The Disturbing Link Between Insomnia and Deadly Diseases

Tossing and turning every night may not seem like a big deal to you. But if you are the 1 in 3 Americans that suffer from insomnia, you could be exposed to more health risks than you think. In fact, there is a terrifying link between a long-term lack of sleep and some of the most deadly diseases.

But first, what causes insomnia?

Man in bed turning on a lamp.

Insomnia will feel different for everyone. | BernardaSv/iStock/Getty Images

The reason so many people suffer from insomnia is that there is a laundry list of things that can cause it. Travel, ongoing stress, and alcohol or nicotine consumption are all common outside factors that can contribute to sleepless nights. But things like mental disorders and medications can also play a part in insomnia. Another all too common factor is age — changes in activities and sleep patterns also affect Z’s.

How can you tell if it’s insomnia, or just a couple sleepless nights?

Mature woman with insomnia lying on her bed.

Understanding your sleep patterns can be tricky. | IvonneW/iStock/Getty Images

Naturally, we all have those nights where we just can’t fall asleep. The occasional sleepless night, known as acute insomnia, shouldn’t raise concern. However, a long stretch of time could mean you are a chronic insomniac. The National Sleep Foundation categorizes an insomniac as someone who has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep “at least three nights per week for three months or longer.”

How insomnia affects your brain

A woman tossing in her bed.

Are you dealing with a rough night of sleep … or something more? | Demaerre/iStock/Getty Images

Insomnia affects the brain in more ways than just making it difficult to sleep. Those who suffer from this condition have trouble turning off certain regions of the brain, which makes it hard to concentrate and remember things during the day. This memory loss is due to the fact that insomnia reduces the gray matter in the frontal lobes of the brain. In severe cases, chronic insomnia can manifest into mental disorders.

And how it affects your heart

A woman sleeping in her white bed.

Insomnia can affect your heart health. | Marjot/iStock/Getty Images

A lack of sleep doesn’t just mess with your head. High blood pressure and heart disease are also connected to having too many sleepless nights. And according to the American College of Cardiology, there is “mounting evidence” that links insomnia to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and even death.

Why sleeping pills don’t work

A woman sleeps wearing an eye mask in her bed.

Sleeping pills are only a temporary solution. | AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

While many insomniacs turn to prescription drugs for help sleeping, sleeping pills are widely panned as a long-term treatment plan. Many sleep medications have side effects that harm your overall health, and they can be incredibly addictive. It is suggested that sleeping pills not be used for longer than two or three weeks. Talk to your doctor immediately if sleeplessness persists.

The link to this terrifying, rare disease

Elderly hand being held.

Insomnia can have serious side effects. | Vladans/iStock/Getty Images

While fatal familial insomnia is rare, it is still quite horrifying. This condition, which is caused by a genetic mutation in the brain, typically doesn’t develop until mid-life. In addition to trouble sleeping, victims of FFI experience rapidly progressing dementia, phobias, and a loss of appetite, just to name a few things. Muscle twitches and hallucinations can also occur. There is currently no treatment for this fatal disease.

Getting help

A doctor and patient sit together in an office.

Your doctor will be able to recommend solutions for your insomnia. | NanoStockk/iStock/Getty Images

Insomnia is a debilitating condition, but there are definitely treatments out there to help you conquer it. In addition to sleep medications, light therapy and breathing exercises can help you sleep better. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, like having a regular bedtime that can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer.