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What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is too little or poor-quality sleep caused by one or more of the following: Trouble falling asleep, waking up several times during the night with trouble returning to sleep, waking up too early in the morning, or wake up feeling tired (not feeling well rested), even after sleeping 7 to 8 hours at night.

Insomnia can cause problems during the day, such as excessive sleepiness, fatigue, trouble thinking clearly or staying focused, or feeling depressed or irritable. It is not defined by the number of hours you sleep every night. Although the amount of sleep a person needs varies, most people need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night.

Insomnia can be:

  • Transient (short term)-insomnia lasts from a single night to a few weeks.
  • Intermittent (on and off)-insomnia is short term, which happens from time to time.
  • Chronic (on-going)-insomnia occurs at least 3 nights a week over a month or more.

    Women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia as men. Some research suggests that certain social factors, such as being unemployed or divorced, are related to poor sleep and increase the risk of insomnia in women. Also, insomnia tends to increase with age. Occasional insomnia is experienced by more than a third of American adults, and chronic insomnia is known to affect more than one in ten.

    Symptoms of insomnia can be different for each individual, and people with insomnia might experience a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty falling asleep, perhaps tossing and turning, wishing for sleep to begin = onset insomnia
  • Awakening during sleep and having trouble getting back to sleep = middle insomnia
  • Awakening too early in the morning = terminal insomnia
  • Feeling tired upon awakening
  • Daytime irritability, drowsiness, anxiety, and/or being unproductive.

    What makes people with insomnia different from people who generally sleep fewer hours or have a different sleep disorder is the quality of their day. Insomnia results in such disturbed sleep that you feel and perform poorly during the day. Sometimes people worry about the amount of sleep that they get most nights because they think people their age need a certain number of hours. It is possible to be a short sleeper or a restless sleeper and still get the amount of sleep you need.
    If you awaken refreshed with energy and are able to conduct your needed tasks during the day, then you are probably getting adequate sleep.

    Treatment for chronic insomnia may include finding and treating any medical conditions or mental health problems. Looking for routines or behaviors, like drinking alcohol or caffeine at night, that may lead to the insomnia or make it worse, and stopping (or reducing) them is also important. Sleep medications are recognized as effective and safe treatments for insomnia. Medications that currently are available by prescription are known to improve sleep by reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, increasing sleep duration, and/or reducing the number of awakenings during sleep. Sleep medications also have been shown to improve self-reports of sleep quality. Sleep medications are often used in conjunction with behavioral treatment of insomnia. Many people who suffer from insomnia find that occasional or short-term use of sleeping pills provides significant relief from their symptoms. Other people may require longer-term use.

    While the use of sleep medicines is a common treatment, it is not a cure for insomnia. Sleep medications can be dangerous when treating sleep disruption that may arise from another disorder, such as a Sleep Apnea (a sleep-related breathing disorder). Insomnia needs to be properly diagnosed and treatment options discussed with a healthcare professional before treatment with medications is undertaken.

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