What Is Insomnia?

Published on: September 17, 2023 | Reading time: 🕐 3m

Woman sitting on her bed at night

If you’re unable to get adequate sleep, despite the opportunity to sleep, you might be suffering from insomnia. Insomnia is the most prevalent sleep disorder, affecting 10-15% of the adult population. It is more common in women than men, especially older women, and costs the Canadian economy over $28.5 billion per year.

Chronic insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking early in the morning with an inability to return to sleep. These difficulties cause significant distress or impairment in daytime functioning for the individual and occur at least 3 nights per week for 3 months or longer.

The burden of chronic insomnia is high, both for the individual and society. Insomnia can cause daytime fatigue and sleepiness, reduced energy and productivity, and impaired concentration, memory, and judgment. As a result, insomnia sufferers are at risk of missing more days of work, experiencing reduced productivity, and being involved in more car accidents.

In terms of physical health, insomnia has been linked to numerous chronic issues, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and pain, and can co-occur with other sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome). Insomnia can also take its toll on our mental health. If you’ve experienced it, you can likely relate to the feelings of isolation and frustration that accompany it. Compared to people who sleep well, those with insomnia have an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and substance use.

The disruptive sleep patterns of insomnia can become entrenched over time, meaning that simple behavioural changes like cutting back on caffeine or going to bed earlier are not enough to reverse it. However, a specific set of strategies—together, referred to as cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia (see “CBT-I: The best treatment for insomnia”)—can help you regain good sleep in as little as a few weeks. 

Am I suffering from insomnia or am I sleep deprived?

This can seem like a tricky distinction but the key is adequate opportunity for sleep. As you know, insomnia is the inability to get enough sleep and/or good quality sleep despite adequate opportunity to sleep. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, is when externally imposed restrictions limit your sleep time. That is, for whatever reason, you sacrifice sleep in return for more hours of wakefulness. Since sleep deprivation is something you can generally change by altering your lifestyle and prioritizing sleep, it might seem less serious than chronic insomnia. However, sleep deprivation has also been linked to various mental and physical health issues (see “The consequences of sleep deprivation” above for more details) and shouldn’t be ignored.

Research has shown that, for most adults, the amount of sleep needed for best health is 7-9 hours each night. If you are struggling to achieve this—whether it’s due to insomnia or difficulty prioritizing sleep over other activities and responsibilities—HALEO can help you get back to healthy sleep. 

Read more: CBT-I: The Best Treatment for Chronic Insomnia

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