Debunking Myths of Insomnia



Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders experienced by adults. According to American Psychiatric Association (APA), insomnia is marked by conditions of difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, early awakening and difficulty getting back to sleep, dissatisfaction to one’s sleep quality and quantity, and impairments of daily activities caused by deranged sleeping habit.

Most of us may remember an episode of British comedy series Mr. Bean called “Goodnight, Mr. Bean”, which depicts Mr. Bean’s frustrated, comical efforts to fall asleep. There was a scene where Mr. Bean took out a big picture full of sheep and tried to count them—practical ridicule to popular urban legend that says counting sheep help us fall asleep. However, he kept losing count and instead, got more frustrated. He ended up taking a calculator, heuristically counting the sheep by multiplying them with rectangle formula and fell asleep right after he found the answer.

In an absurd way, Rowan Atkinson portrays a popular myth about insomnia. Counting sheep is more distracting than relaxing. There is a lot of disseminating myths about insomnia that it is hard to decide which opinions are true. Some of the most popular myths (and facts) about insomnia are as follows:

The causes of insomnia are purely psychological – MYTH

Stress and anxiety are common causes of insomnia, but not exclusively so. Many physical illnesses like diabetes or hormonal disruptions may increase the likelihood. Other causes include medication, jet lag, disrupted sleep-wake cycle, and comorbidity with other sleep disorders like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

Everyone who stays up very late is having insomnia – MYTH

Each person has their own biological clock; a physiological clock that tells our body when to rest or work. Some people are early risers, while others are night owls. People with night-owl biological clock are often more active late at night than their early-rising counterparts, but they are not necessarily insomniacs. Diagnosis for insomnia focuses more on the quality and quantity of sleep than merely the time of sleeping.

Physical exercise may cure insomnia – FACT

A study from National Sleep Foundation found that moderate-intensity exercise help chronic insomniacs to fall asleep faster, with better quality. Exercising produces feel-good hormones that reduce the feeling of anxiety and depression, as well as adjusting biological clock to evoke the feeling of drowsiness.

Insomnia is a sign of serious mental disturbance – MYTH

Whether or not our insomnia symptoms are the sign of serious mental disturbance lies on the severity and duration of the experience. A chronic insomnia is very likely to be the sign of a more pervasive mental disorder, but short, acute insomnia is more likely to be driven by situational triggers.

Getting out of bed while trying to sleep worsens the insomnia – MYTH

Insomniacs often spend hours struggling to fall asleep. If you do, it is time to get out of bed. Staying in bed may increase the anxiety of not being able to fall asleep. A study conducted by University of Pittsburgh found that spending some time out of bed, in other way, may improve our readiness to fall asleep.

It is better to sleep in a totally dark environment – FACT

Our melatonin, hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycle, naturally works according to the presence of light. Melatonin prepares our body to be more active during the daylight and to rest during low-light condition. Staring at TV, laptop, or mobile screen late at night did not improve our sleep because it may confuse the hormone to think it is still daylight. Turn off the lights and gadgets for better sleep.

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