There have been many sleep deprivation studies for many different reasons. Doctors and other scientists have studied all the aspects of sleep, and no matter what the intent or specific conclusions of the studies, there is one common finding — we human beings really need to sleep! When we don’t sleep long enough or achieve good quality of sleep, it can harm our physical, mental and emotional health in a most profound way.
Insomnia can be its own problem or a symptom of another condition, such as depression, untreated or uncontrolled diabetes, thyroid disorders, restless leg syndrome, acid reflux, prostate inflammation, etc. Therefore, it’s important to really spend the time thinking about why you might be suffering from insomnia. However, there are some commonsense things that one can do to start ruling out some potential causes or possibly improve the quality of one’s sleeping.
First, one must allow oneself plenty of time for sleeping. Most people need six to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep time. Sacrificing your available hours for other activities only compromises your own health.
Drinking large quantities of fluid can awaken you from an otherwise peaceful night of sleep for trips to the bathroom. Caffeine can interfere with your ability to fall asleep or achieve the necessary deeper levels of sleep. Unresolved conflict with friends, family or co-workers, as well as any other financial or social troubles, can interfere with your mind’s ability to “shut down” and slip into its natural subconscious state.
When it comes to sleep aids, there are many over-the-counter medications and several prescription medications, as well. Most over-the-counter options use diphenhydramine (Benadryl), which is a common antihistamine that causes drowsiness in many users.
In medical practice, there are many different choices and doses, which all come with different benefits and risks. There are generic and relatively inexpensive options, such as temazepam (Restoril) and zolpidem (Ambien), and brand-name medicines such as Lunesta, Rozerem and Ambien CR.
There are also other medications — such as amitriptyline (Elavil), trazadone, and Seroquel — that are primarily used to treat different types of depression. However, due to their significant sedating properties, some physicians will prescribe them to treat insomnia, although these tend to be off-label uses for such medications.
Any medication used to treat insomnia has the potential to manifest undesired side effects, such as memory loss, morning drowsiness and even sleepwalking. Like virtually everything else in medical practice, treating insomnia is highly individualized. The patient and the physician must work together to explore what options are safe for that person and address unique needs. If insomnia is something you think you might need help with, talk to your health care provider to find a solution that works best for you.
• Richard O’Bryan is a nationally board-certified and licensed physician assistant and former Patterson paramedic who practices at the Patterson First Care clinic. You can e-mail him questions and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.