Is there anything more frustrating than spending an entire night listening to the tick of the clock on your bedside table?
Stress and every day life events can often create periodic restless nights that can sap your vitality and zip. Without enough rest, you become more forgetful, have difficulty concentrating, become more accident prone, and often feel irritable. As we get older, the natural aging process, certain chronic conditions, and medications can all erode your chances of a good night's rest.
Sleep disorders are more common than you might think. There are many sleep disorders, but the most common are:
Long-term insomnia is common, affecting nearly 20% of Americans at any time. It includes problems with sleep, such as difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep, frequent night wakings, sleepiness during the day, and sleep that is not refreshing. Long-term insomnia affects your quality of life and how you perform day-to-day.
Sleep troubles may seem like just an inconvenience, but if left untreated, complications from insomnia can affect your overall health
Treatments for insomnia include changing your sleep habits, avoiding stimulants, and if necessary, sleep medication.
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder that has detrimental affects on your health. It is a disorder marked by complete or partial airway blockage during sleep. The blocked airway reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood several times an hour throughout the night, causing frequent awakenings. Although you may not fully awaken each time, sleep is disrupted and fragmented enough to create chronic daytime sleepiness. Complications include hypertension, heart disease, and early death.
People with sleep apnea often snore loudly or wake up gasping for air. If you or your bed partner has any of these symptoms, call your doctor.
Sleep apnea can be successfully treated with a continous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, dental devices, lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery. Treatment will also reduce your risk of complications.
If you do not have a sleep disorder, and still have trouble sleeping, you are not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a number of health problems can make sleeping difficult:
Whether or not you have short- or long-term insomnia, your first steps will be to change the way you approach sleep. Generally, it is a combination of establishing good habits and using some common sense. Some habits may take a little longer to establish than others, but in the end, it will be worth the investment. Good sleep habits include:
A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found behavioral changes provided longer-lasting benefits in the treatment of insomnia than did sleep medications. Your doctor may suggest you keep a diary of your sleep and wake habits to help determine the cause of and solution to your sleeplessness.
Melatonin supplements are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and lack sufficient evidence proving that they can aid sleep. However, research indicates that melatonin might be beneficial for people with jet lag. Valerian, an herb, has been used all over the world to induce sleep. There is mixed evidence to how effective it is though. Inform your doctor if you are taking any herbal supplements.
Remember that sleep is a necessity, not a commodity. It is as much a part of overall health as good nutrition and regular exercise, so do not settle for a few hours per night. Crawl into a comfortable bed, don your earplugs, and turn off all the lights. Sleeplessness and sleep disorders are treatable. If you try different methods and you still have problems, make an appointment with your doctor.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine
National Sleep Foundation
Better Sleep Council Canada
Canadian Sleep Society
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Insomnia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 28, 2013. Accessed June 3, 2014.
Melatonin. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated August 22, 2013. Accessed June 3, 2014.
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Tasali E, Mohkalesi B, VanCauter E. Obstructive sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes: interacting epidemics. Chest. 2008;133(2):496-506.
Last reviewed June 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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