Today is National Women’s Health and Fitness Day, and instead of doling out workout tips, we’re exploring something different: sleep health and insomnia. Insomnia, unfortunately, is a common sleep disorder among Americans. With this sleep disorder, you may have trouble falling, staying, or getting quality rest. Insomnia can occur even if you have the time and the right environment to sleep well, and it can get in the way of your daily activities and may make you feel sleepy during the day. According to research, women are 40% more likely to report insomnia symptoms than men. Poor sleep can have devastating consequences on overall health, such as impaired functioning, increased risk of accidents, and even the development of psychiatric and cardiovascular disorders. However, there are breakthrough treatments that may put restful nights within reach. We spoke with Ashgan Elshinawy, D.O., who is a board-certified in Sleep Medicine, to understand insomnia’s detriments and new sleep science developments.
ESSENCE: What are some reasons people experience insomnia?
Ashgan Elshinawy: Insomnia is the inability to initiate or stay asleep, coupled with daytime symptoms such as fatigue, daytime sleepiness, or poor concentration. Many biological factors can cause insomnia, disrupting the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Overactive wake signaling in the brain is one of the biological causes of insomnia – which can be stimulated by lifestyle factors like poor sleep hygiene or stress, physiological events such as menopause or pregnancy, or comorbidities like anxiety and depression. Risk factors for insomnia include age and female gender, among others.
How can it be solved?
Insomnia can be addressed in various ways, from cognitive behavioral therapy to prescription medication. In cases where a patient struggles with a comorbidity – like anxiety or depression – it’s important to treat both entities separately, as insomnia is a distinct medical condition. The patient and their physician should determine what’s best for each patient.
Are there any natural remedies or workouts to do to prevent insomnia?
Proper sleep hygiene, as recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), is like avoiding electronics before bed and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. Sleep hygiene alone does not treat insomnia as a medical condition. First-line treatment for insomnia, cognitive behavioral therapy, can be effective but has limitations. Patients and physicians often determine that prescription medication is the best path forward.
How many hours of sleep should we be getting?
The CDC recommends seven or more hours of sleep for adults aged 18-60, 7-9 hours for adults aged 61-64, and 7-8 for adults aged 65+. Therefore, an average of 7.5 hours of sleep is a good goal for adults.
How can women prioritize their sleep health?
Women are statistically more likely to experience insomnia than men are. Women can prioritize their sleep health by adhering to sleep hygiene practices, like sticking to a sleep schedule and limiting caffeine intake. Menstruating women can track their menstrual cycle to familiarize themselves with how their cycle may impact their sleep. Women who struggle with insomnia should consult their doctor to learn which treatment approach is right for them. Like other treatments in medicine, treatment for insomnia should be individualized.
What treatment options uniquely target one of the biological causes of insomnia?
The first-line recommended treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy. In some cases, however, patients and physicians may determine that prescription medication is the best path forward. Currently, the most commonly prescribed class of medications for insomnia are benzodiazepines (benzos) or z-drugs, as well as sedating antidepressants. However, these medications may have safety, tolerance, and habit-forming concerns. Furthermore, some of these antidepressants are not FDA-approved or indicated for the treatment of insomnia. One medication that works differently than other insomnia treatment options, QUVIVIQ (daridorexant), is thought to target one of the biological causes of insomnia. QUVIVIQ, classified as a dual orexin receptor antagonist (DORA), is believed to turn down overactive wake signals and is proven to help adults with insomnia fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Due to the potential for decreased alertness, patients should avoid activities like driving in the morning after taking QUVIVIQ until they feel fully awake. In choosing a treatment option for insomnia, it’s important that you consult your physician to find what’s right for you.