What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia can be a short-term or chronic condition, but it always involves problems with falling or staying asleep. Short-term (transient) insomnia can be caused by illness, stress, travel, or environmental factors. Long-term (chronic) insomnia may be due to underlying psychological or physical conditions.
Who Is At Risk?
Anyone can get insomnia, but it is generally more common in women than in men. The elderly are particularly at risk for insomnia.
A doctor will make a diagnosis of insomnia based on information about your sleep patterns. Your doctor may ask:
- How long does it take you to fall asleep at night?
- How many times during the night do you wake up?
- Do you experience daytime fatigue?
- Do you have a medical condition that may interfere with sleep?
- What medications do you take (including prescription drugs, over-the counter drugs, and herbs or supplements?)
- Do you drink alcohol or smoke?
Your doctor may also ask you to keep a sleep diary to record specific sleep-related information.
- Sleep hygiene is an important first step for controlling insomnia. These simple self-help measures include establishing a regular bedtime routine, regulating mealtimes and fluid consumption, and limiting caffeine consumption.
- Behavioral therapy methods include various approaches for training new sleep behaviors and helping patients relax and sleep well. Behavioral therapy can help treat insomnia in people of all ages.
- If self-help or behavioral therapy do not solve the problem, a doctor may prescribe medications for use on a short-term basis. Non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics are usually the preferred type of drugs. They include zolpidem (Ambien, generic), zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and ramelteon (Rozerem). These drugs can cause side effects, and it is important that your doctor explains the risks of these drugs and the precautions you need to take.
Review Date: 06/11/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.