Insomnia: A Global Epidemic

by Rona Berg

It’s no secret that sleeplessness and insomnia have been rampant in recent years. Financial insecurity, climate change, political scandals, foul language and finger-pointing at the highest levels of government are enough to keep us tossing and turning behind bedroom doors around the globe--and not in a good way. Factor in chronic and short-term stress, overlaid with the wakeful effects of blue light from laptops, cell phones and other devices, and we’ve got a huge problem. 

“Our society is so stressed out, it’s unbelievable,” says Michael Breus, Ph.D, clinical psychologist,“Can you turn on the TV without getting stressed these days?,” he asks. “I don’t care what your politics are. But it’s not just us. It’s global. It’s environmental. Everyone is sleep-deprived.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sleep disorders are so pervasive in the United States that they now constitute a public health epidemic. The CDC research indicates that large numbers of Americans are experiencing health problems associated with lack of sleep. Over half are getting less sleep than they need, which is what the CDC considers anything less than seven hours per night. And, according to a recent survey by Wakefield Research, the US is not even the worst. In Australia, it’s 61 percent; in Singapore, 62 percent; and in the UK--hello, Brexit!--it’s a whopping 63 percent. 

“People don’t truly appreciate the importance of sleep,” says Dr. Breus. “It affects every organ system, and every disease state,” he says. “Literally everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep. Sleep is healing,” he says. “Why would anyone want to deprive themselves of healing?” 

And yet, we do, by willingly giving up important opportunities--like vacation time--to rest and restore ourselves. The average American took only 54 percent of his or her allotted time in the past 12 months. Only 28 percent plan to take all their vacation days this year. But time off helps lower stress, says Dr. Breus, and less stress leads to more sleep. 

Of course there are many reasons why we are not getting enough sleep. “Insomnia can have genetic, environmental, behavioral, and physiological causes,” says Sally Fisher, MD, MS, an Integrative Medicine practitioner in New Mexico in private practice who also consults with guests at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in Santa Fe.  

“Psychological causes include trauma, anger, worry and grief to name but a few, as well as their myriad triggers,” says Michael Schroeder, New Mexico-based MA, LMFT. “Our mental and emotional states and behaviors have direct and often immediate responses in the physiological. Anxiety and its effect on the adrenals and cortisol levels directly impact our sleep and overall functioning. Anxiety and depression, often associated with the aforementioned stressors are, in an overarching sense, the pillars of insomnia and, ironically, are made worse by a lack of proper sleep.” 

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