Understanding Insomnia and Finally Resting Easy

Severe forms of consistent sleeplessness can be very dangerous, especially to older individuals. The consequences of ongoing interruptions in normal sleep patterns can result in a dramatic deterioration in cognitive function, extreme fatigue during the daytime, and an elevated risk of many other conditions and diseases such as depression, diabetes, and heart disease among others. The name of this chronic condition that can lead to so many other serious health consequences: Insomnia.


Insomnia is a condition that can slowly intensify and creep up on someone until the more severe symptoms become evident. Identifying the condition is half the battle. Physicians test for the distinct symptoms of insomnia in a number of ways, including a few tasks that must be performed by the patient while at home. Among these approaches are a fully completed questionnaire by the patient, blood tests, sleep logs, and a study of the individual’s sleep patterns conducted at a sleep center.

Testing for Insomnia

The questionnaire is simply a description of the patient’s medical history, sleep patterns and overall personal health. Sometimes the questionnaire is also called a “sleep inventory.” It assists doctors to understand the medical status of the patient.

The sleep log is a diary of the patient’s experiences while attempting to fall and to stay asleep. Details of sleep behavior are noted such as the typical time the patient goes to bed at night and wakes up in the morning. The sleep log might also include information about how the patient feels during the course of a night’s sleep. This information can be extremely helpful in making a diagnosis of insomnia and in figuring out the reason the insomnia is occurring.

A sample of the patient’s blood is taken to perform tests that are designed to rule out certain medical conditions that might explain the insomnia. STests might be done for thyroid function, for example, because some thyroid conditions can cause some people to experience sleep loss.

At the suggestion of the physician, a patient can participate in a study at a sleep center. This is an overnight study conducted in a comfortable laboratory where sleep behavior is observed. The patient is monitored with an EEG, which measures different stages of sleep. In addition, measurements are taken of breathing patters, heart function, oxygen levels, and body movements. Once all the information is gathered, a doctor will be in a far better position to make a diagnosis and to formulate a plan of treatment.

Common Causes of Insomnia

One very common reason why patients, particularly those who are older, suffer from insomnia is the onset of sleep apnea. Other causes include depression, anxiety, frequent nighttime urination, gastric reflux and several prescription medicines.

Sleep apnea, a pattern of snoring and a brief cessation of breathing altogether, interrupts sleep many times during the night, which reduces the quality of sleep. Only when the reduced level of oxygen wakes the brain up to recommence breathing does normal respiration begin again. This pattern can repeat itself hundreds of times during the night, leaving the person chronically fatigued. Patients are usually prescribed a sleep mask that is attached to a compressor. This type of treatment is usually effective, bringing renewed energy and alertness to patients.

There are many other solutions to other causes of incomnia including cognitive behavioral therapy, medication management (if applicable), light therapy, and melatonin. Lifestyle changes can also help to reduce sleeplessness. Such changes might involve exercising only in the morning, abstaining from caffeine, dietary changes, reducing water consumption in the evening, and turning off computers and televisions an hour before bedtime. These changes along with others to make the bedroom as peaceful as possible, are all designed to enhance the odds of restful sleep.

Treatment and lifestyle modifications to address insomnia may take some time to take effect. The benefits, however, of increased energy and mental clarity along with a reduced risk of disease, seem to be well worth the effort.