The average human adult needs about 7-8 hours of sleep at night, however, we may have all at one point encountered the all too familiar situation of the tossing and turning on our beds, being unable to fall asleep. This condition is known as acute insomnia, which may last for a few days to a week and is usually the aftermath of some traumatic or stressful event. Insomnia is one of the most common disorders that affect people in the world, with roughly 60 million Americans affected by it. Some symptoms include difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, waking up too early, inability to fall back asleep, daytime tiredness, and decrease in attention span. Although classic remedies like cookies and warm milk are thought to help people sleep better at night, in reality when milk was scientifically tested, it failed to affect sleeping patterns. Art Spielman, M.D., professor of psychology at the City University of New York and insomnia expert further explains saying, “Tryptophan-containing foods (including milk) don’t produce the hypnotic effects pure tryptophan does, because other amino acids in those foods compete to get into the brain.” So then, how do we tackle the monsters in our mind and get the chance to have a good night’s sleep for once?
Insomnia is generally categorized into two types: acute and chronic insomnia. Acute insomnia is usually caused by ongoing life stress like the death of a loved one or a divorce, emotional or physical discomfort, environmental factors like noise or light, illness, or interferences in normal sleeping patterns like a night shift or jetlags. This can normally be treated by adjusting your sleeping habits or changing any of the issues that have had an effect on someone’s sleep and can so help re-establish a restful sleep for most patients suffering from insomnia. On the other hand, with chronic insomnia the case is not that simple. Usually caused by more complex mental and physical health problems like depression, anxiety, chronic pain or stress, there are ways in which chronic insomnia can be tackled with too. One popularly used method is that of pharmacotherapy, the usage of drugs that help relieve symptoms and induce better sleep. Drugs like zolpidem, eszopiclone or benzodiazepines are US-FDA approved drugs for the treatment of insomnia, however, they must be prescribed by a doctor after thorough physical examination and only the recommended dose must be taken shortly before bed. Sleep medications usually provide instant relief during a high period of distress. They may not, however, be the best option for long term treatment, as patients can develop an addiction or experience bothersome side effects like headaches, dizziness, or weakness. Thus, nonpharmacologic strategies have been introduced to counteract these issues.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an example of a nonpharmacologic strategy that helps identify and replace thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen sleep problems, hence, promoting better sleep. It differs to sleep medication in the way that while drugs only relieve symptoms, CBT allows the patient to determine the underlying cause of their insomnia and addresses it. There are two aspects to the CBT therapy: the cognitive and the behavioral. Allowing the patient to recognize and work accordingly to change habits that affect their sleeping schedule is the cognitive aspect of the CBT. Cognitive therapy helps the patient to eliminate or control negative thoughts and emotions which often disturbs a patient’s sleep. Whereas, the behavioral aspect of CBT allows a patient to develop new habits which help promote better sleep and avoid bad practices which hinders sleep quality. Therapy might be slightly different depending upon each type of patient. Thus, a sleep therapist may recommend a variety of CBT techniques in accordance to a patient’s need. Some CBT techniques include, stimulus control therapy, sleep restriction, sleep hygiene, relaxation trainings and biofeedback. The most effective treatment for a patient will be a personalized combination of these techniques in accordance to their need.
If the aforementioned treatments do not work out for you, fret not. There are various other alternative treatments for insomnia which have supposedly worked for fellow patients. Acupressure has been reported to help patients feel relaxed and has promoted better and easier sleep. Physical exercises like Tai-chi and Yoga also help destress the mind and contribute to physical fitness as well as improvement in mood, and so helps sleep better. Psychiatric help and hypnosis has also proven to be of great help to some patients. If you or a loved one is suffering from Insomnia, it is best to contact your healthcare provider, as they are the best source of information for any questions or concerns. Good sleep is an integral part of good human health, so let us all try to catch some proper zzz’s!
"Insomnia - Treatment." Mayo Clinic, 2017, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/diagnosis-treatment/treatment/txc-20256979.
"Insomnia Treatments." Uptodate.Com, 2017, https://www.uptodate.com/contents/insomnia-treatments-beyond-the-basics.
“Drugs To Treat Insomnia.” WebMD, 2017, http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/insomnia-medications#1