A Wake-Up Call for Insomniacs
How'd you sleep last night?
If your answer is "Hardly at all," you're like an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population.
Insomnia -- the inability to fall, or stay, asleep at night -- is a serious problem, one that's been tied to cardiovascular disease and depression. It causes daytime exhaustion that can lead to on-the-job errors and absenteeism. And, on a purely personal level, insomnia's a frustrating pain in the butt.
Insomnia can be remedied, or at least improved, through medication or behavior modification. Newer sleep medications (such as Ambien and Lunesta) can safely be taken for longer than older products (many of which are addictive) and may help ease insomniacs into better sleep patterns. People can also change their "sleep hygiene" (for instance, reserving the bed for sleep and sex; no books, TV or snacks) with an eye toward breaking free of insomnia. But many insomniacs -- and their physicians -- tend to think the condition will eventually go away on its own.
A new study suggests that assumption's not sound.
As reported in the March 9 Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers conducted phone interviews with a few hundred people with varying degrees of insomnia at three points over three years. Those whose insomnia was most severe at the start tended still to suffer from the condition three years later. Even those whose insomnia ceased for a time during the course of the study ended up being plagued by it again in the end. All in all, according to the study, "Nearly half of the sample (46%) reported persistent insomnia at all time points during the 3-year study, and 74% reported insomnia persisting for at least 1 year."
Oddly, a number of the study participants (the paper doesn't specify exactly how many) were taking sleep medication during the research period. The study is silent, though, on how those meds affected the severity and duration of their users' insomnia.
I know several women who have suffered insomnia (which tends to affect women and the elderly more commonly than others) for years. Though some have sought treatment, others seem to accept sleeplessness as their inevitable lot in life -- and as an excuse to catch up on their reading.
For my part, I'm worthless without a good 8 hours of sleep, and I imagine that if I faced more than the once-in-a-while sleepless night, I'd be clamoring for professional help (and a bigger Starbucks card).
Do you have insomnia? All the time, or just when you're anxious or upset? Do you take sleep medication? What other steps have you taken to try to improve your night's sleep?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
March 11, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Chronic Conditions , Family Health , General Health , Women's Health
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