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Insomnia is often defined as the inability to fall asleep, or difficulty staying asleep. Insomnia can be a symptom of another disorder (secondary insomnia), a disorder of its own (primary insomnia), or be seen independent of another presented disorder (co-morbid). There are over 80 defined sleep disorders and insomnia is one of the most common. One in ten adults suffer from chronic insomnia, though children and adolescents can suffer from sleeping problems as well.
Insomnia in any of its forms can result in impairment during the day, chronic fatigue, and higher levels of stress and irritability. Lack of sleep can cause drowsiness interfering with driving as well as difficulty in operating machinery.
Poor sleep quality can be attributed to several factors, depending on the type of insomnia. Commonly used substances, such as caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol may be the cause. Out of the medical causes for insomnia, chronic pain and sleep apnea (difficulty breathing at night), are the most common.
Secondary insomnia can also be attributed to psychiatric conditions, such as depression, anxiety or PTSD. Certain medicines taken for various disorders may cause insomnia as a side effect.
Primary insomnia, being independent of another disorder, can be caused by a number of issues, such as stress or lifestyle changes.
The difference between chronic insomnia and acute insomnia is the amount of time the symptoms are in effect. If symptoms are present 3 nights or more per week, chronic insomnia may be diagnosed. Any less than that may be acute insomnia.
While it may be difficult to cure insomnia, simple lifestyle changes, such as giving up coffee or alcohol can help.
Herbal treatments for insomnia such as chamomile or valerian are available but mostly non efficient. Over the counter sleep aids and sleep pills work for some insomniacs, but also carry the risk of dependence, as well as possible interference with any other medications you may be taking.
Melatonin produces insignificant benefits for primary insomnia and none for secondary insomnia. Meditation, yoga and Tai Chi are among the most effective complementary and alternative medicine means to improve insomnia symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps target the thoughts and actions that are disrupting the normal sleep patterns. Many insomnia cases are treated with medication, though this may not be the best route for everyone. Medications come with the risk of dependence and possible withdrawal.