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Insomnia

Learn about insomnia, its cause, and its treatments.

By
Rob Lamberts, MD
Episode #034

Insomnia is a miserable condition that affects a lot of people. How many?  It depends on what you read, but studies I’ve read suggest that between 1/3 and 2/3 of the American adults deal with insomnia on a regular basis. This podcast will cover what insomnia is, and what you can do to treat it.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as a problem falling asleep or staying asleep. It’s not the lack of sleep that matters; it’s the consequences of not sleeping that make insomnia a problem.

These consequences include:

  • Fatigue and sleepiness (obviously)

  • Poor concentration

  • Increased errors in judgment

  • Accidents, some of which can be serious (such as automobile accidents)

  • Headaches, stomach problems, and other physical problems

  • Difficulty with social interactions (in other words, major grumpiness)

  • Anxiety and depression due to all of the above.

What Causes Insomnia?

Insomnia has many possible causes, including:

Stressors – Good stressors, such as a new job the next morning, or bad stressors, such as having a bad job to go to, can cause sleep problems. The good news is that this is usually limited in duration.

Have as regular of a routine before going to bed as possible. The more of a routine you have, the less you have to think. The less you have to think, the easier sleep will come.

Poor sleep environment – I’ll go into more detail later, but where you sleep will have a big effect on how well you sleep.

Psychiatric Conditions – Conditions such as clinical depression and anxiety disorders are very common causes of sleep problems. That is a bad thing, because poor sleep can make these conditions worse.

Caffeine – It seems obvious, but many people don’t make the connection between their sleep problems and the Red Bull and Starbucks they are drinking.

AlcoholAlcohol is often used to help sleep, but it actually does the opposite. It has been shown to make sleep much less restful (and that’s not just from getting up during the night to use the potty).

Medications – Stimulant drugs like Ritalin are obvious culprits for sleep disturbance, but asthma medications, steroids used for asthma or arthritis, blood pressure pills, decongestant cold medicines, and some antidepressants can also interfere with sleep.

Medical Problems – Many conditions interfere with sleep, including:

  • Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux, which wake you up during the night.

  • Prostate, urinary tract, and endocrine problems, which make you get up to pee a lot during the night.

  • Painful conditions and those that just make you uncomfortable (such as a bad head cold).

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About the Author

Rob Lamberts, MD
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