Unexpected Consequences of Insomnia

Many people, at one point or another, have experienced insomnia. This can be trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. Over 50% of people experience one insomnia symptom a few nights a week. But only 1 in 3 people mention this to their doctor. Most people either ignore it, self-treat, or wait for years before approaching a doctor. However, people are not aware of all the negative impacts that poor sleep can have.

1. Mood – In general, being sleep-deprived changes people’s perception of their experiences: negative events seem worse, positive events are not as good. People are more irritable, snap quickly at other people, and make risky decisions. Chronic insomnia increases the risk of anxiety by 6x and depression by 40x. This is also significant in teens. Compared to teens who sleep more than 7 hours on school nights, sleep-deprived teens make more risky decisions and can have more suicidal thoughts.

2. Pain – Lack of sleep increases activity in areas of the brain responsible for sensing pain and decreases the activity in the brain responsible for relieving pain. Poor sleep also lowers the pain threshold. This means that people with inadequate sleep sense pain quicker, stronger, and longer.

3. Drowsy Driving – The Drowsy Driving Report published in November 2022 by the National Sleep Foundation shows that 62% of drivers reported that they have driven when they are so tired that they can barely keep their eyes open. About 25% of drivers say they drive drowsy at least once a year, and some of those drivers even drive drowsy once a week! Drowsy driving causes about 20% of all motor vehicle crashes.

4. Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) – This is defined as the inability to stay awake and alert during the wake times of the day. A study published in May 2023 shows that 60% of adults have excessive daytime sleepiness, ranging from mild to severe. EDS is measured by how likely a person falls asleep while being sedentary: sitting and reading, watching TV, sitting in a public place, sitting and talking to someone, sitting quietly after lunch, sitting as a passenger in a car for an hour without a break.

5. Work Performance – Lack of sleep negatively impacts people’s concentration and memory. In the work place, there can be presenteeism, meaning the person is at work physically but not mentally. Or there can be absenteeism, in which the person cannot even go to work at all.

6. Weight Gain – Inadequate sleep leads to weight gain via several angles. Firstly, after a night of inadequate sleep, the frontal lobe of the brain that is responsible for complex decision-making does not function as well the next day. And, the more basic regions of the brain associated with motivation and desire become more active. Therefore, people crave junk foods as a “reward”, which tend to be higher in sugar and calorie. Furthermore, the body releases more ghrelin (the hunger hormone), while releasing less leptin (the satiety/fullness hormone). All this leads to a person craving for junk food, having a bigger appetite, eating more without feeling full, not realizing that they have eaten too much already and should feel full, and unable to make good decisions about which foods to eat.

7. Inflammation – The body releases more inflammatory markers, such as CRP, cytokines, and interleukin-6.

8. High Blood Pressure – There is a Mayo study that showed sleeping for 4 hours a night raised the systolic BP by 10 points, compared to when the participants slept for 9 hours.

9. Diabetes – After a night of inadequate sleep, blood sugar tends to be higher the next day. Insulin levels have also been observed to be higher at the same time. This suggests that there is decreased insulin sensitivity, leading to blood sugar dysregulation. Therefore, chronic insomnia can lead to the development of diabetes. High blood sugar also contributes to high blood pressure.

It only takes one night of inadequate sleep to have some of these negative effects the next day, such as the mood, pain, appetite, and blood pressure. Not only can Chinese Medicine address the mood, pain, inflammation, etc, it can also address the root cause of them all. The beauty of Chinese Medicine is that there is no set treatment plan for any condition. Whether it is using acupuncture or Chinese herbs, the treatment plan is solely based on what is going on with the patient.

Do you want to see what we can do to address your insomnia? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Anna.

Article written by Anna Diec, LAc

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