Have you ever had trouble falling asleep? A recent survey of approximately one million Americans found that those who reported sleeping around seven hours per night had the lowest rates of mortality compared to those whom were sleeping 4 hours or less.  In addition, the study showed that difficulty sleeping or the medical term insomnia is much more common in women than in men.

Understanding insomnia is the key to getting a goodnight’s sleep.  Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.  There are two types of insomnia: primary insomnia, when insomnia is not related to any other condition or health problem and secondary insomnia, when insomnia is caused by an outside factor such as a health condition or stress.  Insomnia can vary in how long it lasts and how often it occurs and is classified by acute insomnia or chronic insomnia. Acute insomnia can last from one night to a few weeks. Chronic insomnia lasts at least three nights a week for a month or longer. Classic symptoms of insomnia include: difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early in the morning, feeling tired upon waking, waking up throughout the night and once awake at night difficulty going back to sleep.  Other symptoms of insomnia include daytime sleepiness, fatigue, relying on stimulants to stay awake during the day, irritability and problems concentrating or remembering things during the day. Causes of insomnia can be related to a health condition, stress, environmental factors or other medications.

Treating the underlying conditions or health problems that are causing the insomnia is imperative to curing the insomnia.  Treatments range from conventional methods that may include prescription medications to natural treatment options including:

  • Behavioral therapy: learning how to relax and deal with stress
  • Avoiding stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, etc.) after 4:00 pm
  • Exercise
  • Going to bed only when sleepy and avoiding daytime naps
  • Getting up at the same time every morning
  • Blocking out sounds with white noise (e.g. fan, air purifier, etc.)
  • Removing all light from bedroom
  • Changing your diet and avoiding low blood sugar, which can keep you up at night

Different medicinal plants that have been used to help people sleep include Lemon balm, Valerian, Passion flower, Hops, California poppy, Ashwagandha, Lavender, Kava Kava, St. John’s Wort and Chamomile.   Some of the common supplements to help people sleep are magnesium, arginine, melatonin or theanine.  Other natural therapies can include acupuncture as well.

Conventional treatment will predominantly include prescription drugs including antihistamines, benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepines, antidepressants, melatonin, opioids and antipsychotic medications.

There are many ways to treat insomnia. Finding the right one for you is the key to getting a good night’s sleep.