You could be suffering from insomnia if you struggle to get to sleep, even though you’re very tired.

“Insomnia is the inability to get an adequate amount of sleep in order to feel refreshed the next day,” explains Dr Chan Herng Nieng​, Senior Consultan​t, Department of Psychiatry​, Singapore General Hospital​ (SGH), a member of the Si​ngHealth​ group.

There are many possible causes of insomnia.

Dr Chan says: “In a fast-paced city like Singapore, people suffer from insomnia because of the stresses of daily living, such as work​ pressures, family conflicts, and financial difficulties.” Some people might also have unrealistic expectations about sleep and become very worried if they can’t sleep for one or two nights. “This, in turn, worsens sleeplessness,” adds Dr Chan.

Constant jet lag due to frequent business travel and shift work can also wreak havoc on sleeping patterns.

“Beyond these causes, the inability to sleep is also a common complaint of those suffering from psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance and alcohol misuse,” says Dr Chan. In other cases, insomnia may also be due to sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome (RLS), periodic limp movement disorder and obstructive sleep apnoea.

Losing sleep – bad news for men?

While insomnia affects women more, recent research by Penn State College of Medicine, Pennsylvania, found that men who have trouble sleeping may have more to worry about.

According to the 2010 study, men with chronic insomnia were four times more likely to die early than men with healthy sleep patterns.

Dr Chan explains the findings: “Actually, this study did not conclusively state that men with chronic insomnia might die younger. It merely observed that insomniac men who slept less than six hours per night had a higher mortality rate compared to insomniac men who managed to catch more sleep.”

There are certain limitations to this study, says Dr Chan. For one, only one sleep study was carried out for each participant. “This is not actually reflective of each participant’s habitual sleep duration. Besides, the sleep study environment is different from the home environments of the participants.”

Also, the number of participants in the insomnia groups was very small compared to the non-insomnia groups. This means that any deaths in these small groups will contribute to a large effect when converted to percentages, which may not be a true effect.

Lastly, the study did not consider the possible association between hypnotic medications like sleeping pills a​nd mortality, says Dr Chan.

See next page for 5 good sleeping tips​.​

Ref: T12