Insomnia-How Rare is It?
Persistent insomnia, that is, the inability to fall and stay asleep, affects about 10% of adults, reaching about 22% as we age. Also, insomnia is somewhat more common in women than in men. Many of us experience short-term insomnia which can last for a few weeks. However, some of us can experience chronic insomnia, lasting for a month or more.
Lack of Sleep Has Strong Health Consequences
You know you are in the grips of this energy-draining sleep disorder if you have difficulty falling asleep, you wake up in the middle of the night or way too early. Consequently, you typically do not feel rested, may feel irritable and anxious and are more forgetful and prone to accidents. Lack of sleep has also been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
But, Why Can’t I Fall Asleep?
Current medical opinion is that the most common causes of insomnia are stress, poor sleeping habits and even, eating too much in the evening. Also, medications, caffeine consumption, and age have been shown to affect sleep patterns. Some studies1 have even shown a connection between the use of our beloved electronic devices late in the day and our ability to get a good night’s sleep. However, the reasons behind chronic insomnia are still poorly understood2.
- Medications. Certain antidepressants and medications for asthma and blood pressure can also interfere with your sleep.
- General health. Conditions linked with insomnia include chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), overactive thyroid, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Mental health. Anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder can be detrimental to restful sleep. Experts believe that waking up too early can be a sign of depression.
- Sleep-related disorders. Some conditions like Sleep apnea and Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) can impact your sleep.
- Sleep apnea causes you to periodically stop breathing throughout the night, interrupting your sleep.
- RLS causes unpleasant sensations in your legs and an almost irresistible desire to move them, which may prevent you from falling asleep.
- Caffeine. In addition to coffee and caffeinated sodas, many over the counter medications contain caffeine-caffeine is well known to affect sleep. The effects of caffeine vary widely between individuals, depending on age, weight, and pregnancy status, among many other factors. On average, the maximum effect of caffeine lasts for 4 to 6 hours. However, in pregnant women, this effect can last up to 15 hours. More useful information about caffeine can be found here. Make a habit of reading the labels to better understand what goes into your body.
- Alcohol and tobacco. Alcohol can inhibit deep, restful sleep and may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Consumption of tobacco products introduces nicotine into your system; nicotine can interfere with sleep.
Your DNA also Plays a Role
In addition to all the factors listed above, scientists have known that sleep disorders can be inherited. Recently, a large study out of the UK 3, has provided insights into the genetics behind insomnia. The study identified several genes associated with insomnia (MEIS1, HHEX, RHCG, IPO7 and TSNARE1). Their work highlights the impact of a variant is the MEIS1 gene which is also associated with restless leg syndrome. However, RLS did not on its own explained insomnia. The genetic data also showed some differences in sleep patterns between men and women.
Learn more about the Contribution of DNA to the Quality of your Sleep
Visit our products page if you are curious about what your DNA can tell you about your sleeping patterns.
Make sure to consult with your medical professional if you continue to experience poor sleep.
by: Adrian Vilalta, PhD
- Christensen, et al. “Direct Measurements of Smartphone Screen-Time: Relationships with Demographics and Sleep” PLOS ONE; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0165331 November 9, 2016
- Morin, et al. “Insomnia Disorder” Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2015 Sep 3;1:15026. doi: 10.1038/nrdp.2015.26.
- Hammerschlag, et al. “Genome-wide Association Analysis of Insomnia Complaints Identifies Risk Genes and Genetic Overlap with Psychiatric and Metabolic Traits” Nat Genet. 2017 Nov;49(11):1584-1592. doi: 10.1038/ng.3888. Epub 2017 Jun 12.