Why Is It Important To Treat Insomnia?
In the past, it was always felt that insomnia was a benign symptom that was probably related to stress or some type of physical ailment. The majority of people never bothered to see a healthcare provider and in fact there was no such thing as a sleep specialty three decades ago. However, with time, the natural history of insomnia started to reveal that this was a serious medical problem with many adverse consequences.
Researchers followed patients with insomnia for an average of ten years and noticed that these individuals developed the following:
- Impaired Cognitive Performance. It was observed that these individuals had short attention spans, poor memory, and had difficult performing simple tasks.
- Poor Social Skills. The individuals had difficulty with interpersonal and interprofessional relationships. They were unable to handle minor irritations and had a decreased ability to enjoy social and family life.
- Prone To Accidents. They had a higher incidence of workplace and motor vehicle accidents, which also resulted in increased healthcare costs.
- Medical And Psychiatric Problems. Common ailments observed in these individuals included higher risk for high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disease, muscle pain and body aches, weight gain, diabetes and a higher risk for heart disease.
- Depression and Anxiety. It was observed that these conditions were common disorders, with some people even losing their jobs because of the mental illness.
As well as having a health cost to the individual, insomnia also has a huge financial cost for industry. Globally, the direct and indirect costs attributed to insomnia exceed $100 billion each year. The costs are related to doctor visits, prescription medications and treatment of work related and motor vehicle injuries. Furthermore, there is a higher rate of absenteeism and reduced productivity. These costs have been shown to exceed $13 billion each year.
Most Popular Medications To Treat Insomnia
The treatment of insomnia with medications has only improved over the past two decades. Up until the 1980, the common treatment for insomnia was the use of alcohol, opiates and use of benzodiazepines. The benzodiazepines were widely used in the 80s and 90s, but it was soon realized that these medications were addictive, had potent side effects and were not safe for long term use.
Today there are several other drugs for the treatment of insomnia, such as:
- Zolpidem (Ambien). This is a useful medication to help induce sleep. It is available in an extended release formula so that it works throughout the night. For people who wake up in the middle of the night, there is also a Zolpidem spray. The drug is safe, relatively inexpensive, and devoid of major side effects.
- Eszopiclone or Lunesta. A very popular medication which helps people fall asleep quickly. It provides at least 6-7 hours of quality sleep. However, one problem with Lunesta is that if higher doses are taken (more than 1mg), the residual effects of sleep will be common during the daytime.
- Ramelteon (Rozerem). This works on the sleep cycle and does not depress the brain. It is prescribed to people who have difficult falling sleep. Unlike other medications it does not cause dependence or tolerance.
- Zaleplon (Sonata). Another new sleeping pill that is very useful for individuals who want to get good sleep for a few hours. It does not cause daytime drowsiness.
- Doxepin (Silenor). This aids sleep by blocking the histamine receptors.
Finally there are several benzodiazepines (Ativan, Xanax, Halcion) and anti-depressants (Remeron, Desyrel,), which are also useful for people with short tern insomnia. Because these drugs have adverse effects and are addictive, they are only meant for short-term use (no more than 1 month).
5 Alternative Ways To Treat Insomnia
Asides from medications, there are alternative ways to treat insomnia, such as:
- Behavior Therapy. In general behavior therapies are often the first treatment of choice for people with chronic insomnia. The behavior therapy will include developing a regular sleep schedule, having a comfortable bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep, and avoiding stimulating activities that can interfere with sleep.
- Relaxation. A variety of relaxation methods have been shown to help people fall asleep. These include muscle relaxation, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, breathing exercise and biofeedback. The aim of these relaxation methods is to lower anxiety and stress that interfere with sleep. These muscle tension lowering strategies help lower the heart rate and breathing, and also improve the mood.
- Exercise. Remaining physically active has been shown to promote good sleep. Experts recommend getting at least 45-60 minutes of vigorous physical exercise regularly. However, this exercise should not be performed close to bedtime.
- Avoiding Caffeine And Alcohol. The use of caffeinated beverages and alcohol has been shown to interfere with sleep. Experts say that you should discontinue or limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol if you want good sleep. Alcohol may induce sleep but it is also known to increase frequent awakenings, particularly with the urge to urinate in the middle of the night.
Finally, avoid daytime naps. Way too many people with insomnia catch a nap during the day time and then are unable to sleep during the night. If you are going to take a nap, make it short (less than 30 minutes) and it should be in the early afternoon.
7 Herbal Ways To Treat Insomnia
Over the years many health supplements and herbs have become available for the management of insomnia. Some of the most popular herbs include the following:
- Melatonin. An over the counter supplement that can help regulate the sleep wake cycle and induce sleep. It seems to have the greatest benefit in elderly people and can also prevent jet lag. Melatonin has been shown to be very safe and is relatively cheap.
- Valerian. A dietary supplement used to promote sleep. It has a mild sedating effect and also helps improve mood.
- Chamomile. Similar to Valerian this is used for induction of sleep. The supplement is available as a tea beverage and sold in most health stores. It tends to work for mild insomnia and is relatively safe.
- Passionflower. A highly effective herb for insomnia, particularly for those whose insomnia is related to stress. Studies show that passionflower lowers the stress and eases sleep. Its sedating effects can last 4-6 hours.
- Ashwagandha. Also known as withania somnifera, this is a very popular Indian supplement used to induce sleep. The plant itself is from the same family as the tomato. When taken just before bedtime, it induces sleep and also prevents the reawakenings. It is believed to work by preventing the release of certain active neurotransmitters in the brain.
- Magnolia Bark. This is a Chinese herb that is known to regulate the sleep wake cycle and promote relaxation. It has been shown to promote good quality of sleep.
- Lavender. Another woody shrub that has a pleasant aroma and is used as a beverage to induce sleep. A cup of warm lavender just before bedtimes can help promote relaxation and relieve stress.
The treatment of chronic insomnia is not difficult. There are both prescription and over the counter medications available. Plus, there are several effective herbal agents. Most of the herbal agents are relatively cheap, safe and they may be considered the first choice of treatment. If they fail to work then perhaps one may want to see a healthcare worker for a more potent prescription medication.