Studies have shown that disturbances in the body's natural circadian rhythms can result in elevated cortisol levels. Prolonged high cortisol levels can lead to abdominal fat, weakened immune system, reduced bone density, reduced muscle mass, decreased thyroid function and many other negative side effects. In addition, insomnia may be a precursor for many health conditions including mental disorders. In order to receive a proper diagnosis for insomnia, a person may need to have sleep studies performed at a sleep medicine clinic.
Initial treatment usually centers on creating good sleep habits such as avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evenings, keep the room cool and dark, avoiding exercise right before bed, etc. Many people turn to medication for relief. Medications may lead to dependence and many other negative effects on health as well as making a person more prone to accidents due to lowered awareness during the day. Changing a person's mental approach to sleeping with the help of a therapist or counselor has yielded good results in many studies. An interesting fact is that one survey that looked at over 1 million people regarding sleep and mortality showed that around 7 hours/night is ideal. Mortality rates went up with more that 8 or less than 6 hours/night.