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Can’t fall asleep? Could it be insomnia?

Can't Fall Asleep

Have you ever had one of those days where you’re so tired that you feel like you could sleep just about anywhere, but when you lay down, you can’t fall sleep? Or when you do, you toss and turn, and even though you think you should sleep until noon, you wake up at six o’clock in the morning? If this sounds familiar, you may have been struck with a bout of insomnia. It’s frustrating, and when you have it, all you want to know is how to treat insomnia.

Can’t fall sleep? What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that affects over one-third of all Americans. It is much more than the stereotypical disorder that most people think of, where a person just can’t fall asleep. According to the medical definition, insomnia includes people who have difficulty staying asleep – called the maintenance phase. It also affects those who have trouble falling asleep – the onset phase.

Insomnia is typically divided into three groups, by sleep professionals, depending on how often these two symptoms last.

  • Transient Insomnia: This type of insomnia occurs if your symptoms are short lived and last less than three nights
  • Acute Insomnia: This insomnia lasts longer than three nights and can stretch as long as several weeks
  • Chronic Insomnia: This group typically has symptoms that last for many months, and can even last years. This type of insomnia is usually caused by some other health issue, which has insomnia as a side effect

Who gets Insomnia?

Insomnia can actually strike at any age. It’s definitely more common in adult women than men (63 percent of women vs. 54 percent of men). In fact, a 2005 poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than half of the people interviewed said they experienced one of the symptoms of insomnia in their life. Nearly a third said they had symptoms of insomnia in the past year. By far, the most common symptom was waking up a lot during the night and waking up and not feeling like they’d gotten a good night’s sleep.

It also seems like insomnia peaks during early adulthood, with 68 percent of adults aged 18-29 having bouts of insomnia, 59 percent of people from 30 to 64 reporting symptoms, and only 44 percent of seniors over the age of 65 experiencing insomnia.

Why do you get Insomnia?

You might ask yourself why do you get insomnia? The causes of this sleep disorder are varied. For people with transient insomnia, it’s usually brought on by a sudden change in circumstances. For example, insomnia can strike during finals week as a college student, or the night before a big interview for a promotion. Other times it happens after you’ve gotten some bad news or after a particularly stressful event.

Chronic insomnia, lasting longer than a few days, can be traced back to numerous root causes. These include a change in your sleeping environment, such as a move to a different part of the country, or a change in your sleeping habits, due to work (for example, moving from a normal 1st shift to overnight 3rd shift). Even a change in ambient noise can cause sleeplessness.

A change in medication can also bring on insomnia as an unintended side effect, until you adapt to the new drugs. Some medications that can cause insomnia include:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for mood stabilization and anti-depressants, such as Prozac or Zoloft
  • Alpha-blockers prescribed for high blood pressure, including alfuzosin (Uroxatral), and doxazosin (Cardura)
  • Beta-blockers prescribed for high blood pressure, including atenolol (Tenormin), and propranolol (Inderal)
  • Corticosteroids that reduce inflammation of blood vessels and muscles, including prednisone, and triamcinolone
  • ACE inhibitors, such as benzepril (Lotensin), and ramipril (Altace)

Chronic insomnia is usually caused by an underlying medical condition. Some conditions cause insomnia, while others cause sufficient discomfort or pain to induce insomnia.

Some medical conditions that can cause symptoms of insomnia include things like restless leg syndrome (RLS). This syndrome causes an uncomfortable pins and needles sensation that motivates a person to move their legs. The feelings typically worsen in the evening and while falling asleep, leading to symptoms on insomnia.

Sleep apnea is another medical condition that has been linked to insomnia. In sleep apnea, a person has difficulty breathing during sleep, due to a partial or total blockage of the throat. This can cause blood oxygen levels to drop and make the sufferer wake up repeatedly throughout the night.

Mental anxiety can also cause insomnia. Excessive worry or feeling overwhelmed by life events can be a cause of insomnia. Likewise, depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychological disorders can also bring about bouts of insomnia.

How Do You Cure Insomnia?

The good news is that there are multiple treatment options for insomnia. Treating insomnia relies primarily on finding the root cause of your sleeplessness. Once that cause has been identified, proper steps can be taken.

Some non-pharmaceutical methods of treating insomnia include counseling and therapy to treat underlying anxiety issues, stimulus control therapy, where you avoid television, books, or other stimulus before going to bed. Sleep restriction therapy involves decreasing the amount of time you spend in bed, so that you become more tired. Relaxation techniques, like meditation also have good track records for treating insomnia.

If you speak to your doctor and you both agree that medication is needed, there are a variety of drugs available to help. Prescription melatonin supplements the melatonin that your body naturally secretes. This hormone is responsible for helping your body establish and regulate your sleep rhythms. As you get older, your melatonin production drops.

Other sleeping pills that can help with sleep and treat insomnia are prescription sleep aids, such as zolpidem (Ambien). Other sleep aids include eszopiclone (Lunesta), ramelteon (Rozerem), zaleplon (Sonata), and doxepine (Silenor). Each of these treats a different range of insomnia symptoms. For example, doxepine is used for people who have trouble with the sleep maintenance period, where they have trouble staying asleep.

There are risks and side effects with sleep aids, just as there are with any prescription medication. Make sure to talk to your doctor about possible side effects, to ensure that you’re on the right dosage and medication for insomnia treatment.

LowestMed’s Health Information Center is meant for educational purposes and is not intended for medical advice. If you would like to recommend any story ideas, feel free to contact us.