Insomnia is a condition characterized by a patient having trouble getting enough sleep at night. Patients with insomnia may have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Quite often, there is an underlying medical condition which is causing (or at least, contributing to) a particular patient’s sleep problems; the most common causes are chronic pain and stress. However, sometimes insomnia comes as a standalone issue and should be treated as such.
The treatment of insomnia may involve behavior-based treatment, medication, or a combination of the two. First and foremost, the patient's sleep hygiene must be evaluated. Sleep hygiene consists of everyday practices for promoting a good night’s sleep that everyone should incorporate as much as possible. These practices include getting out of bed in the morning as soon as you wake up (no snoozing!), maintaining regular sleep and wake times each day, refraining from taking naps during the day, and enjoying caffeinated beverages only in the first half of the day and only in moderation. Use of alcohol and tobacco can also interfere with a good night's rest, so it's best to avoid those, especially towards the end of the day.
Regular exercise, in addition to being a wonderfully healthy practice in general, also helps promote a restful night's sleep. Going to bed hungry or, on the contrary, stuffed can interfere with sleep, so eating a healthy, moderate dinner at least two hours before your bed time is important to keeping insomnia at bay.
Finally, sleep environment is crucial, so ensure that the light, temperature, and noise levels are appropriate for an uninterrupted, sound night sleep. Often times, attending to these basics is enough to bring about a better, more satisfying night's sleep for a patient liable to insomnia.
However, in some severe cases, medication can be necessary to cope with insomnia. There are a plethora of options for sleep aids, and a qualified physician can help choose the best one for a particular patient. For example, antihistamines like Benadryl can be helpful even in low doses. Also, taking melatonin, a hormone that the brain produces naturally on its own, can make a huge difference as well. It is available over the counter in several different dosages.
Prescription medications are often used to treat insomnia. Most often a low dose of an antidepressant with sedating properties will do the trick. One particular antidepressant, Trazadone, has been used to treat insomnia in patients both with and without clinical depression very successfully. Benzodiazepines, which are an older group of medications including Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin, are often effective at treating insomnia, but are prescribed sparingly because they carry a high risk of dependence.
Other medications, such as Ramelteon and Suvorexant, have been developed specifically for the treatment of insomnia, but these are prescribed only when absolutely necessary since they often have severe side effects.
In case of sleep problems, your first step should be always harmless preventive measures. In case they have failed to help, don’t self-medicate, be sure to check with a qualified medical professional to select the best and safest treatment option for your particular case.