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Frequently Asked Questions About Insomnia

  • What is insomnia?
  • Answer:

    Every person needs a different amount of sleep; some people get by with less sleep than others, satisfied with their functioning the next day.

    With insomnia, your sleep feels inadequate or of poor quality. You don’t feel refreshed in the morning. You may have had difficulty falling asleep. Or you woke up frequently during the night, with difficulty returning to sleep. You might wake up too early in the morning. You suffer the next day -- you’re tired, have little energy, can’t concentrate, and you’re irritable.

    Insomnia can be classified as transient (short-term), intermittent (on and off), and chronic (long-lasting). Insomnia lasting from a single night to a few weeks is referred to as transient. If episodes of transient insomnia occur from time to time, the insomnia is said to be intermittent.

    Insomnia is chronic if it occurs on most nights and lasts a month or more.

  • What causes insomnia?
  • Answer:

    You are more likely to develop insomnia if you are over age 60, if you are female, and if you have a history of depression. If you also have stress, anxiety, chronic medical conditions (such as arthritis or heart failure), or use certain medications, you are at increased risk for insomnia.

    Temporary Insomnia

    Transient and intermittent insomnia generally can occur if you have:

    • Periods of excess stress in your life
    • Noisy surroundings (like outside street noise)
    • Extreme temperatures (too hot or cold in the bedroom)
    • Change of environment (hotel rooms)
    • Sleep/wake schedule problems (jet lag or work shifts)
    • Medication side effects

    Chronic Insomnia

    Chronic insomnia is a more complex sleep disorder and often involves several factors, like physical or mental disorders. Depression is one of the most common causes of chronic insomnia. Arthritis, kidney disease, heart failure, asthma, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, Parkinson's disease, and hyperthyroidism can also cause insomnia.

    Lifestyle factors can trigger insomnia, too. If these factors don’t change, they can also prolong the insomnia cycle. They include:

    • Too much caffeine
    • Drinking alcohol before bedtime
    • Smoking cigarettes before bedtime
    • Excessive napping in the afternoon or evening
    • Irregular or continually disrupted sleep/wake schedules
    • Expecting to have difficulty sleeping and worrying about it

     

  • How is insomnia diagnosed?
  • Answer:

    If you have insomnia, your doctor will ask questions about your medical history and sleep history. You may need to keep a sleep diary. Or the doctor may interview your bed partner concerning the quantity and quality of your sleep.

    Specialized sleep studies (a night spent in a laboratory) may be necessary -- but only if there is suspicion of a medical problem like sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

     

  • How is insomnia treated?
  • Answer:

    Temporary insomnia may not require treatment, because episodes last only a few days at a time. For example, if insomnia is due to a temporary change in the sleep/wake schedule, as with jet lag, the person's biological clock will often get back to normal on its own.

    Some people with temporary insomnia may benefit from short-acting sleeping pills to improve sleep and next-day alertness. As with all drugs, there are potential side effects. The use of over-the-counter sleeping pills is not usually recommended for the treatment of insomnia.

    Treatment for chronic insomnia consists of:

    • Treating underlying medical or psychological problems (like sleep apnea or depression)
    • Stopping behaviors that worsen insomnia (like drinking too much coffee or taking naps)
    • Possibly using sleeping pills (although the long-term use of sleeping pills for chronic insomnia is controversial)
    • Trying behavioral techniques to improve sleep, such as relaxation therapy (to help your mind and muscles relax), sleep restriction therapy (restricting time spent in bed), and reconditioning (learning to associate the bed and bedtime with sleep)

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Louis R. Chanin, MD on July 28, 2012

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You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or other conditions affecting your sleep.

Sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping, have insomnia, or have other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep, since sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep because sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping or have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's important to keep your bedtime and routine consistent every night and wake up around the same time every morning.

Click here to read more about the importance of sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep this amount, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep longer, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's also important to keep bedtime consistent and wake up around the same time every morning.

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and waking up at the same time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia, another sleep disorder, or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or another sleep disorder or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Effect of short sleep duration on daily activities--United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2011; 60:239.

Carskadon, MA, Dement, WC. Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In: Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine, Fifth, Kryger, MH, Roth, et al. (Eds), Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, MO 2011. p.16.

Harvard University: "Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety."

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