and other organs.
There are three types of insomnia:
1. Transient, or mild, insomnia - sleep difficulties that last for a few days; there is little or no evidence of impairment of functioning during the day
2. Short-term, or moderate, insomnia - sleep difficulties that last for less than a month, that mildly affect functioning during the day, together with feelings of irritability and fatigue
3. Chronic, or severe, insomnia - sleep difficulties that last for more than a month, that severely impair functioning during the day, and cause strong feelings of restlessness, irritability, anxiety, and fatigue

Is Insomnia Serious?
Insomnia can have physical and psychological effects. The consequences of insomnia include:

  • Impaired mental functioning. Insomnia can affect concentration and memory, and can affect one's ability to perform daily tasks.
  • Accidents. Insomnia endangers public safety by contributing to traffic and industrial accidents. Various studies have shown that fatigue plays a major role in automobile and machinery accidents. As many as 100,000 automobile accidents, accounting for 1,500 deaths, are caused by sleepiness.
  • Stress and depression. Insomnia increases the activity of the hormones and pathways in the brain that cause stress, and changes in sleeping patterns have been shown to have significant affects on mood. Ongoing insomnia may be a sign of anxiety and depression.
  • Heart disease. One study reported that people with chronic insomnia had signs of heart and nervous system activity that might put them at risk for heart disease.
  • Headaches. Headaches that occur during the night or early in the morning may be related to a sleep disorder.
  • Economic effects. Insomnia costs the U.S. an estimated $100 billion each year in medical costs and decreased productivity.

What Causes Insomnia?
There are many possible causes of insomnia. Sometimes there is one main cause, but often several factors interacting together will cause a sleep disturbance. The causes of insomnia include:

  1. Psychological Causes
    - In many people, insomnia can be the result of:
  • Anxiety, a condition in which individuals feel increased tension, apprehension, and feelings of helplessness, fear, worry, and uncertainty. This may be due to the effects that other people at work have on us, financial worries, concerns over relationships outside work or numerous other causes.
  • Stress, or how effectively a person copes with any emotional, physical, social, economic, or other factor that requires a response or change.
  • Depression, a mood disturbance characterized by feelings of sadness, despair, and discouragement.

In addition, a lack of a good night's sleep can lead to these very same psychological problems, and a vicious cycle can develop. Professional counseling from a doctor, therapist, or sleep specialist can help individuals cope with these conditions.

2. Physical Causes

  • Hormonal changes in women. These include premenstrual syndrome, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Decreased melatonin. The levels of melatonin, the hormone that helps control sleep, decrease as a person ages. By age 60, the body produces very little melatonin.
  • Medical conditions. These include allergies, arthritis, asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, and Parkinson's disease.
  • Pain. Pain and discomfort from a medical illness or injury often interfere with sleep.
  • Genetics. Problems with insomnia do seem to run in some families, although researchers have yet to identify how genetics play a role.
  • Other sleep disorders. These include sleep apnea (in which one temporarily stops breathing during sleep) and periodic leg and arm movements during sleep (in which one's muscles excessively twitch or jerk).

3. Temporary Events Or Factors

  • Adjustment sleep disorder. This form of sleeplessness is a reaction to change or stress. It may be caused by a traumatic event such as an illness or loss of a loved one, or a minor event such as a change in the weather or an argument with someone
  • Jet lag. Air travel across time zones often causes brief bouts of insomnia.
  • Working the night shift or long shifts. Individuals who work at night and those who work long shifts may have trouble adjusting their sleep habits.
  • Medications. Insomnia can be a side effect of various medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
  • Overuse of caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine most commonly disrupts sleep. While a drink or two before bed may help a person relax, more than that can lead to fragmented sleep and wakefulness a few hours later.
  • Environmental noise, extreme temperatures, or a change in a person's surrounding environment.

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