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What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a condition in which you become sleep deprived due to trouble falling or staying asleep. Almost 50% of Americans experience occasional episodes of insomnia. But 10% experience what we call chronic persistent insomnia. Chronic insomnia occurs most or all nights and is typically associated with daytime consequences such as waking up feeling unrested or unrefreshed, feeling tired during the day, having problems thinking clearly, and having problems with concentration and poor memory. Emotional symptoms are also a common consequence of chronic insomnia. These can include feeling easily irritated or frustrated, feeling more nervous or anxious, feeling sad, or just feeling more emotionally fragile.
What are the potential consequences of chronic insomnia?
Motor vehicle accidents
Chronic insomnia is an illness that has potentially severe consequences beyond the symptoms you feel after a poor night of sleep. The most immediate risk for someone with chronic insomnia is impaired ability to drive safely. Driving after a poor night of sleep can be the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level of .05. As a result, people with chronic insomnia are 2.5 times more likely to be in a motor vehicle accident and 3.5 times more likely to suffer a fatal accident.
People with chronic persistent insomnia are also at risk for development of many serious illnesses. Heart disease is a particularly severe consequence of chronic insomnia. Women with chronic insomnia have been found to have a four fold increased risk for having a heart attack. Both men and women with insomnia are at 3.5 times the risk of having a fatal heart attack. Waking up feeling exhausted is probably the most dangerous insomnia symptom of all. In one study men waking up feeling exhausted were seven times more likely to suffer a fatal heart attack within the next year.
Even one poor night of sleep has been found to elevate your blood sugar. Chronically poor sleep actually increases your chances of becoming diabetic. The risk of developing diabetes is increased by 57% in people with chronic problems falling asleep and 84% in people with chronic problems staying asleep.
Strokes are also more common in people with insomnia. One study found that chronic insomniacs were 55% more likely to suffer a stroke within the next four years. For insomniacs who suffer from daytime sleepiness the stroke risk was increased by 300%.
Dementia and Alzheimer's
Chronic insomnia has been shown to cause atrophy of key brain areas which contributes to long term memory problems. People with chronic insomnia at age 70 were found to be at 114% increased risk for developing dementia and at 192% increased risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.
Depression is a serious and debilitating disorder. It can literally take all joy out of your life. Chronic persistent insomnia is associated with a 40-fold increased risk of developing depression within the next year.
If you are suffering from chronic persistent insomnia you can’t afford to ignore it.
Talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist to get it evaluated and treated right away.