What is insomnia?
In everyday language, insomnia can refer to difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep or waking up too early. It can also refer to not getting enough quality sleep, and feeling unrefreshed the next day. Insomnia is very common, and over a third to nearly half of the population will experience a few nights of poor sleep from time to time.
If sleep is disturbed up to a few weeks, it is called short-term or acute insomnia. Acute insomnia is most often caused by a stressful situation or significant change in life circumstances, such as having an important work project due, changing jobs, travelling overseas, or experiencing a medial illness. In general, sleep problems will resolve once the stressful situation passes and most people will not require treatment or intervention. During these times, it can be helpful to follow some general guidelines for healthy sleep, to prevent these short bouts of insomnia developing into a more serious sleep problem. You can download a SHORT GUIDE TO BETTER SLEEP, a free booklet full of tips about how to improve sleep during a period of insomnia.
For around 5-10% of the population sleep problems can occur as often as 3 or more nights a week and persist for months, or even years. When insomnia becomes chronic, lasting more than three months, a health professional may diagnose an Insomnia Disorder if certain clinical criteria are met. Click here for the clinical criteria for an insomnia disorder.
If you are experiencing chronic insomnia it is very important that you see you GP for a medical assessment. Your GP will help you decide if you need to meet with a sleep specialist, a mental health professional, or whether a self-help approach would be suitable.
Short term consequences
If you haven’t sleep well for a few nights you’ll know the feeling of fatigue and sleepiness that can occur in the days that follow. Other common effects of poor sleep include:
- reduced mental alertness and ability to concentrate
- poorer short-term memory
- changes in mood, such as feeling down, more irritably or anxious
- changes in perspective, such as a greater tendency towards negative thinking
- a greater tendency to make mistakes or errors
- slower reaction times, which can increase the risk of accidents or injuries.
Long term consequences
The consequences of long term disturbed sleep can be more serious, as it can negatively affect your physical and mental health. Some of these long-term consequences of poor sleep can include:
- increased weight gain (if you are tired, you may be less likely to exercise, and may choose higher energy food such as sugars and carbohydrates for an immediate energy boost)
- increased risk of high blood pressure
- increase risk of Type 2 diabetes
- increase risk of depression and anxiety disorders
What are the causes insomnia?
Insomnia is generally not caused by a single factor, it is caused by a combination of factors.
Some things might predispose you to insomnia in adulthood, such as having a family history of sleep problems, of having sleep problems childhood.
Other factors that would increase your risk of developing insomnia include things like: leading a busy lifestyle, consuming high levels of caffeine, or experiencing mental or physical health problems. Also, women tend to develop insomnia more often than men, and your risk also increases with age.
Major life events (such as changing jobs, becoming unwell, becoming a parent) are common triggers of a sleep problem. Then once a sleep problem begins, worry about not sleeping (and the associated stress and hyperarousal) sets off a vicious cycle that can cause insomnia to persist.
You can learn more about the causes of insomnia in this video.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have experienced disturbed sleep for more than 2 weeks and do not know the cause of the insomnia, it is recommended that you see your GP for an assessment and medical check-up. This information is not a substitute for proper assessment and treatment with a suitably qualified health professional.
An online course to improve sleep and overcome insomnia
A Mindful Way offers an online program to help you sleep better and overcome insomnia. The six-week course teaches you everything you need to know about sleep and takes you step by step through the proven strategies to help improve the quality of your sleep and spend less time awake in bed.
The course is taught through a series of video lessons and practical exercises presented by Dr Giselle Withers, a clinical psychologist with a background in sleep psychology. From the comfort of your own home, you’ll have access to the gold standard treatment approach for insomnia.
Tips for better sleep
If you've had sleep problems for more than a few months then it is likely you'll benefit from our online course called A Mindful Way to Healthy Sleep. This course will go to the heart of what is causing your insomnia, and help you make changes in your life to improve sleep for years to come.
If you are still considering whether or not to undertake the online training, you may like to start with some basic tips to move you in the right direction for better sleep.
Please download this FREE booklet which outlines 8 key steps to better sleep.
Improve your sleep with this FREE eBook