By Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
The fact is that we need sleep and many of us simply do not get enough.
Almost everyone has occasional sleepless nights. Stress, anxiety, alcohol, and caffeine are some of the things that can contribute to problems with sleep. Research shows that people who don’t snooze enough are at a higher risk of losing their health than those who regularly get a good night’s sleep. Losing sleep has some immediate consequences that are obvious and unpleasant; such as irritability and difficulty in focusing and cognitive performance.
A lack of sleep can also have injurious or fatal consequences. According to one survey conduced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than one-third of U.S. drivers have fallen asleep behind the wheel. Most of those surveyed were startled awake but not all – some crashed. The NHTSA estimates that drowsy-driving crashes result in about 40,000 nonfatal injuries and 1,550 deaths each year.
There are recent studies that link chronic sleep loss to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and shorter lives. The fact is that we need sleep and many of us simply do not get enough. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), sleeping about seven to nine hours each night carries the least risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses.
Some people think they are too busy to bother with sleep. Humans are the only animals that willingly deprive themselves of sleep. Other people find that they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep long enough to feel rested. This is insomnia, a common sleep disorder.
Common Symptoms of Insomnia
o Difficulty falling asleep at night
o Waking up during the night and having trouble going back to sleep
o Waking up too early
o Feeling tired upon waking
o Daytime irritability
The NSF estimates that one third of adults suffer from insomnia every night and half experience this problem at least a few nights per week. Persistent insomnia is a particularly disruptive condition that can significantly reduce the quality of one’s life and one’s sense of well-being. It can also adversely affect mood and cause problems with concentration, attention, or memory problems.
There can be numerous causes of insomnia but stress appears to be a primary contributor for many people. Concerns about work, school, health, or family can keep your mind active at all hours of the night, causing you to be unable to relax. Anxiety can also often cause disruptions in sleep. If you are experiencing severe anxiety, you could have an anxiety disorder that would need to be assessed first before tackling your sleep problems. The same is true if you are suffering from depression.
Insomnia can also be caused by a variety of medical conditions, particularly those that cause physical pain like fibromyalgia and arthritis. Additionally, many prescription drugs as well as over-the-counter medications can interfere with sleep. A qualified health care provider can assess whether medical problems, medications, underlying sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea), depression or anxiety may be contributing to insomnia.
Many people resort to the use of sleeping pills to treat their insomnia. While sleeping pills may temporarily improve sleep for a brief or occasional episode of insomnia, using sleep medicines for the treatment of chronic insomnia is not recommended for the following reasons:
o They are only moderately effective and lose their effectiveness with long term use
o They can have significant side effects (including no memory of eating, driving, or being awake while under the influence of the sleeping pill) that can outweigh their benefits
o People can become dependent on the medication
o They treat the symptom and not the cause
o Research documents a link between regular long-term use and increased mortality rates.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has consistently been proven to be the most effective first-line treatment for chronic insomnia. It improves sleep in 75-80% of insomnia patients and eliminates sleeping pill use in almost half of patients. In three major studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Archives of Internal Medicine that directly compared CBT to sleeping pills, CBT was more effective than sleeping pills. CBT also has no side effects and maintains improvements in sleep long-term
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