What is insomnia?

When most people think of insomnia, they think of someone who struggles to sleep and thus stays up through all hours of the night. Not only do they have difficulty falling asleep, but they can often wake up in the middle of the night and not fall back asleep, wake up too early in the morning, and feel tired when they do wake up. Sleeplessness is the most common symptom, but it’s not the only one. Other symptoms include depression, irritability, headaches, digestive problems and daytime sleepiness. Insomnia is a very common condition, affecting as many as 3 million people in America each year.

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What causes insomnia?

Just as there are a variety of symptoms, there are also a wide variety of causes. Primary insomnia is when a person has sleeping difficulties that aren't related to any other condition. Secondary insomnia is a sleep problem related to another medical condition. Those can cause it include allergies, acid reflux, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, asthma, neurological conditions, chronic pain, and back pain. Medications for colds, allergies, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, and depression can cause it, too. Stress, caffeine or alcohol usage and even the sleeping environment can also cause it. Insomnia is often caused by other conditions, such as depression or sleep apnea, for instance. In such cases, it is cured by treating the underlying condition that has caused it.

Insomnia can also last for short or long periods of time, depending on the cause. Short-term, or acute, insomnia can be caused by significant life events, stress illness, environmental changes, or sleep schedule interruptions. Long-term, or chronic, insomnia can be caused by a number of factors, including depression and physical pain.

Short-term insomnia may go away without treatment. Transient insomnia lasts for less than a week, while acute insomnia lasts for a month or less. Chronic insomnia lasts for longer than three months. Chronic symptoms can be much more severe than short-term insomnia. Hallucinations, double vision and muscular or mental fatigue are not uncommon for those suffering from chronic insomnia.

How do you treat insomnia?

Sleep medicine as well as behavioral therapy can also be an effective treatment. Mild insomnia may be treated by altering your sleep habits. This could include going to bed at a regular time eacy day, avoiding caffeine and alcohol late in the day, getting regular exercise, and making your bedroom comfortable. More serious insomnia cases may involve first treating the underlying cause of the insomnia, such as another health condition. They may also recommend some medicines or behavioral therapy.

If you have any of these symptoms, please contact our sleep medicine specialists, who practice in our SouthPark, Belmont, and Blakeney offices. They can determine if your sleeping difficulties can be attributed to insomnia and help you come up with a treatment plan.

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