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Sleep Disorders
Insomnia is the inability to sleep for a reasonable amount of time to maintain adequate restfulness. It is the most common type of sleep disorder.

Insomnia is not defined by the total number of hours slept. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but some only need four or five.

According to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, about one in three American adults experience insomnia in a given year. About one in 10 American adults experience insomnia that is chronic or severe. Insomnia is more common among women (especially after menopause) and the elderly. About half of people over age 65 have frequent sleep problems.

Many conditions can cause insomnia. Some possible causes of insomnia include:

  • Lifestyle factors (e.g., drinking caffeine or alcohol before bedtime)
  • Medical conditions (e.g., peptic ulcers)
  • Psychiatric conditions (e.g., depression)
  • Medications (e.g., antidepressants)
  • Other sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea)

Symptoms of insomnia may include difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, daytime drowsiness or irritability.
Many people visit their physician with complaints of insomnia. A review of their medical history, a physical examination and details of medications and lifestyle may help pinpoint the cause. Patients should also be evaluated for psychiatric conditions. They may be asked to keep a sleep diary to document sleep patterns and behaviors. In some cases, patients may be referred to a sleep center where sleep is analyzed by sleep disorder professionals. This is usually done to rule out other sleep disorders.

Several approaches may be used to treat insomnia, depending on its cause. Lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise or elimination of alcohol or caffeine, may help the condition. Sedative medications may also be prescribed, although they are not a long-term solution. Some forms of therapy, such as relaxation therapy, may help some patients.

About insomnia
Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, resulting in inadequate length of sleep and/or poor quality of sleep. The disturbances caused by insomnia affect people during their waking hours.

People with insomnia may wake frequently during the night and have difficulty falling back asleep or may wake up too early in the morning. Insomnia is the most common type of sleep disorder.

Sleep requirements differ among individuals. Therefore, insomnia is not defined by how long it takes to fall asleep or the total number of hours spent sleeping. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep, but some people need only four to five hours.

Primary insomnia is difficulty with sleep that is diagnosed after other underlying causes (such as medications or diseases) have been either ruled out or treated. Factors such as chronic stress, hyperarousal, poor sleep habits (such as drinking caffeine before sleeping) and behavioral conditioning may contribute to primary insomnia. If insomnia can clearly be attributed to an underlying cause, it is called secondary insomnia. However, when another medical or mental health disorder is also present, it can be difficult to determine whether the insomnia is due to the disorder or if the other disorder is secondary to insomnia. In addition, some people may indicate they have insomnia, although a sleep study shows no sleep disturbances.

Insomnia may be:
Transient. Lasting for a single night to a few weeks. Most people experience transient insomnia at some point in their lives. It is a common response to jet lag or stressful situations, such as job loss or death of a loved one.

Intermittent. Episodes of transient insomnia that occur from time to time.
Chronic. Insomnia occurs on most nights or lasts a month or longer. This is often the result of a medical, neurological or psychiatric disorder or other factors.

Studies have not conclusively proven whether insomnia causes long-term health problems, but some research has shown that insomnia can be linked to problems with immune system functioning and muscle endurance.

According to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, about one in three American adults experience insomnia in a given year. About one in 10 American adults experience insomnia that is chronic or severe. Insomnia is more common among women (especially after menopause) and the elderly. About half of people over age 65 have frequent sleep problems.

Children also experience insomnia, for many of the same reasons as adults, such as stress or poor sleep habits. They can also experience insomnia as a result of nightmares and night terrors.

Changes that occur with age and may impact sleep include:
Sleep pattern changes. Sleep becomes less restful after age 50. More time is spent in the earlier, transitional stages of sleep than the later stages (deep sleep). The later stages are the most restful kind of sleep.

Activity changes. Older adults are less active than younger adults and activity helps facilitate a good night’s sleep. Older adults may also have more free time than younger adults and may have habits that interfere with sleep, such as daytime napping and caffeine consumption.

Health changes. Chronic pain conditions that may interfere with sleep, such as arthritis or back problems, occur more frequently with age. Also, sleep disorders that result in insomnia, such as sleep apnea (when breathing stops periodically throughout the night) and restless legs syndrome (unpleasant sensations in the legs during the night), increase with age.

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