If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, consider whether an event or particular stress could be the cause. If so, the problem may resolve in time. If not, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. It is helpful to keep a record of your sleep and fatigue levels throughout the day, and any other symptoms you might have to bring with you when you see your doctor. He or she may order a series of tests to determine whether or not you have a sleep disorder, which may include an overnight stay at a sleep center.

There are a number of behavioral modifications you can make to establish healthy sleep. They include:

  • Conditioning people to use their bed and bedroom for sleep and sex only
  • Therapy to help modify attitudes and beliefs that may contribute to poor sleep
  • Relaxation training, which often involves reducing tension and muscular relaxation techniques
  • Restricting time in bed if a person spends too much of that time lying awake.

After consulting with your doctor, he or she may prescribe medication to help you sleep. The particular medication prescribed to treat insomnia should depend on a patient’s diagnosis, medical condition, use of alcohol or other drugs, age, and need to function when awakened during the usual sleep period. Some common prescription sleep aids include:

  • Hypnotics – induce and maintain sleep. They work by acting at areas in the brain believed to be involved in sleep promotion
  • Antidepressants – if the cause of the sleep problem is depression
  • Anti-anxiety drugs (anxiolytics) – if anxiety is related to insomnia

Sleep medications may lead to tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and rebound insomnia. They should be used only as recommended by your doctor.

Reviewed by Michael V. Vitiello, PhD (December 2009).

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