Everyone’s had one of those days where sleep does not want to cooperate. Sometimes because of too much coffee before bed, or simply because of too much eaten. Regardless of why it happened, a lack of sleep sucks. Now multiply that by 100, and then say hello to insomnia. Insomnia can derail a person's entire day and make it hard to perform even the very basic tasks of the day, like getting out of bed or making a meal. Shockingly though, about one-quarter of all adults in the UK suffer from insomnia-like symptoms. According to another study, about 14% of the population suffers from insomnia in any given country in Europe.
Normally, a single sleep cycle goes beyond spending time to remain quiet and close your eyes. The sleep cycle is regulated by different biological processes producing characteristic fluctuations in the brain waves, many repetitive cycles of eye movement, and many muscle tone patterns. The human body has also evolved over time to form a complex feedback system that controls our perception of sleep time and, at the same time, help us regulate the time of sleep. Depending on your type of schedule and lifestyle, your biological control of the sleep-wake system can become disrupted. Once disrupted, it becomes difficult to initiate sleep or maintain a quality sleep for an extended period of time.
To maintain an optimal biological functionality level, human adults need at least seven hours of sleep every day. Once this sleep time is significantly reduced, the disrupted sleep pattern increases the risk of developing different forms of sleep disorders. Sleep disorders are not widely reported in the population; however, they are very common in both children and adults. Based on population studies focused on sleep behaviours, insomnia, and obstructive sleep, apnoea appears to be the most prevalent sleep disorder. Patients with a confirmed diagnosis of insomnia often present with restlessness and physical inactivity.
Adults finding it hard to sleep often report symptoms that suggest a declining cognitive function. Insomnia can also increase the risk of work-related accidents while negatively affecting a worker’s ability to successfully run shift work schedules. Restlessness and physical inactivity can eventually lead to discomfort and affect the overall function of the biological system in humans. As modern medicine keeps evolving, many clinical reviews and studies have been conducted to study the processes involved in sleep disorders. These studies have also experimented with many therapy methods designed to manage these disorders.
The medical focus on insomnia has steadily improved over the years, with many therapy plans and schedules designed for adequate management. These plans are also designed to target symptom control and with minimal or no medical supervision. On the bright side, a few inexpensive and effective solutions can be tried, which may potentially cure insomnia.
A Normal Sleep Cycle
As humans, we have all been programmed to observe moments to help relieve the stress of a hectic day and keep the biological functions in a normal state. Approximately humans spend about one-third of their lifetime asleep. Although many people believe sleep is important for normal functioning, the process itself is more than just a daily basic need. Every cycle of a sleep episode consists of much complex interplay involving variations in brain waves, eye movement, and muscle tone patterns. A complete sleep cycle also involves a complex balance between the neurological mechanisms that control sleep-intuition and the waking process.
Humans' normal sleep cycle is largely divided into two different phases –the non-rapid eye movements sleep phase and the rapid eye movement phase. These two phases of sleep overlap and occur in alternation through the sleeping process. Insomniacs and people with functional abnormalities in these phases are very likely to eventually present with multiple sleep disorders. These phases are also intricately linked with many organ systems in the body. Once these phases are faulty, discomfort sets in, causing different levels of inconvenience.
Normally, every sleep cycle starts from the non-rapid eye movement sleep phase and progresses in active alternation to the rapid eye movement sleep phase. The non-rapid eye movement sleep takes up about 75% of the total sleep cycle and is subdivided into four different stages. Each stage is characterized by variations in muscle tone and eye movement. In the first stage, the brain waves recorded are shifts steadily from a conscious state to a low voltage recording that signals mixed frequency. This takes place for about 7 minutes and can easily be easily interrupted by noise or sudden movements. In the second stage, the non-rapid eye movement sleep phase lasts for about 25 minutes and is characterized by the central nervous system's pronounced stimulation.
During this stage, nervous stimulation causes a drop in heart rate and body temperature as the body goes into a state of deep sleep. The third and final stages of this phase are considered the deepest stages of sleep in humans. Lasting for about 4 minutes, these stages can occur in rapid succession and are characterized by slow waves and a high arousal threshold. While sleeping, it becomes increasingly difficult to wake people who are already in these stages. If sleep becomes suddenly disrupted during these stages, the waking individual might experience a transient state of confusion and mental fogginess. The rapid eye movement sleep phase is characterised by dreaming and altered breathing rate and can also last for many hours during a sleep cycle.
What Contributes to Insomnia and Bad Sleep?
According to the Sleep Foundation, insomnia is characterised by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia comes in two forms, acute and chronic insomnia. Acute insomnia usually occurs due to life circumstances like exams or a family member's sickness and tends to resolve itself after the circumstance, without any treatment. On the other hand, chronic insomnia is defined as disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week.
Insomnia Risk Factors
There are many factors that contribute to insomnia and bad sleep patterns. According to the Mayo Clinic, insomnia can be caused by many factors, including:
1) Mental health Disorders
People who have a confirmed diagnosis of mood disorders are also likely to find it hard to sleep. Mood disorders such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety have significantly contributed to sleep disorders. The worst cases of insomnia are reported in patients with a genetic predisposition to mental health disorders or those exposed to these disorders' risk factors earlier in life. Environmental triggers, including abrupt changes in lifestyle patterns, can impair mental health and reduce sleep quality in affected individuals. The brain easily recognizes these triggers and proceeds to activate a series of biological responses to stress. Mental health disorders remain one of the most important risk factors for insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Many drugs can also interfere with an individual’s ability to sleep. Drugs are administered for many therapeutic purposes in patients. People who use drugs can also become exposed to the various side effects that come with the administration of these drugs. In many cases, these unwanted effects can be an abnormal response of the body to the drug or an extension of the drug’s pharmacology in the user. Alpha-blockers used in the management of high blood pressure and benign prostatic hyperplasia are particularly known to cause sleeplessness episodes in many patients. This class of drugs relaxes the muscles and keeps the small vessels open. A major side effect of alpha-blockers, including alfuzosin and prazosin, is a decrease in the time frame for rapid eye movement sleep.
Beta-blockers and corticosteroids have also been documented to be responsible for insomnia in many patients. Corticosteroids are used in the management of inflammation, allergic reaction, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis. Beta-blockers, on the other hand, are used in the management of hypertension. Beta-blockers can cause insomnia by inhibiting the secretion of melatonin –a hormone responsible for the regulation of sleep and the body’s circadian clock. Corticosteroids, in large doses, can amplify the response of the adrenal gland to stress. This single action can keep the body awake, and the mind stimulated. Other medications that can cause insomnia include selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, ACE inhibitors, and statins.
3) Physical pain
Physical pain causes discomfort and makes it hard to sleep for a long time. High-stress jobs increase the risk of muscle fatigue, tissue damage, and accidents that can lead to pain. Painful sensation makes a patient excessively alert and causes psychological stress that makes it difficult to maintain sleep. Most Cancer patients experience recurring episodes of generalized body pain as the cancer stage progresses with time. Depending on the severity and types of diseases, the intensity of associating pain can range from moderate to multiple sites, severe pain stimulations. In many cases, physical pain can be severe and resistant to conventional painkillers and opioids. This type of pain causes a level of discomfort that significantly reduces sleep time and quality.
Increased consumption of caffeine has long been known to cause insomnia. Many medical studies have been conducted to understand the mechanism by why this product causes sleeplessness. Drinking a cup of coffee in the day might not be a problem; however, night time consumption of a large quantity of caffeine has been proven to significantly delay sleep onset. The sleep-disruptive properties of caffeine have been proven to be dose-dependent. The more the quantity consumed, the higher the risk of sleeplessness.
As a stimulant, caffeine blocks the sleep-inducing chemicals in the human body and keeps the user alert. On entering the stomach, caffeine exerts its stimulating effect within 15 minutes. This effect can also last for several hours. On average, the human body gets rid of caffeine slowly. This allows the product to maintain a high concentration in the bloodstream and exert more stimulatory effects. Although caffeine is linked with insomnia, it is important to note that a moderate caffeine intake constitutes no significant harm to the user. Other environmental factors such as an uncomfortable bed, inadequate darkness in the bedroom, loud noises, and stress can slow many people's insomnia.