Insomnia: prevalence, consequences and effective treatment
Insomnia is said to be present when you regularly find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. It has several patterns. You may have trouble getting to sleep initially. Or even if you can fall asleep, you might not be able to stay asleep for as long as you would like. Also you may wake up during the night and not be able to go back to sleep for a long time. Many people have two of the above problems, or even all three. Because of these, you might feel tired during the day.
In Australia, Insomnia is a very common disorder that has significant long-term health consequences. An Australian population survey has shown that 13%–33% of the adult population have regular difficulty either getting to sleep or staying asleep.
Insomnia can occur as a primary disorder or, more commonly, it can be comorbid with other physical or mental disorders. Around 50% of patients with depression have comorbid insomnia, and depression and sleep disturbance are, respectively, the first and third most common psychological reasons for patient encounters in general practice. Insomnia doubles the risk of future development of depression, and insomnia symptoms together with shortened sleep are associated with hypertension.
Acute versus chronic insomnia
Insomnia is defined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) as difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep or having non-restorative sleep despite having adequate opportunity for sleep, together with associated impairment of daytime functioning, with symptoms being present for at least 4 weeks.
Acute insomnia is defined as sleep disturbance meeting the DSM-5 definition of insomnia, but with symptoms occurring for less than 4 weeks. Generally, acute insomnia is triggered by precipitating events such as ill health, change of medication or circumstances, or stress.
Once the precipitating event passes, sleep settles back to its usual pattern. Hence, treatment for acute insomnia is focused on avoiding or withdrawing the precipitant, if possible, and supporting the acute distress of not sleeping with short-term use of hypnotics usually a benzodiazepine.
If patients have repeated episodes of acute insomnia or ongoing comorbidities, insomnia symptoms can persist and evolve into chronic insomnia, which requires a different treatment approach. Once people have had difficulty sleeping for over 4 weeks, they have usually begun to behave and think about sleep differently, in ways that are maladaptive and perpetuate their sleep difficulties.
The long-term course is then generally one of relapse and remission rather than resolution, which continues well after the acute precipitating circumstances have passed.
Effects of chronic insomnia
Chronic insomnia can have a negative impact on your health, increasing your risk of depression and high blood pressure. It also can lower your quality of life. Complete Sleep depravation for more than 10 days can be deadly!
Insomnia has a wide array of potential causes. Sleep-onset insomnia is associated with anxiety, pain, caffeine, alcohol and environmental disturbances. Sleep-maintenance insomnia is linked with depression, sleep apnea, alcohol, drugs, pain, low blood sugar, and environmental changes.
Drugs that are believed to cause insomnia include stimulants (amphetamines, nicotine), antidepressants, corticosteroids, thyroxin, calcium channel blockers, bronchodilators, beta-blockers, oral contraceptive pills and decongestants.
There are several disorders associated with the occurrence of insomnia. Psychiatric conditions, cardiovascular disease, hyperthyroidism, cancer, benign prostatic hypertrophy and gastro-oesophageal reflux are frequently linked with insomnia.
Other conditions such as restless leg syndrome, headaches and respiratory difficulties are known to cause sleep difficulties. Nutritional deficiencies may also play a role in unhealthy sleeping patterns.
Serotonin, a neuro-chemical in the brain, is responsible for the initiation of sleep and requires several nutrients for its synthesis. Tryptophan (an amino acid that makes up protein) along with magnesium, niacin and vitamin B6 are just a few of the nutrients required for the production of serotonin.
Known symptoms of insomnia
Those suffering from insomnia generally experience a range of symptoms resulting from chronic sleep deprivation, such as:
- difficulty concentrating
- low mood
- poor memory,
- daytime sleepiness
- low motivation or energy
- increased errors or accidents
- tension headaches
Positive effects of negative ions for insomniacs
Negatively charged ions can and do have a major role to play in the effect they have on sleep. Ions are positively or negatively charged atoms or molecules that are formed when enough energy acts on a molecule such as water to eject an electron. A molecule which loses an electron is positively charged and a molecule which attracts an electron is negatively charged.
The ability to increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain can have a profound effect on sleep patterns and the results of a better sleep will be awaking at a higher state of alertness and more energy.
Negative ions can affect the levels of serotonin, a hormone which is manufactured in our brains. It is a neurotransmitter involved in the transmission of nerve impulses. Serotonin helps maintain a “happy feeling” and helps keep our moods under control by helping us to sleep. Low serotonin levels in our brains are believed to be the reason for cases of mild to moderate depression which can lead to symptoms of anxiety, apathy, fear, insomnia and fatigue.
Another hormone which is affected by negative ions and which has a profound effect on sleep is melatonin. Melatonin is synthesised from serotonin. It is a naturally occurring hormone in mammals as well as other animals and plants. It is produced by the pineal gland located in the brain. Melatonin helps regulate our circadian cycle by chemically causing drowsiness which helps in getting us to sleep. Melatonin has several powerful functions:
- It acts as a synchroniser of our biological clocks, thus helping us sleep
- It may exert a strong antioxidant activity
- It can absorb harmful free radicals
With quality sleep, cells are repaired, the immune system is strengthened and mental functions are sharpened. Quality sleep can also help reduce the occurrence of common pains such as backache, and increase your resistance to illness. A study of negative ions are known to help people sleep better by regulating the production of chemicals in the brain.
Negative ions play a role in causing blood flow to increase through dilation of the capillaries, thus causing greater oxygenation to occur. The oxygen level in hemoglobin is increased, helping to maintain good health and well being. This promotes cell respiration, helping us heal. Changes in the migration of calcium ions which occur naturally in our bodies can promote broken bone healing at a quicker rate or relieve painful arthritic joints by moving calcium away from the joints.
Drs. M. Terman and J.S. Terman at Columbia University studied the effect of negative ions on seasonal affective disorder (SAD). They concluded that negative ions promote alpha brain waves and increase brain wave amplitude, which translates to a higher awareness level. Negative ion induced alpha brain waves were found to spread evenly across the right and left brain hemispheres. All of this creates an overall calming effect and will help us enter sleep rapidly (SP) and reach the Rapid eye Movement (REM) state more quickly.
In 1969, French researcher found that the overproduction of the neurohormone serotonin caused sleeplessness and nightmares. In using a negative ioniser to treat a group of people experiencing sleeping problems as a result of serotonin overproduction, he found that most of them were able to sleep better (Soyka, 1991).
In 1957, a study published in the Journal of General Physiology concluded that negative ions reduce the overproduction of serotonin, a neurohormone that leads to exhaustion, among other things, when overproduced (Kreuger, 1957).
Dr. Tomoh Tsubushi, a medical professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University and sports medicine specialist, has closely followed negative ion research. In 1997, he concluded from his own studies that when negative ion therapy was applied after exercise, it quickly normalized blood pressure, reduced serum serotonin levels, and accelerated recovery time from exhaustion. In 2000, his paper on the beneficial effects of negative ions on the human body was published in Shuki no Kenkyu, a Japanese scientific journal.
Non-pharmacological treatment of insomnia
Negative ionisers as an effective treatment for insomnia
What is a negative ioniser?
A negative ioniser, also known as a negative ion generator is a useful item to own as they simultaneously purify and remove allergens and dust particles from the air. In addition, these devices continually refresh the air, neutralise odours and improve air quality with air filter technology.
How do negative ionisers work?
Particles, known as ions, attach to oxygen in the air to create a negative charge. Once it becomes a negative ion, the molecule attaches itself to pollen, dander, dust and odor to create a cluster. Negative ionisers are capable of drawing these clusters into a filter, which can be easily cleaned or replaced as required.
Therapeutic negative ion generators
Not all negative ions generators are the same. Some ionisers have been specifically designed for therapeutic purposes and are included on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (TGA) as Negative Ion Medical Devices.
Insomnia is complex and usually chronic by the time the individual consults a health practitioner, with cognitive, behavioural and social factors involved in its maintenance. Whilst simple instructions, such as avoiding stress, or short-term use of hypnotics show little improvement, decades of scientific research conducted from all around the world indicate the positive health benefits of negative ions for those that suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders.