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It is not unusual to have sleep troubles from time to time. But, if you feel that you do not get enough sleep or satisfying sleep, you may have insomnia.
People with insomnia have one or more of the following:
- difficulty falling asleep
- waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep
- waking up too early in the morning
- unrefreshing sleep
Insomnia can cause problems during the day, such as sleepiness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. It is not defined by the number of hours you sleep, because the amount of sleep a person needs varies. While most people need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, some people do well with less, and some need more.
What are the different types of insomnia and what causes them?
A person can have primary or secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia means that a person is having sleep problems because of something else, such as a health condition, medication, or a substance like alcohol.
Primary insomnia means that a person is having sleep problems that are not directly associated with any other health condition or problem.
Causes of insomnia include: stress (job change, academic pressures, relationship loss, etc); anxiety and depression; illness; environmental factors like noise, light, or extreme temperatures; and things that throw off a normal sleep schedule (like jet lag or switching from a day to night shift).
What habits promote a good night's sleep?
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can interfere with sleep. Alcohol can cause waking in the night and interferes with sleep quality.
Get regular exercise. Try not to exercise close to bedtime, because it may stimulate you and make it hard to fall asleep. Experts suggest not exercising for 3 hours before the time you go to sleep.
Don't eat a heavy meal at night; however, a light snack before bedtime may help you sleep.
Make your sleeping place comfortable. Be sure that it is dark, quiet, and not too warm or too cold. If light is a problem, try a sleeping mask. If noise is a problem, try earplugs, a fan, or a "white noise" machine to cover up the sounds.
Follow a routine to help relax and wind down before sleep, such as reading a book, listening to music, or taking a bath.
Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex. If you can't fall asleep and don't feel drowsy, read or do something that is not overly stimulating until you feel sleepy.
Try to go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.
Try not to take naps during the day because naps may make you less sleepy at night.
Try making a to-do list before you go to bed, if you have trouble lying awake worrying about things. This may help you to "let go" of those worries overnight.
What if that doesn't work?
Mild insomnia often can be prevented or cured by practicing good sleep habits. Treatment for long-term insomnia includes treating underlying conditions or health problems. If insomnia continues, your health care provider may suggest medication.
Most medicines that are used for sleep have side effects and must be used with caution. Behavioral approaches to treatment focus on changing behaviors that may worsen insomnia and learning new behaviors to promote sleep. Techniques such as relaxation exercises, sleep restriction therapy, and reconditioning may be useful.