The Growing Problem of Insomnia

BW insomniac twisting in bed

Credit: Alyssa L Miller CC by 2.0

Growing Recognition of the Problem of Insomnia

“Insomnia is increasingly being recognized as an important condition that is detrimental to health,” according to Dieter Riemann, a professor of clinical psychophysiology at the University of Freiburg Medical Centre in Germany.

“Research over the last 20 or so years has demonstrated that insomnia is a risk factor in many other disorders, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but especially in the mental health arena,” said Riemann, who founded the European Insomnia Network in 2009. “We have suspected this for some time.”

Riemann said a wide range of studies over the the last 10 years have confirmed the connection of insomnia to physical and mental health issues.

“We know about the close coupling of insomnia and depression – that it’s not just a symptom of depression, but also a very early predictor of it,” said Riemann. “Of particular relevance to my own specialty, clinical psychophysiology, we now also know that insomnia is very relevant to the course of a mental disorder. Depression and insomnia often go hand in hand, and when the depression is treated, the insomnia often remains and acts as a persistent risk factor for relapses into depression.”

Symptoms and Frequency of Insomnia

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder thought to be on the increase at least partly because of dramatic lifestyle changes resulting from technology. People go to bed with their cell phones by their side, succumbing to the habit of being available for work, family, friends or social media postings 24/7.

Short-term or acute insomnia may be the result of a traumatic or stressful event and last several days or even a few weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic. Insomnia is considered chronic when it lasts more than a month.

Insomnia symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
  • Irritability, depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Ongoing worries about sleep

About one-quarter of the adults in the U.S. report having some degree of insomnia and other countries are paying attention to this growing issue. The “2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults” found 20 percent of those surveyed reported significant insomnia.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia

The current standard for treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, which is done with a trained psychotherapist.

That therapy, called CBT-I, includes the cognitive part that teaches the person to recognize and change beliefs that affect the ability to sleep. This type of therapy can help control or eliminate negative thoughts and worries that keep you awake.

The behavioral part of CBT-I helps the person develop good sleep habits and avoid behaviors that keep you from sleeping well. Those can include suggestions ranging from cutting back on caffeine to putting the clock out of sight to learning relaxation techniques. While CBT-I is considered to be effective and can provide long-lasting benefits, participation has been limited mostly by high costs and a lack of qualified providers. And it’s not effective for everyone suffering from insomnia.
Sometimes medication is prescribed, and that can provide short-term relief. But medications to induce sleep don’t get to the underlying cause of insomnia.

New Sensor Technology Offers Possible Relief for Insomnia

You can’t make yourself sleep. That’s one of the mysteries of the human body. You can turn off the TV, computer and cell phone a couple of hours before you head for your bed. You can keep the room dark and quiet. You can do your best to let the worries of the day drift away, and confront them again in the morning, hopefully with the fresh perspective that comes with a good night’s sleep.

But for some people, none of that works. You lie awake, a frustrating and potentially damaging problem for physical and mental health.

Now researchers at Washington State University’s Sleep and Performance Research Center are conducting an insomnia study using a sensor that sits on the nightstand. The sensor device called the S+ is connected to a smartphone or tablet to monitor a wide range of sleep functions and then address the troubling issues directly.

The three-year study will measure the timing, quantity and quality of sleep. Participants in the study will get sleep scores and charts, along with individualized suggestions on how sleep may be improved.

“We will investigate to what extent this technology can accurately measure insomniacs’ sleep patterns over days and weeks and provide tailored improvements in their sleep,” said Devon Grant, principal investigator of the study. “This could help expand cost-effective therapy options available to this undertreated population.”

References

Van Dongen, Judith, “Study to Test Sleep Technology in Chronic Insomnia,” Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center, Jan. 23, 2018

Riemann, Dieter, “What’s New in Insomnia Research,” Health Europa, Jan. 22, 2018

Adams, Robert; Appleton, Sarah, et al., “Report to the Sleep Health Foundation: 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults,” University of Adelaide, The Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, 2016

Insomnia,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic, 2019

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