General Health

Sleep Revolution 5: Disorders of Sleep (Insomnia)

insomnia with clock in the night. woman can not sleep.

At certain times, the ideal sleep is not achieved largely because of the presence of certain abnormalities associated with sleep. In this revolution series, we’ll look at some of the disorders and possible remedies. It’s a SLEEP-MORE REVOLUTION, Let the Revolution continue.

Sleep disorders are a group of conditions that affect the ability to sleep well on a regular basis. They could be as a result of an underlying health problem or a product of stress or other psychological factors. Many times, the inability to have quality sleep in the right quantity, right on schedule causes deterioration in health. Sleep disorders may be a precursor to many other medical or mental health problems. Depending on the type of sleep disorder, the lack of sleep can have a negative impact on energy, mood, concentration, and overall health.

Symptoms of Sleep Disorders

Symptoms vary based on the severity and type of sleeping disorder. However, the general symptoms of sleep disorders include:

  • difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • daytime fatigue
  • strong urge to take naps during the day
  • irritability or anxiety
  • lack of concentration
  • depression

Types of Sleep Disorders

A. Insomnia

This is the most common sleep disorder. It is characterised by the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep even when there is a sincere interest to sleep. The causes, symptoms and severity of insomnia vary from person to person.

Insomnia may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep throughout the night
  • Waking up too early in the morning

Studies show that insomnia negatively affects work performance, impairs decision-making and can damage relationships.

In most cases, people with insomnia report a worse overall quality of life.

There are two types of insomnia based on the regularity and duration of the sleep disturbance and daytime symptoms:

  1. Short-term insomnia: This type of brief insomnia lasts for up to three months. It occurs in 15 to 20 percent of people. 
  2. Chronic insomnia: This type of insomnia occurs at least three times per week and lasts for at least three months. About 10 percent of people have chronic insomnia.

Insomnia symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Problems with attention, concentration or memory (cognitive impairment)
  • Poor performance at school or work
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Impulsiveness or aggression
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Errors or accidents
  • Concern or frustration about sleep

Causes of Insomnia


The impact of stress on insomnia varies depending on the intensity and severity of the stressor. Many times, work or personal stress can influence sleep significantly. More severe situations of death, divorce or job loss can have an even greater consequence and worsen insomnia.

2. Medical conditions

Many physical illnesses can cause insomnia. People who experience pain, discomfort or limited mobility from medical problems may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia due to medical conditions is most common in older adults because people tend to have more chronic health problems as they age. Conditions such as pregnancy, particularly the third trimester, and menopause can cause sleep problems.

3. Mental disorders

The relationship between sleep and mental health is complex. Insomnia is sometimes caused by a mental health disorder. Often a mental health disorder will be found after a complaint of insomnia. People with depression often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Difficulty falling asleep is also common in people with anxiety disorders. Other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder may also cause sleep problems.

4. Medication or substance use or abuse

Insomnia can be an unwanted side effect of many prescription or over-the-counter medications. Common cold and allergy medicines contain pseudoephedrine and can make it difficult to fall asleep. Antidepressants and medications for high blood pressure or Parkinson’s disease can also cause insomnia.

Drinking alcohol before bedtime can cause frequent awakenings during the night. Insomnia also can occur with sudden withdrawal from using sleeping pills.

Caffeine and other stimulants can prevent falling asleep. Stimulants also cause frequent awakenings during the night.

Some people are sensitive to certain foods and may be allergic to them. This can result in insomnia and disrupted sleep.

5. Environmental factors

The environment where sleep occurs can cause insomnia. Disruptive factors such as noise, light or extreme temperatures can interfere with sleep. Sleeping with a bed partner who snores also can cause sleep disruption. Extended exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals may prevent falling or staying asleep.

6. Habits or lifestyles

Irregular sleep schedules have been seen to cause insomnia largely because it confuses the internal body clock (circadian rhythm)

 Insomnia – Treatment

The treatment for insomnia depends on its underlying cause.

Sleep Hygiene

In many chronic insomnia cases, by practising good hygiene and changing sleep habits, sleep has been found to improve. Sleep hygiene is a set of bedtime habits and rituals practised every night to improve sleep quality and quantity.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia

Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia or CBT-I addresses the thoughts and behaviours that keep people from sleeping well. It teaches people new strategies to sleep better. CBT-I can include techniques for stress reduction, relaxation and sleep schedule management. 


There are certain medications prescribed for the purpose of helping people sleep. Sleeping pills that are specifically approved to treat insomnia are called hypnotics. Tolerance to these medications with prolonged use has been experienced.  The best choice of medication is based on clinical assessment by a sleep medicine physician.

In cases where the insomnia is caused by a medical condition, the doctor may refer the patient to a specialist who can treat the underlying condition. The course of insomnia is likely to change as the medical condition improves.

To be continued…


Still to come on the sleep disorders series

  1. Sleep Apnea
  2. Jet Lag
  3. Narcolepsy
  4. Restless Legs Syndrome

Don’t Miss any episode

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Dr. Lucky Aziken
Dr Lucky Aziken, a multitalented Optometrist believes health education is key towards achieving a healthy society. He is passionate about knowledge and creatively communicates his thoughts. He loves reading, writing and connecting people.

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