Do you know if your inability to sleep is a sign of a larger problem? photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller via photopin cc

Most people blame insomnia when they toss and turn and have trouble falling asleep but there is more to this sleep difficulty than just counting sheep.  According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), insomnia is actually used to describe the inability to get the sleep you need to wake up rested and ready to take on the world.  This means that if you fall asleep fast but wake up over and over until you finally roll out of bed as tired as you were when you laid down, you may also have insomnia.

Insomnia is a little trickier than some of the other sleep disorders because it is both a sleep disorder and a symptom of a sleep disorder.  This means that you may have insomnia the sleep disorder or you may have insomnia because you have a sleep disorder.   If you are struggling to get the sleep you need for a night or two once and awhile, your insomnia would be characterized as acute insomnia and you would be in good company.  The NSF indicates that almost 40% of Americans report having some problems with insomnia each year.  If you experience the symptoms of insomnia more frequently or if they last for more than a month, your insomnia would be classified as chronic.  Regardless of whether you believe your insomnia is acute or chronic, you should discuss it with your doctor.  You may need to participate in a sleep study or do some other testing to rule out underlying medical conditions and sleep disorders.

If you find yourself awake and alert into the wee hours of the night, you may want to start by making some real lifestyle changes.  Almost one-half of people who self-report insomnia blame stress, anxiety, and tension for their inability to sleep.  In these cases, there seems to be a correlation between how much stress the person is under and how bad their insomnia seems.  Decreasing your stress level can have a real, lasting impact on how you sleep.  You may also want to look at how much caffeine you are drinking over the course of the day and check to see if you are letting any sleep stealers keep you from getting the sleep you need.  Things like alcohol, exercise late in the day, and too much light or sound can impact both the amount of sleep you get and the quality of that sleep.

Another common cause for acute insomnia is side effects from medication.  Several over the counter and prescription medications can cause insomnia including those taken for asthma, high blood pressure, and thyroid disease.  If you are taking daily medication for a chronic condition, check with your doctor to see if your insomnia is related to the medication.  You may be able to switch to a comparable medication with less side effects or the doctor may offer you some tips on how to get the sleep you need without stopping the medication.

If you are experiencing frequent or repetitive problems getting the sleep you need to feel alert and awake during the day, make sure you check in with your doctor.  What you may be calling insomnia may be the result of an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder.


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