Insomnia Help: Symptoms And Treatment Options

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders and can have far-reaching consequences with regard to work performance and overall health. Insomnia includes a wide range of symptoms, including difficulty falling asleep, frequent wakefulness during sleep, and waking before an adequate amount of sleep has been obtained. One of the most frequent signs of insomnia is sleepiness during the day; however, chronic insomnia can also reduce immunity, causing health problems, and can even contribute to unhealthy weight gain. Chronic insomnia also has a significant impact on mood, decreasing an individual’s ability to successfully cope with stress.

Sleep specialists generally divide insomnia into two categories: primary insomnia, which includes sleep disorders that are related to a separate health problem, such as urinary incontinence; and secondary insomnia, which includes sleep disorders that exist apart from any other medical cause.

Most individuals suffer from acute insomnia from time to time. In acute insomnia, sleeplessness occurs infrequently, or for a short duration of time. Acute insomnia can occur as the result of a medical condition or illness, or as a result of an outside influence, such as stress caused by job loss. Certain medications like cold and allergy drugs, or changes in routine, such as jet lag or changing shifts at work, can also cause acute insomnia.

Chronic insomnia is sleeplessness that persists over a long period of time. Most chronic insomnia stems from underlying health problems or from an inability to effectively cope with day-to-day stresses.

Successfully treating both acute and chronic insomnia relies on an understanding of the possible causes behind the condition. Your health care provider may perform a physical exam to rule out serious medical conditions, and you may be asked to keep a sleep diary � a record of your sleep patterns over a period of time. Most health care providers will also conduct an in-depth interview to discuss any stresses or underlying causes in routines or habits that may be interfering with normal sleep patterns. The interview will also usually include a detailed health history to determine any familial history of disease or illness that might be causing insomnia.

Most mild insomnia can be treated successfully by developing healthy sleep habits, including establishing a regular time for sleep. For acute insomnia, once the initial issues causing sleeplessness are resolved, normal sleep patterns usually return of their own accord.

Both chronic and acute insomnia sufferers may benefit from behavioral changes. For example, eliminating foods or beverages containing caffeine from the diet, or avoiding certain other foods that may cause indigestion or wakefulness, are two simple changes that can aid in resolving many sleep issues. Avoiding heavy meals shortly before bed may also help. Setting a regular time to go to bed can help your body adjust to its own rhythms. Many sleep specialists recommend avoiding watching television before bed, instead advising listening to relaxing music or reading before bed.

Regular exercise during the day can also help reduce stress and promote sleepiness in the evening; however, exercise should be avoided in the hours before bed, as physical activity may actually stimulate the brain and prevent sleepiness from occurring.

While simple behavioral changes may prove effective in acute insomnia sufferers, chronic insomniacs may require more extensive behavioral therapy to develop an understanding of the root causes of their insomnia and to establish new, lifelong coping mechanisms to resolve sleeplessness. This may include psychotherapy to identify deep or unresolved issues that may be causing stress and interfering with stress, as well as the establishment of routines and skills to more effectively deal with stresses. Some chronic insomniacs may be asked to effect major life changes, such as changing jobs, in order to deal with stress.

Chronic insomniacs may also be asked to undergo a sleep study, where brain waves, breathing patterns and chemical changes are measured during sleep. These studies can help uncover health issues or other patterns or behaviors which may be interfering with healthy sleep.

In some stubborn cases of chronic insomnia, your health care provider may prescribe sleep medications to help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep. However, these medications can sometimes be addictive and may actually result in feelings of sleepiness during the day in some individuals. Moreover, as individuals develop a tolerance for sleep aids over time, they may be tempted to increase dosages to unhealthy or even dangerous levels. As a result, sleep medications are usually reserved as a last resort, or as a stopgap treatment during behavioral therapy.

Insomnia can range from a nuisance occurring irregularly at times of stress to a serious health issue that refuses to resolve on its own. Your health care provider and a qualified sleep specialist can provide the keys to understanding the causes of your insomnia, and offer suggestions and remedies to help you relearn healthy sleep patterns.

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