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Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it hard for a person to fall asleep, stay asleep or both. Short-term insomnia can last up to 4 weeks; long-term insomnia can last 4 weeks and beyond. This kind of sleep deprivation will affect your physical, social, emotional and mental wellbeing, so treating insomnia is imperative to having a healthy quality of life.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Insomnia

The common causes of insomnia include stress, anxiety, depression, medications, caffeine, alcohol, changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits and certain medical conditions such as Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). RLS is an acute medical condition characterized by leg discomfort during sleep, which is only relieved by movement of the legs. The risk factors associated with insomnia range from womens hormonal imbalances, age (60 and up), and mental health disorders to stress, fluctuating work schedules, and jet lag from travelling across several time zones. Insomnia itself is not life threatening, however the complications that arise can be life altering. Complications from this sleep disorder vary from weight gain, high risk of accidents, psychiatric problems and a poor immune system to problems in school and an overall decline in work performance.

Signs, Symptoms and Testsof Insomnia

Weve all had a sleepless night that resulted in symptoms of brain fog and exhaustion the following day. But for people who experience insomnia, their symptoms can lead to chronic exhaustion and functional impairment. Common symptoms are:

Difficulty falling asleep at night, staying asleep and awakening too early Daytime fatigue and sleepiness Irritability, depression and anxiety Tension headaches and stomach upset Difficulty concentrating on tasks, memory issues and increased accidents

Different tests can determine what is causing your sleep disorder and how best to treat it. Common tests include physical exams, a medical evaluation and a sleep history. Occasionally, a blood test is required to see if you have an underlying medical condition causing your insomnia. A sleep journal may also be required as well as an interview with your bed partner to discuss their observations of your sleep patterns. Further tests can require you to visit a sleep center where your brain waves, heart rate, breathing and body movements are recorded and analyzed.

Treatment, Medications and Preventionof Insomnia

Just like any other medical condition, insomnia needs to be treated and prevented. The doctor will start with simple changes that can be done at home such as organizing better sleep schedules, avoiding naps and caffeine, relaxation techniques and cognitive therapies that teach new sleep routines and behaviors. Sleep medications are also prescribed on a short-term basis such as Ambien and Lunesta. However, some patients have severe allergic reactions to these medications, so over-the-counter sleeping pills with antihistamine such as Unisom are also recommended. Other pharmaceutical medications such as benzodiazepines and doxepin can be prescribed in cases where insomnia is a result of anxiety and depression.

Prevention is key in breaking the cycle of insomnia. Effective measures for avoiding insomnia include reducing stress, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, avoiding heavy meals and exercise before bed, keeping good sleep habits, using sleep medications if traveling across different times zones, following bedtime rituals (especially if working night shifts), and creating a relaxing, peaceful sleep environment.