Imagine a type of fatigue that numbs you head to toe and scrambles your thoughts until you are engulfed in an incoherent fog. You might be so overcome with exhaustion that you literally cannot see straight. You are drained not by an intense workout at the gym or a long day spent in the sun but by a lack of sleep. But, no matter how tired you are you are unable to rest.
You’re brain will not shut off. Thoughts continue to race around your head as each minute and hour that ticks by makes you more and more frustrated. Insomnia, especially chronic insomnia, can be caused by a numerous factors. Regardless of general causes, studies show that insomnia to be one of the key signs of clinical depression.
Studies have found that one out of three adults suffer from insomnia. Approximately 30 to 35 percent of adults suffer from chronic insomnia, while 10 to 15 percent suffer short-term insomnia. And 10 percent of the chronic cases occur at least three times a week, lasting up to three months at a time.
Lack of sleep can have negative ramifications on every aspect of your being, deteriorating the quality of life you lead. Signs of sleep deprivation include:
• Inability to focus or concentrate
• Poor memory
• Mood disturbance
• Daytime sleepiness
• Low motivation or energy
• Increased errors or accidents
According to the National Sleep Foundation there is a connection between insomnia and the approximately 20 million Americans who suffer from depression. As a matter of fact, depressed patients are 10 times more likely to inherit insomnia or chronic insomnia episodes than those who are not clinically diagnosed with depression or other mental illnesses.
A cross-sectional and retrospective study conducted by the psychology department at University of North Texas measured 50 men and 50 women ranging in age from 20 to 89 years old. The candidates self-reported their health, sleep, depression and anxiety levels. Their results showed, the researchers claimed, that anxiety and depression sufferers were nearly 10 times to more than 17 times as likely to also suffer from insomnia. Women predominately experienced higher levels of depression than men, and blacks were three-and-a-half to nearly five times more likely to experience depression than whites.
Another large-scale epidemiological study of 2,619 individuals in the Netherlands factored in health, medication use and socio-demographics. The study analyzed patients whose depression was under remission and still found residual sleep disturbances. The study concluded the same way so many others have; it linked a strong connection between individuals with depression and/or anxiety and those diagnosed with insomnia or sleep problems.
The study subjects also experienced oversleeping, otherwise known as hypersomnia. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINH) defines hypersomnia as recurrent, excessive sleepiness during the daytime or prolonged sleep at night. Hypersomnia is similar to insomnia in that it also negatively impacts one’s life, such as causing sufferers to avoid family functions as well as any social event or professional setting.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by Simon Beaulieu-Bonneau of the Ecole de Psychologie at Université Laval in Quebec found that insomnia sufferers tended to have one or more family member who also suffered from insomnia. My mother has suffered from insomnia and I, too, have battled it my entire life.
Similar to sleep aids, there are medications that can be prescribed to hypersomniacs that provide the necessary stimulation the brain needs to keep alert. But one also needs to understand the potential underlying medical conditions that can cause hypersomnia in the first place, including: tumors; head injuries; narcolepsy; sleep apnea; multiple sclerosis; depression; encephalitis; epilepsy; and obesity. Autonomic nervous system dysfunction and drug or alcohol abuse are also contributing factors.
As when ruling out any serious medical condition, those suspecting hypersomnia should consult a doctor.
Sleep is a vital component of our lives. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Without the right amount of sleep our lives can be filled with lethargy, foggy and unclear thoughts, lack of energy or motivation, and mood imbalance. It is unclear why most if not all species require some amount of sleep, as scientists still haven’t discovered the reasons animals need slumber.
According to Dr. Michael Thorpy of the National Sleep Foundation, here are some good sleep hygiene practices:
- Avoid napping during the day. It can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol especially close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
- Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be taken in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
- Avoid eating right before bed. Stay away from large meals close to bedtime, at least. Also, dietary changes can cause sleep problems. If someone is struggling with a sleep problem, it’s not a good time to start experimenting with spicy dishes. And remember, chocolate contains caffeine.
- Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and younger adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
- Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on or even bring your problems to bed.
- Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to watch television, listen to the radio or even read in bed.