Sleep - Insomnia - Causes, Types and Diagnosis

Diagnosing and treating insomnia is tricky because it can be transient or lasting and the condition has many root causes ranging from minor and easily correctible to life threatening.

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Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep at night or to sleep soundly throughout the night. It can be either a temporary condition or persistent, and can possibly have many causes.

Insomnia that is temporary is frequently classified as transient and usually ends on its own accord without much in the way of intervention. If insomnia lasts longer than a few days or even a few weeks, it usually will be classified as permanent.

In most instances, women seem to suffer the effects of insomnia more than men do, probably due to the many hormonal changes women experience. In addition, because of other factors such as a sedentary lifestyle or an underlying medical condition or as a side effect of prescription medication, insomnia can increase with age.

Insomnia that is not considered persistent can result from too much stress, from crossing into different time zones, or from environmental factors such as an increase in noise levels or temperature variations of more than a few degrees. Exposure to excessive light or loud and/orpersistent noise including nearby traffic and even a snoring bed partner, can create an environment in which sleep is elusive. Many do not realize that insomnia can even be the result of learned behavior.

Medical treatment for intermittent or transient insomnia generally is not prescribed. That's because the condition typically remedies itself once the affected individual takes control of his or her situation and corrects the problem(s) causing the insomnia.

Permanent or chronic insomnia, on the other hand, can be more serious. The degree of severity will have a lot to do with what is found to be the underlying cause. Therefore, the first step that those suffering from chronic insomnia need to take is to meet with their health care providers. An in-person meeting is the only way to begin narrowing down the reasons behind the chronic insomnia.

This type of insomnia could be caused by an abuse of narcotics or even caffeine or by shift work. Or it could be due to any number of physical or mental disorders including depression, anxiety, kidney disease, heart trouble, restless leg syndrome, asthma, Parkinson's disease or a condition called sleep apnea. And there are even more reasons why someone might regularly have trouble getting a good night's sleep.

The process of determining the underlying cause could be long and might require numerous tests and evaluations, but it has to happen. Once the cause is known, it will be easier to identify whether medical treatments are necessary or whether the underlying cause of insomnia can be treated by making one or more behavioral changes. For some, alleviating insomnia might be as easy as eliminating caffeine several hours before bedtime.

Diagnosing insomnia can be actually be more difficult than diagnosing an underlying condition because, in most cases, quality of sleep, and even amount of sleep, is subjective. What is an ample amount for one person isn't necessarily right for someone else. As a rule of thumb, those who have difficulty remaining alert, focused and able to concentrate during the day may be suffering insomnia. Keeping a sleep journal, answering a number of sleep-related questions and evaluating the answers and/or seeing a sleep specialist are a few of the tools that can help medical personnel diagnose insomnia.

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Page Updated 6:59 PM Monday 9/26/2016