Many of us have a hard time falling asleep at night, but does that mean we have insomnia? In a world filled with technological advances and gadgets to match, many of us stay up late with a screen glued to our faces.

A young adult may play video games, lie down, and experience difficulty with falling asleep. An adult may be responding to emails until late and then find it challenging to catch some shut-eye despite how tired they may feel. What do the young adult and working adults have in common?

While they both may experience above-average screen time, is that the cause for insomnia? That is a subjective topic that is being investigated, and the reasons for insomnia may be more complex. An estimated 30 percent of the general population struggles with sleep disruption, and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) states that roughly 10 percent have associated symptoms of daytime functional impairment consistent with the diagnosis of insomnia.

The foundation released a study that found more than half of those interviewed reported at least one night with insomnia symptoms, which include difficulty sleeping, or waking up without energy, waking up several times throughout the night, or not getting back to sleep a few nights a week within the past year.

Thirty-three percent had at least one symptom mentioned above almost every night or every night in the past year. Another poll showed 63 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 reported insomnia symptoms when compared to adults 30 to 64 who registered at 59 percent. Insomnia is common and affects a significant portion of the population. Below, we will describe, in-depth, what insomnia is, and how it affects a person.

What Is Insomnia?

The Mayo Clinic describes insomnia as a common sleep disorder that makes it challenging to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early, and not fall back asleep. If you struggle with insomnia symptoms, you may not feel rested when you wake up. Insomnia may not only zap your energy level and mood, but it can also affect your health, quality of life, and work performance. Many accidents on the job are the result of fatigue.

Employees who are not well-rested are 2.9 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident. The number of non-fatal fatigue accidents amounts to 107 out of every 10,000 employees in 2014. The accidents include falls, slips, and other work-related accidents. In that same year, reports illustrated that 4,700 workplace deaths were the result of fatigue.

While the amount of sleep someone requires varies from one individual to another, the average person needs at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night. At some point, however, most adults will experience short-term (acute) insomnia, which will last for days or sometimes weeks.

It often stems from stress or traumatic events, but some individuals struggle from long-term (chronic) insomnia that persists for months or more. Insomnia can be a primary problem, or it may be the result of other medical conditions or medicines. The most common insomnia symptoms include:

  • Waking up in the middle of the night
  • Being unable to fall asleep at night
  • Waking up earlier than you had planned
  • Never feeling rested after a full night’s sleep
  • Daytime tiredness & sleepiness
  • Inability to pay attention or focus on tasks
  • Memory issues
  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Increased accidents or errors
  • Worrying about rest

What Causes Insomnia?

Insomnia may be a primary problem, but it can also be the result of other conditions. Chronic insomnia can be the result of stress, life events, or habits, such as screen time that disrupts sleep. The use of technology has contributed to sleep problems, which has caused many people to turn to sleep medications. Nearly 4 percent of the U.S. adult population uses these medications for relief. They are intended for short-term use, but many with severe insomnia may abuse them for assistance.

The most common causes of chronic insomnia include:

  • Travel or work schedule: Our circadian rhythm acts like an internal clock, and it guides your sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, and metabolism. When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, it can lead to insomnia. Jet lag when traveling through multiple time zones, working late or early shifts or changing shifts can all cause insomnia.
  • Stress: Concerns about your health, work, school, or finances can cause your mind to be active at night. It can translate to difficulties falling asleep. The illness or death of a loved one can also cause these problems.
  • Poor sleep habits: Someone who does not keep a schedule or takes naps before bed may have an increased chance of developing insomnia symptoms. Other stimulating activities, like watching TV, playing video games, or eating, can interfere with your sleep cycle.
  • Overeating at night: It’s OK to enjoy a light snack before bed, but overeating can cause physical discomfort while lying down. A majority of individuals who overeat will experience heartburn, which is a backflow of acid or food from the stomach into the esophagus.

Other causes of insomnia include:

  • Medications
  • Mental health disorders
  • Medical conditions
  • Sleep-related disorders
  • Nicotine, caffeine, alcohol
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in activity
  • Health changes

Preventing Insomnia

Practicing good sleep habits can help prevent insomnia and promote restful sleep. You must aim to:

  • Keep your bedtime consistent daily.
  • Stay active.
  • Check medications.
  • Avoid or limit your nap time.
  • Avoid meals and beverages before you plan to sleep.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable.
  • Create a bedtime ritual.
  • Avoid caffeine.
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