Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep, combined with the inability to remain awake for the duration of sleep. Chronic insomnia is usually characterized by such symptoms which occur at least thrice a week for more than three weeks. Short-term insomnia is also known as acute insomnia. In very rare instances, patients may display insomnia symptoms without fulfilling the criteria for acute insomnia and hence may warrant some sort of medical treatment.
The common insomnia symptoms consist of inability to fall asleep, irritability and daytime sleepiness. Irritability, which is mainly triggered by stress, can be observed in people with seasonal insomnia, as well as people suffering from insomnia caused by the use of benzodiazepines (a tranquilizer). Irritability may also be a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. It can be noticed in people suffering from depression, as well as those having a social phobia. People experiencing irritability due to anxiety or stress may experience anxiety and stress reactions during the day, resulting in a marked increase in irritability during the nighttime. In contrast, people with social phobia or depression may experience sadness or hopelessness during the day and experience increased daytime sadness and anxiety, with corresponding increases in nighttime irritability.
Similarly, difficulty falling or staying asleep can be a sign of sleep apnea, a life-threatening condition that results from breathing cessation while sleeping. This condition is often associated with excessive daytime sleepiness, which is a common symptom of obstructive Sleep Apnea. Other insomnia symptoms include difficulty staying awake for the entire night, the ability to briefly absent yourself from sleep without experiencing fatigue, or the inability to start or continue the sleeping cycle upon awakening.
Some insomnia symptoms may also be related to other sleep disorders, including restless leg syndrome, foot pain syndrome, periodic limb movement syndrome, and restless legs syndrome (RLS). These conditions are more easily recognized by specialists because they frequently involve muscle tension or twitching, which are easily recognizable signs of a central nervous system disorder such as depression, diabetes, or hyperactive adrenal disease. A separate set of insomnia symptoms is commonly experienced by patients with RLS. The most common symptom is a decreased ability to relax and stay asleep. Patients suffering from these conditions can also experience muscle spasms or cramps.
There are many possible causes for chronic insomnia symptoms, but a few less common culprits are aging and unhealthy lifestyle choices. Overweight or obese individuals are more likely to experience sleep difficulties, and excessive body temperature can cause daytime sleepiness. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, unhealthy lifestyle choices like over-consumption of alcohol, smoking, and eating poor foods can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems and are the primary causes of sleep disorders.
Depression and anxiety can also result in severe and disrupting symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that depression is one of the most common sleep disorders, affecting up to 20 percent of the adult population. In addition to regular medications that can be used to treat depression, lifestyle changes can also help. These include avoiding alcohol and stimulants like caffeine, and exercising regularly to increase your body’s serotonin levels. In some cases, lifestyle changes alone are not enough; in other cases, it may be helpful to combine these treatments in order to get the full benefits of depression and anti-anxiety medications.