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According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 60 million Americans each year suffer from insomnia. Insomnia is not defined by the number of hours you sleep every night because everyone's sleep needs vary. But, if you feel you do not get enough sleep or satisfying sleep, you may have this sleep disorder.

People with insomnia have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty falling asleep.
  • waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep.
  • waking up too early in the morning.
  • unrefreshing sleep.

A person can have primary or secondary insomnia. Primary insomnia means your sleep problems are not directly associated with another health condition or problem. Secondary insomnia means you have sleep problems as a result of something else, such as depression, heartburn, pain, or a medication you are taking.

Insomnia can be short-term (also called acute), intermittent, or chronic. Acute insomnia can last from one night to a few weeks and often is related to factors such as significant life stress caused by a major event like job loss or death of a loved one; illness; noise, light or other environmental factors that disturb sleep, or a change in normal sleep patterns caused by things like jet lag or shift work.

Chronic or long-term insomnia is when a person has insomnia at least three nights a week for one month or longer. Common causes are depression, chronic stress, and pain or discomfort at night.

To diagnose insomnia, your physician will generally perform a physical exam and take both medical and sleep histories. You may be asked to keep a sleep diary for a week or two, and your doctor may ask to speak with your bed partner in order to gather more information about your sleep habits. If your physician wants to rule out other sleep disorders, you may be asked to take more advanced tests.

In terms of treatment, acute insomnia may not require any. But, if your insomnia affects your ability to function, your physician may prescribe sleeping medication for short-term use. Short-term insomnia often can be prevented or cured by practicing good sleep habits, such as establishing routine sleep times and avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol in the evening.

To treat chronic insomnia, your physician will want to first treat any underlying health problems that are interfering with your sleep. Behavioral therapy, such as relaxation techniques, and medication may also be helpful.

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