Some insomnia facts are a no brainer while others may surprise you. For example, did you know that flies can suffer from insomnia? Or that you’re nearly twice as likely to develop insomnia if your parents have it?
There is more than one way to define insomnia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a quarter of adults in the United States don’t sleep enough. But per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) textbook, insomnia also includes feeling stressed or impaired during the day due to sleep loss at night. So by theses standards, the National Institutes of Health estimated that only six percent of the population have insomnia.
Insomnia takes a toll on your quality of life. Research shows that people who don’t get enough sleep are less satisfied with their careers, have higher rates of absenteeism, are more likely to get into accidents, and are more irritable than good sleepers. Here are some more facts about insomnia that may shock you.
Interesting Facts About Insomnia
Insomnia can start out as a few sleepless nights and turn into a chronic problem fast. You won’t want to ignore insomnia symptoms as they increase your risk of other health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and heart conditions. Toxins accumulated from stress can cause your skin to age faster and prevent your immune system from fighting off germs.
Your work performance and mental health may suffer. Research shows that people with insomnia are more likely to develop depression or anxiety within a few years after sleeping problems begin. Here are a few interesting facts about insomnia you may not have been aware of.
Insomnia may run in the family.
People who have a family history of sleeping problems are more likely to develop insomnia themselves. According to a 2007 study published in the journal Sleep, approximately 35 percent of 953 people with insomnia symptoms had a family history of the condition (1).
Another study found that young people were more likely to use prescribed sleeping pills when their parents also had insomnia. The study evaluated close to 800 teenagers and found that teens with parents with insomnia were twice as likely to develop similar symptoms. Additionally, the teenagers were at an increased risk of having mental problems, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies. (1).
Bugs and pets can suffer from sleep disorders.
There is evidence to suggest that pets and insects can suffer from insomnia just like humans can. Research conducted at Saint Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine determined that insomniac flies experience symptoms similar to humans with insomnia. Generations of the flies were bred for research purposes. Results indicated that the insomniac flies only got an hour of sleep each day, which is less than 10 percent than the normal 12 hours that flies usually get. The insomniac flies easily lost their balance often, gained more fat than good sleepers, and were slower learners (1). All of these symptoms are common among humans with insomnia.
Similarly, your pet can develop insomnia, which is a good reason to give them their own sleep space. If you share the bed with an insomniac pet, you may be kept awake, too.
Social jet lag gives you a terrible case of the Mondays.
The struggle between keeping a social life on the weekend and sticking to your sleep schedule is real. Social jet lag is a phrase used to describe the act of following a different sleep routine on the weekends as you do during the weekdays. For example, if you stay up late on Friday and Saturday nights and then sleep in the following day, you could have social jet lag. It’s the reason why waking up for work or school on Monday morning seems so hard.
One study found that people who keep different weekend and weekday sleep schedules were three times more likely to gain weight (1). Earlier research has already confirmed the link between obesity and sleep deprivation or irregular sleeping routines (1).
As it turns out, adults need to keep a sleep routine just like children do. According to sleep psychologist Colleen Carney of Ryerson University in Canada, going to bed or waking up even an hour later than you normally do can disrupt your sleep schedule (1).
Synthetic sleep aids don’t work.
Sleeping pills are more popular than ever. According to a report by the National Sleep Foundation, one in four Americans use them every year to get more sleep, despite the horrific side effects they produce (dependency, drowsiness, increased risk of death, etc.). But newer research shows that they don’t even work very well.
According to Jack Edinger, a sleep specialist at the National Jewish Health hospital in Colorado, there is no research to prove that prescription sleep aids can cure insomnia. Edinger said the only proven treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy, which doesn’t require a pill at all.
In addition to not producing valid results, prescription sleep pills may even shorten your lifespan. A study published in the journal BMJ found that people who take prescription sleep medications were at a fivefold risk of dying within 2.5 years when compared to individuals who did not take a sleeping pill (1).
Women are more likely to develop insomnia.
Women can thank their hormones for keeping them awake at night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, women are twice as likely to develop insomnia as men. Experts believe this is because of a woman’s hormones. Insomnia has been linked to the hormonal changes a woman goes through during her lifetime, such as puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause (1).
A 1998 poll found that nearly 80 percent of women reported having more sleep problems during pregnancy than at any other time in their life. Sleep problems are a common complaint among menopausal women whose hormones are always fluctuating. In addition to being related to unpredictable hormonal changes, insomnia is also linked to depression, anxiety, restless legs syndrome and even breathing problems during sleep (1).
Insomnia might cause death in rare cases.
The average person with insomnia doesn’t have to worry about their condition killing them. But on rare occasions, it can. Fatal familial insomnia (FFI) is a genetic condition that is characterized by the inability to fall asleep. Eventually, the person affected may die. Experts show that FFI is a prion disease that is caused by an abnormal protein that develops into a genetic mutation. Brain function is affected, and the condition results in hallucinations, memory loss, and loss of muscle movements.
Back in 1986, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that a 53-year-old man with FFI only got two to three hours of sleep each night. After two months, he was only sleeping for one hour a night. Vivid dreams haunted him. Sleep became impossible within six months, and he experienced body tremors, difficulty breathing and severe fatigue. The man passed away after eight months. Researchers determined that the man’s two sisters and many of his relatives also died in a similar manner (1).
Rat studies have found that death can occur within 11 days of no sleep. Clinical studies have shown that humans have stayed awake for ten days with no life-threatening conditions other than cognitive impairment. The participant’s mental health returned to normal after being able to sleep regularly for one to two nights. During a science experiment, a 17-year-old high school student named Randy Gardner stayed awake for 11 days to set a world record with no apparent health issues (2).
Insomnia may turn you into an alcoholic.
Turning to a stiff drink at the end of the day to help you sleep is risky. Alcohol can be addictive and cause immunity. Using it to help you sleep may increase your risk of developing a drinking problem, according to research. You might also develop other conditions, such as depression.
People who use alcohol to treat their insomnia will eventually need more to get the same sleepy effect. A 2001 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry evaluated 172 adults who were being treated for alcohol dependence. Researchers determined that subjects with insomnia were twice as likely to use alcohol to help them sleep when compared to those without sleep problems. Study authors noted that using alcohol to treat insomnia will make the condition worse. It will also reinforce unhealthy habits towards alcohol (1).
Other research shows that alcohol may even have the opposite effect on sleep by acting as a stimulant. Alcohol contains mostly sugars, which can spike your blood glucose levels and wake you up when you’re trying to sleep. It can also increase the urge to use the bathroom during the night.
Lost sleep is gone forever
Think you can make up for lost sleep on the weekend? Research says you can’t. According to WebMD, it’s unlikely that you can fully recover from lost sleep. Sleeping in may even throw off your sleep schedule and cause you to lose even more sleep (3).
The National Sleep Foundation reported that even if you were to sleep for an extra ten hours to make up for only sleeping six hours a night for two weeks, your reaction times wouldn’t fully recover. In fact, they will be just as bad as if you stayed up all night (4). The best way to make up for lost sleep is to get back to a normal sleep schedule (3).
Insomnia driving is drunk driving.
Have you heard the rumor that driving while tired is similar to driving while drunk? It’s true. According to a 2014 study published in Sleep, your ability to drive while tired may become impaired in just 20 minutes (5). Your motor skills and ability to make good decisions are also reduced, which puts you on par with a drunk person behind the wheel.
Another study found that going 17 hours without sleep causes motor and cognitive impairments that are equal to that of alcohol intoxication (6). Results showed that at the 17 to 19-hour mark of no sleep, participants were equal to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent. The longer the subjects went without sleep, the more “intoxicated” they appeared until they reached the equivalent of a 0.1 percent blood alcohol concentration. This means that going longer than one day without sleep makes you legally drunk.
Insomnia also puts you at an increased risk of having other accidents. One study found that 20.9 percent of 5293 subjects reported having at least one home accident within the past 12 months due to sleeping problems. Another 10.1 percent had at least one work accident, and 9 percent had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving. Finally, 4.1 percent had at least one car accident due to insomnia within the past year (7).
The study found that people who were employed had more car accidents whereas home accidents mostly occurred in unemployed subjects. Men were more likely than women to get into car accidents while home accidents were more common in females. It was noted that these accidents were independent of any side effects from prescription drugs. In other words, reduced sleep time was the only thing to blame for the increased risk of accidents (7).
Insomnia can be treated without pharmaceuticals.
Some forms of insomnia can be treated naturally without medication. Simple tricks, such as improving your sleep hygiene, can help you sleep. You can start first thing in the morning with an exercise session to reduce stress and get your blood pumping to your brain. Replacing coffee and soda with water and herbal tea will help relax your nervous system, so you don’t feel anxious. Performing simple breathing exercises throughout the day can help you conquer stress when it arises.
At night, keep your meals light and avoid eating too close to bedtime. Do something that makes you relax before bed that doesn’t include TV or your phone. Make your bedroom cool and dark, so you’re comfortable enough to sleep. If you still need extra help falling asleep, consider taking a natural sleep aid. Research shows that most of them are safer than synthetic aids. They can easily be incorporated into your nightly bedtime routine when taken an hour before sleep.