More Than Tired: When and Why Insomnia Must Be Treated

After adjusting our clocks by “springing ahead” one hour over the weekend, many of us will wake up with one less hour of sleep to start the week. The effects of the one-hour jump can leave us groggy and fatigued. This is how people suffering from insomnia often feel on a regular basis.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has declared that today is Insomnia Awareness Day. This is a great time to take a few minutes to check in on the quality of your sleep. For those with frequently disrupted or insufficient sleep, there are a variety of treatment options available that can improve your health and quality of life.

What are the different types of insomnia?

The first step to treat insomnia is to figure out which kind of insomnia you may have. Almost everyone has fleeting insomnia symptoms at some point. These can be triggered by a wide range of challenges, such as a stressful event, or a change in schedule due to daylight saving time. About a third of adults have difficulty with insomnia for a more extended period some time in their lives. It may be triggered by a temporary situation that produces stress or anxiety.

Chronic insomnia, which affects about 10 percent of the U.S. population at any given time, involves troubled sleep for at least three nights per week and persists for more than three months. Chronic insomnia symptoms include ongoing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep – or regularly waking up earlier than desired – despite an adequate opportunity for sleep. People who suffer from chronic insomnia often experience daytime fatigue, cognitive impairment, irritability and lack of energy.

Are you at risk?

If you experience disrupted or insufficient sleep, ask yourself these questions to see if you may have insomnia:

· Does it take you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, or do you wake up during the night and have trouble returning to sleep, or do you wake up at least 30 minutes earlier than desired?

· Do you have daytime symptoms such as fatigue, moodiness, sleepiness or reduced energy?

· Do you give yourself enough time in bed to get at least seven hours of sleep each night?

· Do you go to bed in a safe, dark and quiet environment that should allow you to sleep well?

· Does this sleep problem occur at least three times per week, and has it been present for at least three months?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you may have chronic insomnia. Talk to your doctor, who may refer you to the sleep team at an AASM-accredited sleep center.

Treating Chronic Insomnia

The primary treatment for chronic insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), which is an effective, long-term treatment that has few if any side effects. CBT-I involves a combination of behavioral modification and cognitive strategies, such as replacement of unrealistic fears about sleep with more positive expectations. CBT-I recommendations are customized to address each patient’s individual needs and symptoms.

Many chronic insomnia sufferers have other chronic physical and mental health problems that should be considered during treatment. Sleep specialists can effectively treat both insomnia and the other co-occurring problems – such as depression and chronic pain – to improve overall health and quality of life. Likewise, there are often other factors that can negatively affect a person’s ability to sleep, such as caffeine consumption or medication side effects. A sleep specialist can help a person with insomnia to address these disrupters and improve sleep quality.

Insomnia Takes a Toll

Chronic insomnia can be detrimental to physical, mental and emotional health, with negative effects on wellness and daily functioning. Data show that health care costs are consistently higher in people with moderate to severe insomnia. If chronic insomnia remains untreated, sufferers are prone to health complications including an increased risk for depression and hypertension.

Chronic insomnia also has a negative impact on work and school performance, impairing concentration and motivation while increasing the risk of errors and accidents. According to a study in Sleep, insomnia is associated with an estimated 253 million days of lost work each year in the U.S. Another report in Sleep Medicine Reviews noted that the total costs of insomnia exceed $100 billion per year, with the majority being spent on indirect costs such as poorer workplace performance, increased health care utilization, and increased accident risk.

Concerns about insomnia should be discussed with a doctor. Help for an ongoing sleep problem is available from the sleep team at an accredited sleep center. For more information or to find an AASM-accredited sleep center, visit

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