Insomnia Tips

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How can I treat chronic insomnia?

About Chronic Insomnia and Treating it

More than one in 10 American adults experience chronic insomnia, defined as poor sleep every night or most nights for more than six months. Chronic insomnia affects one's sleep for so long that waking hours become foggy with fatigue and tasks like driving and working become tough. Sufferers report feeling depressed and zapped of all energy.

Researchers have found out this about insomnia treatment for chronic insomnia:

- Cognitive/behavioral therapy: This is a psychology-based treatment that trains people to reduce anxiety and take other sleep-promoting steps. Insomniacs should check with board-certified sleep specialists and psychologists.

- Some prescription sleep pills work without many of the side-effect concerns, but as with any medication, you should consult your doctor first. Talk to your physician about side effects to this drug.

If I'm stressed out, can I get insomnia

The Psychological Factors that Can Bring on Insomnia

Who is more likely to get insomnia? You? Your best friend? Your brother or sister? Sometimes one's mental state can mean they are more likely to have insomnia.

There are two mental indicators that might act as flags to show you are a candidate for insomnia - exposure to stress and increased mental and physical activity before bedtime, according to the American Insomnia Association:

- Persistent stress: Relationship problems, a chronically ill child, or an unrewarding career may contribute to sleep problems. If you suffer from these types of stresses, you should seek counseling.

- Learned insomnia: You may try harder to sleep at night, but unfortunately this determined effort can make you more alert, set off a new round of worried thoughts, and cause more sleep loss. Some individuals with learned insomnia have trouble sleeping in their own beds yet may fall asleep quickly when they don't intend to - while reading the newspaper, sleeping away from home, or watching TV. Just a few nights of poor sleep during a month can be enough to produce a cycle of poor sleep and increase your worry about it.

How frequent is insomnia in pregnancy?

Pregnancy Insomnia

About 78 percent of pregnant women experience insomnia during pregnancy. It is not harmful to the baby, but can be very frustrating to the mom-to-be. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the following contribute to insomnia during pregnancy:

- Discomfort due to the increased size of your abdomen
- Back pains
- Heartburn
- Frequent urination during the night
- Anxiety
- Anticipating the arrival of the baby
- Frequent and vivid dreams
- Hormonal changes

Here are some pointers for how to cope with insomnia during pregnancy:

- Try new sleeping positions
- Prepare yourself for bedtime by taking a warm bath or receiving a nice massage
- Make sure the temperature is comfortable and play relaxing music before bed
- Try relaxation techniques such as the ones you have learned in your childbirth class
- If you still cannot fall asleep you should get up; you might read a book, watch TV, eat a small snack or fix some warm milk
- Exercising during the day
- If you have the opportunity, nap during the day

Can I use holistic remedies for insomnia?

Acupuncture for Insomnia

Some experts say natural remedies such as acupuncture can be a great way to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia. According to the experts, acupuncture - a procedure adapted from Chinese medical practice in which specific body areas are pierced with fine needles for therapeutic purposes or to relieve pain or produce regional anesthesia - has fewer side effects than prescription drugs, is longer lasting than medicinal relief and are less expensive than insomnia medication. Ask your physician if acupuncture might be right for you.

Extra tip:
If you are having difficulty falling asleep because of insomnia, there are other non-medicinal ways to treat it. Some find relief from hypnosis, hypnotherapy or self-hypnosis.

What causes insomnia in menopausal women?

Menopause Insomnia

Women experiencing menopause are likely experiencing insomnia as well. In fact, studies show that women usually begin to experience restless sleep as much as five to seven years before menopause hits.

While in the past it was believed that menopausal women had difficulty falling asleep at night because of night sweats, recent studies have found that you can have insomnia that this isn't necessarily so.

Some research says insomnia may actually be connected to the drop in the brain chemical serotonin that occurs when estrogen levels decline. Or it could simply occur due to the changes in hormones.

Is all insomnia the same?

The Three Types of Insomnia

Insomnia can occur in people of all ages, but is most common in women and older adults. Most individuals just experience a night or two of poor sleep, but sometimes the sleep disturbance can last for weeks, months, or even years.

There are three types of insomnia:

Transient insomnia - this person cannot sleep for a period of less than four weeks because of a special life reason such as a big event. Physical activity close to bedtime (within four hours) and illness can also cause this type of insomnia.

Short-term insomnia - this person can't sleep for a period of four weeks to six months. Periods of ongoing stress at work or at home, medical conditions, psychiatric illness or other persistent factors can result in short-term insomnia. As the cause resolves or the sleeper adjusts to it, sleep will usually return to normal.

Chronic insomnia - more than 20 million Americans complain of chronic insomnia, defined as poor sleep every night or most nights for more than six months. Insomnia may be a physical problem, not due to psychological factors. Insomnia may also be due to a physical problem.

What is fatal familial insomnia?

About Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI)

Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) is a rare brain disease where the patient loses the ability to fall asleep. Prognosis is poor and the inability to sleep is gradually degenerative and eventually fatal.

Fatal familial insomnia is listed as a "rare disease" by the Office of Rare Diseases of the National Institutes of Health. This means that fatal familial insomnia, or a subtype of fatal familial insomnia, affects less than 200,000 people in the U.S. population.

What is insomnia?

About Insomnia and Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia, defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, is a common problem. More than one third of American adults experience occasional insomnia; more than one in 10 experience chronic insomnia because of one or more of the following:

- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up frequently during the night with difficulty returning to sleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Unrestful sleep

Insomnia is not defined by the number of hours of sleep a person gets or how long it takes to fall asleep. Insomnia can disturb your waking hours as well by making you feel sleepy or fatigued, negatively impacting your mood and making it hard to focus.

What kind of insomnia medications are there on the market?

Medications Used to Treat Insomnia

There are many insomnia medications on the market. They range from sedatives to benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines to over-the-counter medicines to sedating antidepressants to "natural", herbal and other home remedies. Before taking any medication for insomnia, talk with your doctor.

Here is a breakdown of each type of insomnia medication, courtesy of the American Insomnia Association:

Sedative hypnotic medications are medications approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of insomnia. In addition to these prescription medications there are non-prescription hypnotics available over the counter, along with other medications that may be given by physicians to their patients to aid in either the onset or maintenance of sleep.

Benzodiazepine Hypnotics is a group of medications does have the potential of being habit forming and is best avoided in patients known to have a history of substance abuse or dependence.

Non-benzodiazepine hypnotic medications feature three medications that are approved by the FDA in the treatment of insomnia. All three of these medications have been found to be safe and effective in the treatment of insomnia. They differ primarily in their duration of action.

Over-the-counter(OTC) medications used to induce sleep contain antihistamine agents. These agents are sedating, but they also have significant side effects. In addition, adverse effects can include dry mouth, dry eyes, confusion and urinary retention.

Sedating antidepressants may help patients with a variety of problems, including, but not restricted to depression. For some patients, sleepiness in the daytime may be a problem, but these effects tend to diminish over time. In some patients the medications may actually worsen problems such as periodic limb movement disorder.

"Natural", herbal and other home remedies have been used for years. One of the most recent "natural" remedies for insomnia has been melatonin, which can be obtained at most health food stores. Melatonin is a hormone that is known to be involved in the regulation of sleep and wakefulness. However, scientific data have failed to confirm that melatonin is useful in maintaining sleep.

It is important to note that products sold in health food stores have not been exposed to the rigorous testing that is required of all prescription products. Therefore, many of the claims that are made regarding these substances have not been adequately tested in a laboratory environment.

How can cognitive behavioral therapy help my insomnia?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Insomnia

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective insomnia treatment. A cognitive behavioral therapist can help address daytime behavior that might be keeping you awake at night.

For example, a therapist might say that napping during the day, spending long periods of time in bed, drinking a lot of caffeine, and sleeping in on weekends are all habits that can contribute to insomnia. Schedule time with a therapist, or seek out an accredited sleep center in your area for help finding a therapist that can help with your sleep patterns.

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Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.