What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder. People with insomnia may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both. As a result, they get too little sleep or have poor-quality sleep. They don’t feel refreshed when they wake up.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 48 percent of Americans report insomnia occasionally, while 22 percent experience insomnia every night or almost every night. Women are more likely to report insomnia than men, and people over age 65 tend to suffer more from insomnia than younger people.

What causes insomnia?

Insomnia can be acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing). Acute insomnia is common and often is brought on by situations such as stress at work, family pressures or a traumatic event. Acute insomnia lasts for days or weeks. Chronic insomnia lasts for a month or longer. 

There are two types of insomnia: primary and secondary. Primary insomnia isn't due to medical problems, medicines or other substances. It’s a distinct disorder and its cause isn’t well understood. Many life changes can trigger primary insomnia, including long-lasting stress and emotional upset.

In contrast, most cases of chronic insomnia are secondary, which means they are the symptom or side-effect of some other problem. Certain medical conditions, medicines, sleep disorders and other substances can cause secondary insomnia.

Also, as people age, their sleeping and waking patterns tend to change. Older adults usually become sleepier earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. If they don't adjust their bedtimes to these changes, they may have difficulty falling and staying asleep.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

You may have insomnia if you:

  • Lie awake for a long time (more than 30-45 minutes) before you fall asleep
  • Sleep for only short periods
  • Are awake for much of the night
  • Feel as if you haven't slept at all
  • Wake up too early

How does Ohio State diagnose insomnia? 

Your physician will diagnose insomnia based on your medical and sleep histories, and a physical exam. He may also recommend a sleep study. A sleep study measures how well you sleep and how your body responds to sleep problems.

How does Ohio State treat insomnia?

Insomnia can be treated with medications, lifestyle changes and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Sleep Medications

Some over-the-counter products claim to treat insomnia. Although these products may seem like they will work well for you, talk to your doctor before taking them. If your insomnia is the symptom or side-effect of another problem, it’s important to treat the underlying cause, if possible. 

Many prescription medicines are used to treat insomnia and help re-establish a regular sleep schedule. Some are meant for short-term use, while others are meant for longer use. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and side effects of insomnia medicines. For example, insomnia medicines can help you fall asleep, but you may feel groggy in the morning after taking them.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Try to avoid substances that make insomnia worse, such as caffeine, alcohol and certain over-the-counter and prescription medicines. 
  • Adopt bedtime habits that make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Some people watch the evening news, read a book or soak in a warm bath.
  • Make your bedroom sleep-friendly. The room should be dark, well-ventilated, and as quiet as possible.
  • Go to sleep around the same time each night and wake up around the same time each morning.

Counseling May Help

A type of counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy can help relieve chronic, or ongoing, insomnia. This therapy encourages good sleep habits and uses several methods such as relaxation and biofeedback to relieve sleep anxiety.

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