Just having insomnia can be depressing enough, but increasingly, studies are suggesting that it’s linked to long term health problems. This isn’t as bad as it might sound. As such problems are identified, people with long term insomnia can adjust their lives to cut out other risk factors and reduce the probability that problems will occur.
Physical Health Problems
Because the body uses sleep as an opportunity to conduct repairs, not getting enough sleep can lead to problems in a number of areas. It also means that hormone cycles can be disrupted, causing metabolic problems.
- Cardiovascular disease – People with long term sleep problems are more likely to suffer from heart disease and to have heart attacks. You can compensate for this by making sure you get regular exercise.
- Diabetes – As insomniacs are more likely to suffer from diabetes, you should speak to your doctor if you find yourself craving unusual amounts of sugary foods or water. A healthy, balanced diet will reduce the risk.
- Obesity – This is a problem because hormones which suppress excessive appetite are mostly produced during sleep. If you find yourself putting on weight, you may need to switch to a calorie restricted diet. Rather than eating bad foods, you are probably just eating too much overall.
- Anxiety – Feelings of being overwhelmed by exhaustion can lead to chronic anxiety that makes it difficult to go outside or do day to day things. Some people find that pills can help with this, but the best treatment is usually psychotherapy.
- Depression – This can develop as a direct symptom of exhaustion and feelings of frustration. It can last even after the insomnia has gone away. Depression affects everybody differently, but it can often be treated, so make sure you ask for help.
- Memory loss – Short term memory loss due to fatigue can lead to long term problems with storing and retrieving information in some people. This is more likely to affect your short term memory than your long term memory.
- Alzheimer’s disease – Recent studies suggest that chronic insomnia significantly raises the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that early treatment can hold the condition at bay quite effectively in most cases.
Mental Health Problems
Insomnia can also cause or aggravate a number of psychiatric problems. Fortunately, if you know you are at risk and consult your doctor as soon as symptoms appear, your prognosis will improve with early treatment.
Problems with Addiction
Another major problem for people with long term sleep problems is addiction to sleeping pills or alcohol used as a sleep aid. If you are worried about sleeping pill addiction, ask your doctor about associated health risks and whether or not you should take breaks from your pills from time to time.
If you are using alcohol as a sleep aid, try not to do it every night. Give yourself two or three nights a week when you use it and otherwise try to refrain from drinking at all. If your body has become conditioned to responding to the routine of drinking alcohol, you may find that having a similar-tasting non-alcoholic drink before bed also makes you feel sleepy.
What You Can Do
If you are worried about the long term health risks of your insomnia, remember that most other people also have risk factors in their lives. Many of these are easy to cut out. By eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and seeking prompt medical attention when concerns arise, you can improve your chances of living a long and healthy life.
Finally, a bit of good news – despite all these risks, some studies suggest that, on average, people with insomnia live longer than their peers. It may be tough going, but it seems there really is a reward at the end of the day.