Insomnia is a condition where it is difficult to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. Getting a good, restful, recuperative sleep is a key to good health.
Experts suggest that if it takes you more than 20-40 minutes to fall asleep, or if you get less than four to five hours of sleep (when your goal is eight hours of sleep), then you have insomnia.
Without the proper amount of sleep, your ability to function at peak levels is diminished, and you can feel sluggish and run-down all day long. If your job requires constant and careful attention, the condition can be considered a health and safety issue. Studies have suggested that insomnia may play a role in developing high blood pressure, obesity and other health concerns.
What causes insomnia?
Most cases of insomnia are acute or last for a short amount of time. These usually result from stressful or anxiety-provoking life events such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, a troubling relationship break-up, or stressful work or school situations.
Acute insomnia can also be the result of eating late at night or ingesting too much caffeine or alcohol. Additionally, acute insomnia can result from traveling to dramatically different time zones.
There are other causes of insomnia that are chronic or may last for a significant period of time. These include medical conditions that interfere with sleep like prostate problems (that cause nocturnal urination), chronic depression, obstructive lung disease (difficulty breathing with ease), and any medical condition like cancer, which can cause a constant pain. Finally, there are many medications, both over-the-counter and prescriptions, that can interfere with sleep.
How is insomnia treated?
There are two considerations when treating insomnia. If the cause is acute and predicted to be temporary, employ good sleep habits, counseling therapy, and short-term sleep aids. For good sleep habits, make sure that:
- You go to sleep at approximately the same time every night.
- You wake at approximately the same time every morning.
- You eliminate distractions such as TV, radio and cell phone.
- You make sure the room is dark and quiet.
- You make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable.
- You exercise in the morning or at least four hours before bed, if possible.
- You don’t consume alcohol, nicotine, or caffeinated beverages before bed.
- You limit naps so you are tired at bedtime.
- You don’t work or eat in bed.
- You do not eat large meals before bed.
If the insomnia is a result of a stressful life event, talk to your doctor to arrange a few sessions with a counselor. This one simple call can make a huge difference and may be the most important thing one can do.
For sleep aids/pills, be sure to consult a pharmacist or your doctor. These may be variations of an antihistamine that can make one feel drowsy or a naturally occurring substance called melatonin. Melatonin is not without drawbacks, including interfering with other medications, and must be produced by a high-quality manufacturer.
Sleep aids can also cause drowsiness the following day that could be undesirable. Nevertheless, sleep aids/pills should be used just for a few days and are not a long-term solution. Get your doctor’s or pharmacist’s input before using them.
If these measures do not work, review with your doctor the possibility of medications or medical conditions that can interfere with sleep and develop a plan of attack. Here are sleep recommendations:
National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Durations
|Age||Recommended||May be appropriate|
|Teenagers 14-17 years||8 to 10 hours||7 hours 11 hours|
|Young Adults 18-25 years||7 to 9 hours||6 hours 10 to 11 hours|
|Adults 26-64 years||7 to 9 hours||6 hours 10 hours|
|Older Adults ≥ 65 years||7 to 8 hours||5 to 6 hours 9 hours|
Getting constant, quality, recuperative sleep is probably the most helpful and underrated things you can do for your good health.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.