Everyone has trouble falling asleep sometimes, but when the condition happens repeatedly it can begin to affect multiple aspects of your life. Excessive insomnia can impact your ability to function at school, in the workplace, and even at home.
Insomnia can be defined as a number of different symptoms:
- Having trouble falling asleep
- Having trouble staying asleep
- Waking up feeling unrested
Getting only six hours of sleep for multiple nights in a row can also have an adverse effect on your health. Some of the conditions that can arise from insomnia include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Gastrointestinal problems like stomach pain, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting
Causes of Sleep Problems
Insomnia can occur for a short period of time (acute), or the patient may experience a lack of sleep for longer stretches (chronic). Regardless of the duration, doctors agree that there are two different types of insomnia.
The first type is known as Primary Insomnia. In this form, the loss of sleep does not appear to be related to any other symptom. In Secondary Insomnia, doctors can generally identify a contributing factor such as a pre-existing health condition, prescription medication, or another substance such as caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol.
With secondary insomnia, the cause could be physical, emotional, or even changes in your daily routines. Over time, a loss of sleep will begin to impact your health by weakening your immune system. This could lead to weight gain and an increased risk for developing high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.
Some other factors that could lead to secondary insomnia are:
- Medical conditions like chronic pain or respiratory problems
- Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle in female patients
The first step in treating insomnia is to single out the reason it is happening. Your doctor will begin by sitting down with you to review your current sleep patterns. During this consultation your doctor may discuss how frequently you wake up in the middle of the night, or how long it may take you to fall asleep. Your doctor might even recommend that you keep a sleep diary to help log these patterns as they occur.
The consultation will generally be accompanied by a physical exam to check for any health conditions that could be the culprit. A blood sample may also be taken to check for any conditions such as diabetes.
Another test which is specific to diagnosing insomnia could be performed in a sleep center and is called a sleep study. During an overnight visit, doctors can monitor factors such as your brain waves, breathing, heartbeat, eye movement, and body movement while you sleep.
Some insomnia treatment techniques include relaxation exercises for reducing the effects of stress as well as cognitive behavior therapy for helping you maintain a positive outlook. Here are a few of the other methods doctors have found effective in treating insomnia:
- Light Therapy: Using artificial light to regulate your internal clock.
- Sleep Restriction: Intentionally depriving sleep one night to make you more tired for the next.
- Restricting non-sleep related activities such as eating or TV watching from the bedroom.
- Prescription sleeping pills can help you get to sleep, stay asleep or both. Doctors generally don’t recommend relying on prescription sleeping pills for more than a few weeks, but several medications are approved for long-term use.Examples include:
- Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
- Ramelteon (Rozerem)
- Zaleplon (Sonata)
- Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist)
Prescription sleeping pills can have side effects, such as causing daytime grogginess and increasing the risk of falling, or they can be habit-forming, so talk to your doctor about these medications and other possible side effects.
Over-the-counter sleep aids
Nonprescription sleep medications contain antihistamines that can make you drowsy, but they’re not intended for regular use. Talk to your doctor before you take these, as antihistamines may cause side effects, such as daytime sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, cognitive decline and difficulty urinating, which may be worse in older adults.