Insomnia is a monstrous illness. In popular fiction, untreated sleeplessness can trigger frightful endings. Mary Shelley’s classic horror story “Frankenstein,” uses insomnia’s insidious ill affects as an instrument to torment Victor Frankenstein. Plagued by sleeplessness and nightmares, Frankenstein’s monstrous creation relentlessly robs him of a good night’s sleep. Insomnia has the power to drive a madman madder.
If you want to better understand the sting of frequent sleepless nights, ask an insomniac. “Sleep becomes the elusive pot of gold insomniacs pray for and would dream about, if only we could fall asleep,” quips Kirk Fancher, a local businessman who has suffered from acute and chronic insomnia.
Fancher’s rueful, witty observation aside, make no mistake, untreated chronic insomnia is a serious illness. It “can lead to a host of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and weakened immune system. It can also lead to weight gain and a higher risk of accidents due to impaired motor skills and reaction times” says the patient advocacy organization, the American Sleep Association.
The financial impact of undiagnosed sleep disorders such as insomnia is astronomical. According to Fortune Magazine, the lack of sleep costs the United States over $411 billion annually. These findings are from a report on the economic costs of insufficient sleep titled “Why Sleep Matters” conducted by a group of researchers at the non-profit organization RAND Europe.
The study “reveals the many negative effects sleep deprivation can have on the economy and overall productivity.” Marco Hafner, a research leader at RAND Europe and the report’s main author, says: “Our study shows that the effects from a lack of sleep are massive. Sleep deprivation not only influences an individual’s health and wellbeing but has a significant impact on a nation’s economy, with lower productivity levels and a higher mortality risk among workers.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines insomnia as “an inability to initiate or maintain sleep. It may also take the form of early morning awakening in which the individual awakens several hours early and is unable to resume sleeping. Difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep may often manifest itself as excessive daytime sleepiness, which characteristically results in functional impairment throughout the day.
The SleepFoundation.org identifies and defines three main types of insomnia: acute, transient, and chronic.
- Acute insomnia. Is a brief episode of having trouble sleeping. The reason behind this is often a stressful event, loss of a loved one, etc. General insomnia statistics show that it usually lasts a short time, and the symptoms fade away on their own as soon the person copes with the problem. At a stressful time, think about going on an online therapy session if you cannot resolve a problem on your own.
- Transient Insomnia. Transient insomnia may not require treatment and usually lasts less than a week. The causes of transient insomnia are mostly associated with lifestyle factors including stress, anxiety, grief, chronic pain, medication or drug consumption and alcohol consumption.
- Chronic Insomnia. In some cases, insomnia can become chronic. People with chronic insomnia have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Chronic insomnia can be related to poor sleep hygiene, persistent nightmares, underlying physical or mental health conditions, medications, or other sleep disorders.
“Sleep-related difficulties affect many people,” says the CDC. Insomnia is one of four major sleep disorders, the other three are narcolepsy, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. The CDC advises “if you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of the following, it is important to receive an evaluation by a healthcare provider or, if necessary, a provider specializing in sleep medicine.”
Narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness (including episodes of irresistible sleepiness) combined with sudden muscle weakness are the hallmark signs of narcolepsy. The sudden muscle weakness seen in narcolepsy may be elicited by strong emotion or surprise. Episodes of narcolepsy have been described as “sleep attacks” and may occur in unusual circumstances, such as walking and other forms of physical activity.
Sleep Apnea Snoring may be more than just an annoying habit – it may be a sign of sleep apnea. Persons with sleep apnea characteristically make periodic gasping or “snorting” noises, during which their sleep is momentarily interrupted. Those with sleep apnea may also experience excessive daytime sleepiness, as their sleep is commonly interrupted and may not feel restorative.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is characterized by an unpleasant “creeping” sensation, often feeling like it is originating in the lower legs, but often associated with aches and pains throughout the legs. This often causes difficulty initiating sleep and is relieved by movement of the leg, such as walking or kicking.