It’s a wonder anything gets done during the day. Nearly 30 percent of U.S. adults suffer from some form of insomnia, says the most recent statistics from the National Institutes of Health.
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Everyone experiences trouble falling or staying asleep at some point in their lives. Work, family and constant access to technology often prevent people from getting enough sleep. Other culprits can include significant stress, illness, medications, physical discomfort and a disrupted sleep schedule.
Insomnia is about twice as common in women as in men. It is more common in older than younger people.
However, if your sleep problems last more than three months and are disrupting your daily activities, you may have insomnia disorder, says psychologist Michelle Drerup, PsyD.
Dr. Drerup, who specializes in sleep disorders, says that the characteristics of chronic insomnia are:
- Difficulty falling asleep and/or waking up in the middle of the night
- Difficulty returning to sleep
These nighttime concerns also must be accompanied by daytime symptoms that are due to the sleep difficulties, Dr. Drerup says. These symptoms can include:
- Feeling tired/fatigued during the daytime
- Irritability or depressed mood
- Problems with concentration or memory
Behavioral therapy for insomnia
While insomnia is a common problem, millions of people will typically ignore its signs. Many people believe there are no suitable treatments. Or they do not want to take medication to fall asleep.
The good news is that treating insomnia – when it is not directly associated with any other health condition or problem – often does not include medication at all. Many sleep therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-i, to treat insomnia.
CBT-i is a technique that requires some effort, but it is a proven method to help people return to more normal sleep patterns, Dr. Drerup says. Behavioral treatments are more effective and longer lasting than treating insomnia with medication.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is our treatment of choice,” Dr. Drerup says. “It’s really effective – about 70 percent to 80 percent of people who go through treatment have improvements in sleep without medications.”
The goal of CBT-i is to change sleep habits, schedules and behaviors. For example, you may need to change your habit of using your bed for activities such as watching television or working on your laptop.
CBT-i techniques include stimulus control, sleep restriction, sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques, and providing you with tools to deal with worrisome thoughts and daily stressors. CBT-i also includes regular follow up visits with a behavioral sleep medicine specialist to examine your sleep/wake habits and pinpoint the actions that may be preventing you from sleeping soundly.
Dr. Drerup says the best thing you can do to quiet your brain for sleep is to stay consistent.
“As adults, we need to be more mindful of our sleep routines,” she says. “Your brain likes routine.”
Sleep disorders treatment guide