Insomnia can endanger more than your sleep

Almost everyone has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, from time to time.

Medications we take, stress from the day and a racing mind that just won’t shut down, pain, or irregular sleep habits can be the cause.

If you have trouble sleeping, just know that you’re far from alone. According to researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, about 25 percent of Americans will experience acute insomnia each year, but about 75 percent of these people will recover without going on to develop chronic insomnia.

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When insomnia becomes chronic

You may have trouble either falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night. If this happens for three nights a week for at least three months, it is considered a case of chronic insomnia.

Sleep specialists divide chronic insomnia into two categories: primary and secondary.

Primary chronic insomnia is not due to other medical conditions, or medications. Research on this type of insomnia is ongoing. Many scientists think it may be related to changes in levels of certain brain chemicals.

Secondary insomnia has its cause in other conditions. It could be a symptom of another medical condition, such as asthma, diabetes, depression or Parkinson’s disease.

Secondary insomnia can also be a result of certain medications, such as antidepressants or chemotherapy drugs. Any medication that acts as a stimulant, including some laxatives and antihistamines, can cause sleeplessness.

Lifestyle factors

Of course, certain lifestyle choices can contribute to insomnia. Things like frequent daytime napping, frequent travel leading to jet lag, and a lack of routine for waking and sleeping, can all be behind your sleepless nights.

Of course, anyone suffering from chronic insomnia will be tired during the day and will take naps. Thus begins a vicious cycle that only perpetuates insomnia.

Also, using phones, laptops and other “blue light” devices during the hour before bedtime or in bed is known to stimulate the brain to the point where it cannot fall asleep easily.

Drinking caffeine or alcohol before bedtime is also a bad idea. I make it a rule not to drink caffeine after 12 or 1 in the afternoon.

But, aside from the misery of a sleepless night and the exhaustion the following day, why is this such a big deal?

Research connects insomnia with heart disease

Researchers in Sweden recently conducted an unusual study, analyzing genetic data to see if a link existed between insomnia and heart disease.

The researchers used data from four large public health studies, involving over 1.3 million participants. They wanted to see whether risk factors for insomnia had any correlation with the development of heart disease.

They found that a genetic predisposition to insomnia was associated with a significantly higher risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke.

The study authors pointed out that these results do not indicate that being predisposed to insomnia causes heart disease. Still, the correlation is strong.

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How to get your best night’s sleep

If you are one of those people who experiences periodic bouts of insomnia that resolve themselves, there are some simple things you can do to improve your sleep experience.

  • Keep a regular bedtime and waking time. I have found that, even if it means an hour or so less sleep, I feel more alert during the morning hours if I go to bed around 10 and set my clock for 6 a.m. You will need to find the times that work best for you, based on your day’s schedule and physical preference. But once you find it, stick to it!
  • Keep those devices out of the bedroom! Watching a movie before bed may seem like a good idea, but the blue light from your TV or computer screen is actually affecting your brain waves and disrupting a peaceful night’s sleep.

Here are some more things you can do to help your body maintain its circadian rhythm and get a solid night of sleep. Studies have linked a disrupted circadian rhythm to cancer, so it’s more than exhaustion you’re preventing here!

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  1. Is insomnia linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke? — Medical News Bulletin
  2. Insomnia tied to higher risk of heart disease and stroke — Medical Xpress
  3. Insomnia associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke — Medical Xpress
  4. One in four Americans develop insomnia each year: 75 percent of those with insomnia recover — University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
  5. What Is Chronic Insomnia and How Is It Treated? — Healthline
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.