Do you often struggle to fall asleep, finding yourself lying in bed for hours with your mind racing or your body feeling keyed up? Do you toss and turn all night, waking up multiple times? Do you wake up much earlier than you’d like to and feel unable to fall back asleep? These are all types of insomnia, a common sleep disorder that can cause difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or achieving restorative sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 30% to 50% of adults experience symptoms of insomnia at some point in their lives.1
The Startling Effects of Sleep Deprivation
It’s more than just feeling tired all day. Insomnia over time can lead to chronic sleep deprivation, which has a profound impact on cognitive function, motor skills/coordination, physical health, and emotional health.
Cognitive Function: Research has consistently shown that lack of sleep impairs attention, concentration, memory, and problem-solving abilities.2 Sleep-deprived individuals often experience difficulties in learning new information, making decisions, and thinking clearly.3 These cognitive impairments can significantly affect someone’s performance at work, school, or in athletics and hobbies.
Risk of Accidents: Lack of sleep significantly impairs motor skills. People with sleep deprivation have poor hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and overall motor performance.4 They are also more likely to experience lapses in attention, microsleep episodes, and impaired judgment, making them prone to accidents, both on the road and in occupational settings.5
Physical Health: Sleep deprivation increases the risk of developing chronic medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases.6,7 Chronic lack of sleep disrupts the body’s hormonal regulation, leading to imbalances in appetite-regulating hormones, increased inflammation, and insulin resistance.8 These factors contribute to weight gain, issues with metabolism, and a weakened immune system.
Emotional Health: Emotional health suffers when sleep is lacking. Sleep-deprived people are more prone to experiencing anger, sadness, and anxiety, and they have more trouble keeping their emotions in check.9,10 These emotional disturbances can strain relationships, impair social interactions, and contribute to the development of mental health conditions.
Can Insomnia Be Treated?
Insomnia may look like difficulty falling asleep, but it may also look like very frequent waking or waking up much too early. It’s important to seek treatment if you find yourself suffering from insomnia symptoms for more than a week or two. Insomnia is treatable, and is usually treated with a combination of lifestyle changes, medications and psychotherapy. Lifestyle changes may include setting a regular bedtime, using the bedroom only for sleep and sexual intimacy, avoiding electronics an hour before bedtime, increasing physical exercise during the day, and avoiding or reducing consumption of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and recreational drugs.11 Light therapy may also be helpful. Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, involves exposure to specific wavelengths of light to regulate sleep-wake patterns and improve insomnia symptoms.12
If these interventions alone are not sufficient, insomnia can be treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy Treatment Options for Insomnia
There are several effective options for treating insomnia with psychotherapy.12
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I): CBT-I focuses on identifying and modifying the thoughts, behaviors, and environmental factors that contribute to sleep difficulties. This technique combines lifestyle modifications with cognitive therapy that can help shift negative thoughts and beliefs about sleep and replace them with more positive and realistic ones.13
2. Relaxation Techniques: These can help calm the mind and body, promoting a state of relaxation conducive to sleep. A psychotherapist can work with you to learn skills such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing Exercises, Visualization, and Mindfulness Meditation.14,15
3. Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy involves guiding you into a state of deep relaxation and heightened focus, allowing you to access their subconscious mind and make positive changes. Research supports the efficacy of hypnosis in addressing sleep-related issues.16
References and Further Reading
1. Sateia, M. J., Buysse, D. J., Krystal, A. D., Neubauer, D. N., & Heald, J. L. (2017). Clinical practice guideline for the pharmacologic treatment of chronic insomnia in adults: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Clinical Practice Guideline. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 13(2), 307–349.
2. Alhola, P., & Polo-Kantola, P. (2007). Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 3(5), 553-567.
3. Killgore, W. D. (2010). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. Progress in Brain Research, 185, 105-129.
4. Van Dongen, H. P., Maislin, G., Mullington, J. M., & Dinges, D. F. (2003). The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: Dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep, 26(2), 117-126.
5. Philip, P., Sagaspe, P., Moore, N., Taillard, J., Charles, A., Guilleminault, C., & Bioulac, B. (2005). Fatigue, sleep restriction, and performance in automobile drivers: A controlled study in a natural environment. Sleep, 28(11), 1459-1465.
6. Cappuccio, F. P., D’Elia, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. A. (2010). Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep, 33(5), 585-592.
7. Knutson, K. L., Spiegel, K., Penev, P., & Van Cauter, E. (2006). The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 10(5), 307-314.
8. Spiegel, K., Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (2004). Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. The Lancet, 354(9188), 1435-1439.
9. Minkel, J. D., Banks, S., Htaik, O., et al. (2012). Sleep deprivation and stressors: Evidence for elevated negative affect in response to mild stressors when sleep deprived. Emotion, 12(5), 1015-1020.
10. Yoo, S. S., Gujar, N., Hu, P., Jolesz, F. A., & Walker, M. P. (2007). The human emotional brain without sleep—A prefrontal amygdala disconnect. Current Biology, 17(20), R877-R878.
11. Vorvick, L. J. (2022). Changing your sleep habits. National Library of Medicine MedLine Plus.
12. Edinger, J. D., Arnedt, J. T., Bertisch, S. M., et al (2021). Behavioral and psychological treatments for chronic insomnia disorder in adults: an American Academy of Sleep Medicine systematic review, meta-analysis, and GRADE assessment. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 17(2), 263–298.
13. Chambe, J., Reynaud, E., Maruani, J., Fraih, E., Geoffroy, P. A., & Bourgin, P. (2023). Light therapy in insomnia disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sleep Research, e13895.
14. Rossman J. (2019). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia: an effective and underutilized treatment for insomnia. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(6), 544–547.
15. Rusch, H. L., Rosario, M., Levison, L. M., Olivera, A., Livingston, W. S., Wu, T., & Gill, J. M. (2019). The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1445(1), 5–16
[caption width="718" id="attachment_1809" align="alignnone"] The insomnia concept represents by a sheep and a clock
17. The insomnia concept represents by a sheep and a clock[/caption] Cordi, M. J., Schlarb, A. A., Rasch, B., & Rasch, L. (2014). Deepening sleep by hypnotic suggestion. Sleep, 37(6), 1143-1152.