What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder affecting 25 percent of Americans each year. It is the inability to fall or stay asleep. There are two types of insomnia:

Short-term insomnia is usually caused by stressful life events. For example, you may experience insomnia after a loved one dies, when dealing with relationship problems, or during a stressful time at work. It also can be caused by jet-lag and shift work. Short-term insomnia usually lasts a few days to a couple of weeks.

Chronic insomnia lasts for a month or longer. It can be caused by poor sleep habits, consuming too much caffeine or alcohol, smoking, certain medical conditions, or hormonal changes.

When Should I Worry About Insomnia?

If insomnia is causing you to be excessively tired during the day, you should talk to your doctor. Although insomnia is extremely common, it is not normal. It can negatively affect your quality of life. It can even be dangerous. People who have insomnia are more likely to be involved in serious car crashes than people who don’t have insomnia. It also leads to reduced work productivity, irritability, depression, and memory problems.

What insomnia treatments are available?

Insomnia is treatable. If it’s being caused by an underlying condition, such as depression or anxiety, your doctor will work with you to treat that first. Often, that will clear up the insomnia.

Other treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, and meditation. Your doctor also might recommend lifestyle changes, such as reducing alcohol consumption and practicing good sleep habits.

Medication is available to help you sleep, but be cautious. Taking a sleeping medication regularly can cause you to become dependent on it. And it may begin to lose its effectiveness. Your doctor can advise you on how long you can safely take sleeping pills. But the general recommendation is to take them only on an as-needed basis and not longer than one month.

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