Getting enough sleep each night is crucial for your physical and mental health. While the exact number of hours differs per person, experts agree that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. But many fall short of meeting this goal due to the most common sleep disorder, insomnia.
The National Institute of Health estimates that a third of the U.S. population experiences this sleep condition marked by issues with falling and/or staying asleep.
Insomnia may be chronic (long-term) or acute (short-term). Dr. Alcibiades Rodriguez, medical director at the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center-Sleep Center at NYU Langone Health explains, “In adults, chronic insomnia is defined as the inability to fall or stay asleep, or waking up earlier than desired.” Chronic insomnia must be present at least three times per week for three months, while acute episodes may last only a few days or weeks.
Insomnia is also classified as either primary or secondary.
Primary insomnia occurs in isolation and may be genetic. Secondary insomnia is caused by another underlying condition, such as environmental disturbances or stress.
Common symptoms include:
- Lying awake for long periods
- Sleeping for short periods
- Being awake most of the night
- Feeling like you have not slept
- Waking up too early
Older adults and women are more likely to experience insomnia.
Lifestyle changes are usually all that is required to resolve acute insomnia. This includes identifying stressors or medical changes that may be disturbing your sleep. “Don’t take naps and avoid caffeine and alcohol consumption,” says Dr. Peters-Mathews, a sleep medicine doctor at Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle. “And if you’re awake for more than 15 to 20 minutes in bed, get up and do something relaxing and come back to bed when you’re feeling more sleepy.”
Lifestyle changes may not be enough to treat chronic insomnia. Experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as the first-line treatment to address the root cause. While some doctors may prescribe sleeping pills, Dr. Peters-Mathews does not agree. “Sleep is a natural process that can be promoted with the education and behavioral changes outlined in a standard CBT-I program.”
He suggests starting with melatonin, a synthetic version of the sleep hormone your body naturally produces.
To learn more about insomnia or other sleep disorders, talk to the experts at Charleston ENT & Allergy today.