July 07, 2007


If you experience difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or enjoying a restful night's sleep, you may be suffering from insomnia, the feeling or complaint of inadequate or poor-quality sleep because of one or more of the following:

difficulty falling asleep
waking up frequently during the night with difficulty returning to sleep
waking up too early in the morning
non-refreshing sleep

Insomnia is a common symptom in the US, reported by nearly half of Americans surveyed in a 1995 National Sleep Foundation Gallup Poll.

It is classified as:

transient (short term) - lasting from a single night to a few weeks
intermittent (on and off) - episodes occurring from time to time
chronic (constant) - occurring on most nights and lasting a month or more
What are the causes of insomnia?

Insomnia may be caused by many factors, including:

physical illness
caffeine intake
irregular schedules
circadian rhythm disorders
drugs (including alcohol and nicotine)
occasional or chronic pain
Guidelines that may help sleep problems:
Get up about the same time every day.
Go to bed only when you are sleepy.

Establish relaxing pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath, a light bedtime snack, or 10 minutes of reading.

Exercise regularly. If you exercise vigorously, do this at least 6 hours before bedtime. Mild exercise -- such as simple stretching or walking -- should be done at least 4 hours before bedtime.

Maintain a regular schedule. Regular times for meals, taking medications, doing chores and other activities help keep your "inner clock" running smoothly.
Do not eat or drink anything containing caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime.
Do not drink alcohol within several hours of bedtime, or when you are sleepy.
Avoid smoking close to bedtime.

If you take naps, try to do so at the same time every day. For most people, a mid-afternoon nap is most helpful.

Avoid sleeping pills, or use them conservatively. Most physicians avoid prescribing sleeping pills for a period of longer than 3 weeks. Never drink alcohol while taking sleeping pills.

People who suffer from insomnia that lasts for more than a few days should consult a doctor so that the underlying cause can be identified, if possible, and treated.

Adapted from: University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC)