Chronic insomnia: causes, treatment and prevention

Chronic insomnia is a disorder characterized by the inability to fall asleep, maintain it or achieve a restorative rest. It is estimated that this health problem affects about 15% of the world population, being more prevalent among older people.

The associated effects are very limiting and affect quality of life. While it is true that we can all have suffered occasional insomnia due to stress, anxiety, worries or as a result of some disease, the real problem lies when this reality becomes chronic.

Hernando Pérez Díaz, coordinator of the Sleep Group of the Spanish Neurology Society (SEN) points out something interesting in this regard. Given that we are an increasingly aging society, sleep disorders are going to be more and more frequent. However, not all patients can be treated in the same way. We analyze it below.

Why does chronic insomnia appear?

Sherlock Holmes said in one of those adventures created by Arthur Conan Doyle that sleeping is the solution to all problems. He was not lacking in reason, because getting a good night's rest relieves exhaustion and, in turn, clears the mind and allows us to see things more clearly.

Sleeping poorly and suffering from a sleep disorder completely alters physical and psychological well-being. Thus, one thing we must know first is that chronic insomnia always has a cause behind.

Most of the time it responds to some disease or some factor related to lifestyle. Studies, such as those carried out at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore (India) show us this. Patients with chronic insomnia have a higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders.

These people are also at greater risk of suffering traffic or work accidents, due to attention and concentration problems. It is therefore imperative that we ask for expert help.

Our lifestyle, diet and certain associated diseases are often the origin of chronic insomnia.

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Symptoms of chronic insomnia

Chronic insomnia can be defined as one that lasts more than three months and that can persist for years. There are times when it disappears only to return later. It is important to note that it does not affect only night rest. Its effects are also appreciated during the day and are the following:

  • The person experiences difficulty in falling asleep.
  • You suffer continuous awakenings.
  • He ends up getting up very early.
  • When getting up you have the feeling of not having rested at all.
  • During the day he suffers from drowsiness.
  • You suffer from concentration problems.
  • Has trouble solving problems and make decisions.
  • You experience memory lapses.
  • You suffer from irritability, depression, or anxiety.
  • The problem of sleep becomes a constant.

Causes behind chronic insomnia

The origin of insomnia is usually a complex combination of medical, psychological and personal factors. Science differentiates two types of disorder. On the one hand, there would be the primary one, of which the origin is unknown, although the possibility that there may be alterations in neurotransmitters is being considered. On the other hand, there are the secondary factors, which respond to the following causes that we organize in lists.

Medical conditions

  • Obesity.
  • Diabetes.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Heart problems.
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Menopause.
  • Restless legs syndrome.
  • Gastric reflux.
  • Thyroid disorders.
  • Parkinson.
  • Alzheimer disease.
  • Taking certain drugs.

Psychological problems

  • Constant worries.
  • Stress disorders.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depressive disorders

Life habits

  • Sedentary life.
  • Tobacco.
  • Overuse of electronic devices and displays.
  • Work in shifts.
  • Not having good sleep hygiene.
  • Take daily naps.

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What treatments are there for chronic insomnia?

Treatment for chronic insomnia will always depend on the cause. For this reason, we need to consult with a good specialist to carry out the relevant tests. As a general rule, the following treatments are used:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Before resorting to drugs, scientific studies indicate that it is advisable to resort to this type of therapy. Thanks to it, we work on concerns, control stimuli to promote a good rest, establish new routines and habits, and manage stress.
  • Relaxation techniques: Jacobson's breathing exercises, yoga, guided meditation or progressive relaxation are well suited.
  • Sleep hygiene practices: To combat chronic insomnia, it is very appropriate for the person to learn sleep hygiene practices, such as taking care of routines, schedules, not taking naps, attending to diet and exercise. They are also taught to take care of environmental factors, such as the light in the room where they sleep, noise, temperature, and the mattress.
  • Pharmacotherapy: in certain cases, when the doctor considers it appropriate, drugs such as zolpidem or eszopiclone will be used.

Cognitive therapy is very suitable for reducing the effect of chronic insomnia. Drugs are reserved for medical prescription.

Insomnia prevention

Can insomnia be prevented? The answer is yes. Although it is true that, at times, certain medical conditions such as menopause, diabetes or gastric reflux can affect our night's rest, we can always do our part.

These would be some keys:

  • Have a regular schedule: try to get up and go to bed at the same time.
  • It is advisable to learn to manage daily stress.
  • It can be very good for us to exercise half an hour a day.
  • Let's turn off our electronic devices two hours before going to bed.
  • Let's avoid caffeine at the end of the day.
  • The room we sleep in should not be exposed to noise. The temperature, meanwhile, must be between 19 and 21 ºC.

To conclude, good rest is an essential pillar of mental and psychological health. We ask for expert help when we begin to notice that insomnia appears regularly over 2 or 3 weeks. Let's prevent this problem from becoming chronic.