Insomnia, a symptom of other diseases?

  • Rhythma Kaul, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 21, 2014 19:14 IST

Sleep deprivation causes a lot of problems. It is normal for a person to wake up once or twice in the middle of the night. However, according to health experts, a disturbed sleep pattern – lasting more than a couple of weeks – is not to be taken lightly as it could be an indicator of a health condition, at times serious ailment.

Many wake up at night and find it difficult to go back to sleep.
Something as common as an acid reflux, to a more serious cause like early setting in of heart failure, could lead to a disturbed sleep at night.
Sleep specialists say a disturbed sleep pattern has two causes – primary or secondary.
"Primary insomnia is a sleep disorder per se, but the secondary insomnia is usually related to some physical disease like asthma, arthritis, heart disease, etc. that leads to sleep deprivation," said Dr JC Suri, head of department of pulmonology and sleep medicine, Safdarjung Hospital.

Secondary insomnia is more commonly found than primary sleep disorder. "Of all the insomnia cases I see in a month, roughly two-thirds are secondary cases," added Dr Suri. Unhealthy eating habits and lack of adequate amount of exercise also lead to sleep disorders that in turn result in lifestyle diseases such as heart diseases, stroke and several hormonal disorders.

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"A good number of cases that sleep specialists see are referred by endocrinologists, cardiologists and neurologists, as diseases involving hormones, heart and brain are directly linked with sleep deprivation. Sleep disorders can independently lead to diabetes and other metabolic disorders," said Dr MS Kanwar, senior consultant, chest diseases, critical care and sleep disorders, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.

"Structural abnormality like heavy tonsillar bed, thick tongue, very thick overhanging soft palette can also lead to a disturbed sleep, which is the second most common sleeprelated disorder after insomnia," he says.

Apart from an indicator of a physical health condition, the secondary insomnia can also be caused due to a psychiatric condition, or use of certain medicines and pain. In most cases when the disease is treated, the person’s sleep pattern improves tremendously.

Read:Natural tips to cure your insomnia

"Not being able to have a sound sleep could also be a symptom of depression or high anxiety. Sleep deprivation is one of the most common signs, indicating poor mental health," said a senior doctor in the department of psychiatry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

The cause of improper sleep pattern is usually different in different age groups as at times a disease could be age-related.

A night’s sleep is divided in 7-8 cycles, and each cycle consists of 90 minutes to 110 minutes. Between the two cycles, a person usually wakes up for about 2 minutes to change the sleeping posture.

Those who have troubled sleep, tend to wake up in the middle of the night and then find it difficult to go back to sleep.

Read:Insomnia ups your risk of heart attack 3-fold

"There is no reason why a person with a healthy sleep pattern should wake up in between. Some people wake up earlier than their wake up time and then can’t go back to sleep, which is also not normal and are symtoms of some physical or psychological problem," said Dr Suri. However, it’s not the insomnia that brings people to a specialist, but related complications. Many tend to self-medicate for the longest possible time.

"Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the preferred mode of treatment and proves effective in most cases," said Dr Suri.

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