Ask Dr. V: Insomnia

Venus Nicolino, Ph.D. of clinical psychology, answers your questions in this section. This week: Insomnia

Dear Dr. V,

I’ve been experiencing difficulty sleeping for the past year. It’s quite scary to be laying there in the middle of the night wondering why I can’t sleep. What should I do? And, aside from sleep deprivation, could there be another problem? I don’t feel stressed or anxious about anything — I just feel really exhausted during the day and then maybe slightly anxious before bedtime knowing that I’ll just lay there all night. Perhaps, you have some advice?

Theresa from PA
Dear Theresa,

You’re not alone! According to the National Institute of Health’s Web site, more than 20 percent of Americans are afflicted by sleep disorders in any given year.

There are several kinds of sleep disorders, with symptoms and a loss of sleep interfering with proper functioning in work, school, social activities and driving. The most common sleep disorders are insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, night terrors and sleepwalking. Below is an overview of what you described above, insomnia. However, be sure to contact your medical doctor for possible other related issues.

According to the National Institute of Health, insomnia affects more than 70 million Americans. Direct costs of insomnia, which include dollars spent on insomnia treatment, healthcare services, hospital and nursing home care, are estimated at nearly $14 billion annually. Indirect costs such as work loss, property damage from accidents and transportation to and from healthcare providers, are estimated to be $28 billion.

What is this condition affecting so many of us and costing so much? The word “insomnia” comes from the Latin in (“no”) and somnus (“sleep”), so it literally means “no sleep” or the inability to sleep.

Insomnia is an experience of inadequate or poor quality sleep as characterized by one or more of the following sleep complaints:

  • difficulty initiating sleep;
  • difficulty maintaining sleep;
  • waking too early in the morning.

Insomnia can be caused by anything from stress to jet lag to diet or medical difficulties. Doctors typically treat brief bouts of insomnia with sleeping pills. Longer-term cases are “cured” by practicing good sleep habits. Researchers are also investigating the potential of light-therapy, and other new ways to alter circadian rhythms.

Tips for A good Night’s Sleep

From The National Sleep Foundation Web site:

At night

  • Establish a regular bedtime routine and a regular sleep-wake schedule. This means getting up at the same time every day of the week, no matter how much you’ve slept the night before, and going to bed at about the same time.
  • Don’t spend too much time in bed. Your time in bed should be about the same as the amount of time you can actually sleep during the night. You can’t force yourself to sleep by spending more time in bed.
  • Do not eat or drink too much before bedtime.
  • Create a sleep-promoting environment that is quiet, dark, cool and comfortable.

During the day

  • Consume less or no caffeine, particularly late in the day.
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine, especially close to bedtime.
  • Exercise, but not within three hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid naps, particularly in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Establish a regular bedtime and get up at the same time every day. Do not stay in bed to make up for lost sleep or beyond your regular rise time.
  • Keep a sleep diary to identify your sleep habits and patterns to be able to share with your doctor.

Helpful link for you:

The National Sleep Foundation:

Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to call or email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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