Have you been tossing and turning at night? Perhaps you're having trouble falling asleep because you're lying in bed worrying about work and finances. Or, you wake up in the middle of the night and can't fall back asleep. Or, you wake up feeling more tired, not refreshed, in the morning and are excessively tired during the day.
You're certainly not alone if you're suffering from any of these symptoms of insomnia. Forty-eight percent of Americans report insomnia occasionally, while 22% experience insomnia almost every night, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey.
So, how do you tell if you've simply hit a rough patch that will pass, or if you have a chronic sleep problem?
There isn't a hard number, says Tracey Marks, MD, psychiatrist in Atlanta and author of Master Your Sleep. A good marker is to look at a week or month and add up whether you've had trouble sleeping more nights than not.
Acute insomnia, which lasts for a few days, can be connected to a particular event like a work deadline or examination.
Sleep usually gets better when the stressor goes away, says Deirdre Conroy, PhD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and clinical director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.
It's common to have temporary insomnia, says William Kohler, MD, medical director of Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Fla. You don't need to be overly concerned about a couple nights of restless sleep. But if insomnia persists and interferes with your functioning, then it's time to evaluate the nature of the problem.
Chronic insomnia, which lasts for longer than three weeks, can affect your daytime functioning. You may notice changes in your mood, difficulty concentrating, or decreased productivity.
Identifying a Probable Cause
A lot of times sleep problems are tightly related to mood problems, says Conroy. So you should ask yourself: Has my mood changed? Do I feel more depressed? Am I more irritable than usual?
If you're prone to worry, anxiety can be making your sleep worse. But sleep problems also develop without any associated mood problems.
Sometimes you can point to a primary stressor like losing a job or worrying about the mortgage. But there doesn't have to be a particular stressor associated with insomnia. Just worrying about sleep can snowball over time, says Conroy.
Other underlying reasons for insomnia include pain, medications, sleep disorders, and poor sleep habits.
What You Can Do
If you've noticed signs of insomnia and the problem has been going on for a few weeks, set up an appointment with your doctor to discuss your sleep concerns. If your doctor suspects an underlying sleep disorder like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, he or she may refer you to a sleep specialist.