"Insomnia" refers to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up too soon and not being able to fall asleep again, leading to not getting enough sleep at night—most adults need seven to eight hours. It is the most common seeping disorder among Americans—more than one in ten have chronic insomnia, meaning they have difficulty sleeping three or more nights a week for three or more months, and as many as 40 percent have had trouble sleeping in the past year.
There are a number of possible causes of insomnia. Stress and anxiety are common culprits. Often, clinical depression leads to insomnia, as do other illnesses such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, arthritis, heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Poor sleep is also a side effect of certain medications, including allergy medications and corticosteroids.
The effects of sleeplessness are not to be trifled with. Tired people have poor decision-making skills, poor concentration, and poor eating habits. In one study, couples were found to be less able to manage conflict and more likely to snap at each other when one or both had slept poorly. It also poses problems for the diet; not sleeping raises the levels of a molecule that stimulates the appetite.
Some people are at greater risk. In a recent study, patients with heart failure who also suffered disrupted sleep were more than twice as likely to find themselves in the emergency room as patients who slept properly. Almost a third of people hospitalized with heart problems had poor sleep a year later, but they accounted for as many hospital visits in that year as did patients whose sleep was unaffected.
For people who have trouble sleeping, treatment may not require medication. Simply sticking to a regular schedule can work wonders, and cutting out caffeine in the afternoon and evening—or entirely—can make a huge difference. Another thing that can help is exercise, especially late in the day. Another thing that helps is staying out of the bedroom, or at leas out of bed, until bedtime.