The Facts about Insomnia
Not getting enough sleep is fast becoming a common problem among people who lead fast, busy lives. Sleeplessness is also a typical condition among the elderly. However, being young is no guarantee that one would be free from the suffering brought about by sleeping disorders.
Almost all people have experience occasional sleepless nights. But not too many people realize the seriousness of not getting enough quality sleep. Based on research, as many as 25% of Americans report occasional sleeping problems.
The latest surveys indicate that insomnia is already a chronic problem for at 10% of the entire U.S. population. The cumulative impact of sleeplessness on a population has a bearing on personal health as well as productivity in the workplace. Lack of restful sleep impairs the person’s ability to carry out daily tasks and responsibilities. Aside from feeling tired, people who lack sleep have trouble concentrating and tend to get very irritable. Imagine having those feelings or low level of physical strength while driving on a busy highway or being in the middle of an important business meeting. The results could be outright disastrous for one’s career or even life-threatening. Conversely, people who get enough continuous and quality sleep are more able to perform at work or in other activities the following day.
But how much sleep do we really need?
Sleep requirements vary over the life cycle. Newborns and infants need a lot of sleep and require several periods of sleep throughout a 24-hour time period. Naps are important to them as well as to toddlers who may have need for naps up to the age of 5. As children enter adolescence, their sleep patterns shift to a later sleep-wake cycle, but they still need around 9 hours of sleep. Throughout adulthood, even as a person gets older, they still need 7-9 hours of sleep. Sleep patterns may change, but the need for sleep remains the same. Most adults do best with about 8 hours of sleep each night until age 60, after which 6 hours may be adequate. Even though the elderly need less sleep, almost one half of people over 60 experience some degree of insomnia.
Insomnia is not a disorder, it is a symptom and not a stand-alone diagnosis. In simple terms, insomnia is difficulty in initiating or maintaining sleep, or both. It is a term that is used to indicate any and all stages and types of sleep loss.
Although most of us know what insomnia is all about, very few people actually get to seek medical advice and treatment. Many people are actually unaware of the behavioral and medical options available for treating insomnia.
However, there are various medications that supposedly effective for dealing with insomnia. Over-the-counter sleeping pills and long-acting or high-dose sedatives can be purchased easily, but it may make the problem worse. Many of these sleeping aids contain antihistamines as the main ingredient. Antihistamines are known to cause sluggishness and, if used for long periods, could possibly cause memory impairment.
Strong, prescription sedatives do not produce a natural, restful sleep. If used for extensive periods, a patient may even develop tolerance or dependence on these drugs. However, suddenly stopping the use of the medication may cause rebound insomnia and withdrawal. If insomnia has been interfering with one’s daily routine or quality of life for a month or longer, it is already time to see a doctor to determine what might be the cause of the sleep problem and how it might be treated.
The Inability to Sleep
Insomnia is a symptom, though a common misconception is that it is itself a sleep disorder. Insomnia is most often caused by sleep disorders, but other causes include fear, stress, anxiety, medications, herbs and caffeine. An overactive mind or physical pain may also be a cause. Finding the underlying cause of insomnia is usually necessary to cure it.
Treatment for Insomnia
Many insomniacs rely on sleeping tablets and other sedatives to try to get some rest. Others use herbs such as valerian, chamomile, lavender, hops, and/or passion-flower. The psychoactive plant cannabis sativa commonly known as marijuana has also been reputed to induce drowsiness in its user, however, use of cannabis sativa for treatment of insomnia is unlawful in most jurisdictions.
Some traditional remedies for insomnia have included drinking warm milk before bedtime, taking a warm bath in the evening; exercising vigorously for half an hour in the afternoon, eating a large lunch and then having only a light evening meal at least three hours before bed, avoiding mentally stimulating activities in the evening hours, and making sure to get up early in the morning and to retire to bed at a reasonable hour.
Traditional Chinese medicine has included treatment for insomnia throughout its history. A typical approach may utilize acupuncture, dietary and lifestyle analysis, herb ology and other techniques, with the goal to resolve the problem at a subtle level.
Although these methods have not been scientifically proven, some insomniacs report these remedies are sufficient to break the insomnia cycle without the need for sedatives and sleeping tablets. Warm milk contains high levels of tryptophan, a natural sedative. Using aromatherapy, including lavender oil and other relaxing essential oils, may also help induce a state of restfulness.
The most commonly used class of hypnotics prescribed for insomnia are the benzodiazepines. This includes drugs such as temazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, nitrazepam and midazolam. These medications can be addictive, especially after taking them over long periods of time.
Some antidepressants such as mirtazapine, trazodone and doxepin have a sedative effect, and are prescribed off label to treat insomnia.
Low doses of Atypical antipsychotics such as Seroquel are also sometimes prescribed for their sedative effect.
The more relaxed a person is, the greater the likelihood of getting a good night’s sleep. Relaxation techniques such as meditation have been proven to help sleep. They take stress from the mind and body which leads to a deeper more restful sleep.
The information presented here should not be interpreted as medical advice. If you or someone you know suffers from insomnia, please seek professional medical advice for the latest treatment options.