It’s normal to have a sleepless night now and then or even to lie awake for several nights, mind racing, when you’re stressed over a work deadline. But if you’re sleepless for weeks on end, experts consider that chronic sleeplessness, or insomnia. And that can really hurt your health.
Studies show that people with insomnia are 5 times more likely to develop depression or anxiety. They’re also twice as likely to have congestive heart failure. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. But it often goes unrecognized and untreated.
Why? Because most people never mention it to their doctor, and instead, they try to self-medicate with over-the-counter drugs, like cold and allergy medicines that make you drowsy, or with supplements, like melatonin. Unfortunately, the experts say that there’s very little scientific evidence that O-T-C meds stop chronic insomnia. So, does anything work?
Prescription sleep aids can knock you out, but they’re only recommended for short-term use and they only provide an extra 17 minutes of sleep. Experts say that the best treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, which permanently fixes the problem for nearly half of all patients.
Cognitive behavioral therapy retrains insomniacs to sleep. The programs emphasize healthy sleep habits – like making sure your bedroom is dark, getting into bed only when you’re sleepy, and tricks to help launch your natural sleep hormones. They also teach techniques to quiet your mind when too many thoughts keep you awake.
You can find a list of certified sleep specialists on the American Board of Sleep Medicine website at ABSM.org.