Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Or, do you go to sleep, only to wake up a few hours later and stay awake for hours at night? Well, let’s today talk about insomnia.

Your sleep-wake cycle is a delicate pattern run by something called circadian rhythms. These rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes in your brain that roughly follow a 24-hour cycle. Your daily and nightly habits, many you learned as a child, may affect your circadian rhythms and how well you sleep at night.

Poor sleep or lifestyle habits that may cause insomnia include going to bed at different times each night, daytime napping, and a poor sleeping environment such as too much noise or light. Spending too much in time in bed while you’re awake can change your sleep patterns too. Likewise, working evenings or night shifts and not getting enough exercise can affect your sleep.

People who use alcohol or recreational drugs may have trouble sleeping. Heavy smoking and drinking too much caffeine can also cause insomnia. And, even using some types of sleep medications a lot can cause you to lose sleep.

Medical problems can cause insomnia too. People with anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, thyroid disease, depression, and chronic pain problems may have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep.

So, what do you do about insomnia? Well, it’s important to remember that not everyone needs 8 hours of sleep every night. Some people do just fine on 6 hours of sleep, while others need much more.

If you need more sleep, your doctor will probably ask about any medications you’re taking, your drug or alcohol use, and your medical history. Spend some time thinking about your lifestyle and sleep habits. It’s best to avoid caffeine and alcohol at night. If you don’t exercise, starting regular exercise might help you sleep better. If you’re depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor to see if relaxation techniques can help, if medication might be helpful, or if seeing a mental health provider is best.

If you are suffering from bouts of insomnia, take heart. Most people can return to more normal sleep patterns when they make simple changes in their lifestyle or habits.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 11/16/2011
  • Mitchell W. Hecht, MD FACP, Internal Medicine private practice in Roswell, GA; author of the nationally-syndicated medical column 'Ask Dr. H.' Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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