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Insomnia: causes and treatment

While an occasional problem for most everyone, insomnia is a chronic problem for 15 to 20 million people in the United States. It is defined not only as a lack of sleep, but as the inability to get enough restful sleep. It may involve trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early in the morning without being able to return to sleep.


Finding the cause of insomnia can help doctors determine necessary treatments:

  • For many people, insomnia happens occasionally in response to life events. These events, exciting or stressful, can keep one awake and thinking late into the night. Other people develop poor sleep schedules, sleeping late into the morning or napping during the day. This makes sleep at night more difficult.
  • Insomnia may be a symptom of depression. If patients are feeling down, are fatigued and are having trouble falling asleep or are waking up too early, you may be depressed. Treatment for depression may cure insomnia if the two problems are related.
  • Some prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, herbs and supplements can cause insomnia. These include some antidepressants, high blood pressure medicines, steroids, weight-loss products and decongestants.
  • Insomnia may also be a symptom of a medical problem that causes pain or discomfort such as arthritis or gastroesophageal reflux disease.


Insomnia sends many people to the doctor, often to get sleeping pills. Yet most doctors believe sleeping pills should be avoided whenever possible. Prescription medications may knock you out, but may not address the underlying cause of your sleep disorder.

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