Not getting enough sleep is detrimental to your health - here are tips on how to manage and treat insomnia

Chronic sleep deprivation may also lead to insomnia. Picture: Cottonbro Studio / Pexels

Chronic sleep deprivation may also lead to insomnia. Picture: Cottonbro Studio / Pexels

Published Apr 9, 2024


Did you know that not getting enough sleep puts you at risk of developing physical and mental health disorders?

Insufficient sleep has been linked to seven of the 15 leading causes of death in the US, including cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, accidents, diabetes, and hypertension.

Those who sleep less than six hours a night also tend to struggle with weight issues, having a body-mass index (BMI) of 12% greater than those who sleep between seven and nine hours,” says Abdurahmaan Kenny, Neuroscience Product Manager for Pharma Dynamics.

Kenny points out that over time, chronic sleep deprivation may also lead to insomnia.

When an individual consistently experiences insufficient sleep over a prolonged period, it can disrupt the body's natural sleep-wake cycle and the regulation of sleep hormones such as melatonin.

This disruption can result in difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep or getting restorative sleep, which are characteristics of insomnia.

“Long-term sleep deprivation can affect various bodily functions, impacting cognitive abilities, mood and overall health. It can lead to increased stress, irritability, difficulty concentrating, memory issues, depression and anxiety, as well as a weakened immune system. Over time, these effects can contribute to the development or exacerbation of insomnia,” says Kenny.

Other critical factors that contribute to insomnia include stressors like grief, chronic pain, substance abuse, medical comorbidities, impaired social relationships, lower socio-economic status, old age and being female.

Insomnia is more common in women because of hormonal fluctuations, a predisposition to depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as circadian rhythm disorders, and coexisting medical problems.

Insomnia affects an estimated one in four adults at some point in their lives, with 10 to 15% experiencing chronic insomnia and a further 25 to 35% reporting occasional insomnia.

Yet, despite the high incidence, insomnia is still largely under-diagnosed and under-treated.

Kenny says addressing sleep deprivation early and adopting healthy sleep practises are crucial in preventing the development of chronic insomnia.

Chronic sleep deprivation may also lead to insomnia. Picture: Cottonbro Studio / Pexels

If you think you have insomnia, treating it typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes, behavioural strategies, and, in some cases, medical intervention.

Kenny suggests the following approaches to manage and treat the condition.

Establish a consistent sleep schedule

Maintain a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

This helps regulate your body's internal clock.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine

Develop pre-sleep rituals that signal to your body that it's time to wind down.

This might include drinking a cup of soothing herbal tea, like Rooibos, reading a book, taking a warm bath, practising relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation or listening to calming music.

Optimise your sleep environment

Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep.

Keep the room cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows.

Minimise electronic devices and screen time before bedtime, as the blue light can disrupt your sleep.

Limit stimulants and alcohol

Reduce or eliminate caffeine and nicotine, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime.

While alcohol might make you feel drowsy initially, it can disrupt your sleep later in the night.

Regular exercise

Engage in regular physical activity, but try to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it can be stimulating.

Exercise during the day can promote better sleep.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-I)

CBT-I is a structured programme that targets behaviours and thoughts affecting sleep.

It helps identify and replace negative thoughts and behaviours with positive ones to improve sleep.

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques

Practises like mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery can calm the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep.

Limit daytime naps

If you must nap during the day, keep it short (20-30 minutes) and avoid late afternoon naps, as they can interfere with nighttime sleep.

Seek professional help

In some cases, a doctor might prescribe short-term medication, such as a sedative-hypnotic.

Hypnotics with a modified release (MR) formulation allows the active ingredient to be released at two different rates or time periods and works by slowing activity in the brain to help patients fall asleep and stay asleep.

However, these medications should be used under medical supervision.

Kenny says it’s important to remember that what works for one person might not work for another when it comes to treating a sleeping disorder like insomnia.

“Consistency and patience are crucial, as changes in sleep habits and improvements may take time. Consulting with a GP or sleep specialist can provide personalised guidance and treatment options suited to your specific needs.”

IOL Lifestyle