Living with Insomnia

Gaining Control Over Sleep Problems

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Summary & Participants

Once people thought that help for poor sleep only meant sleeping pills that left you foggy. That's all changed. Now there is a range of options. Sleep hygiene aims to change poor bedtime habits and improvements in medications can not only provide natural sleep but also avoid next day side effects.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2009

Webcast Transcript

DANIEL BUYSSE, MD: The amount of sleep that we need is the amount that keeps us awake, feeling refreshed and able to concentrate and function well during the day.

ANNONCER: But every night, an estimated 70 million Americans don't achieve that goal.

GARY ZAMMIT, PhD: The bad news about insomnia is that it can be debilitating. The good news is that there are treatments available, and these treatments include nonpharmacologic as well as pharmacologic treatments.

The nonpharmacologic treatments for insomnia include things like sleep hygiene, stimulus control therapy, sleep restriction therapy, relaxation therapies and other therapies, such as light therapy, that might be helpful to sleepers.

ANNOUNCER: Everyday stress can be a factor in poor sleep, so doctors often recommend a program that promotes relaxation.

DANIEL BUYSSE, MD: There are many different relaxation techniques ranging from progressive muscle relaxation to guided imagery, even to meditation techniques and yoga. All of them, though, have in common the fact that they reduce a person's arousal level and really help to refocus attention from the sleep problem to some other more neutral stimulus.

ANNOUNCER: Other techniques include learning new bedtime behaviors.

GARY ZAMMIT, PhD: The person with insomnia who tosses and turns in bed for a couple of nights begins to associate the bed and the bedroom with wakefulness rather than sleep. So stimulus control tries to break those associations by making sure that the sleeper gets out of bed whenever he or she is awake.

DANIEL BUYSSE, MD: People will talk on the telephone, watch TV, balance their checkbook. And all of those things keep us awake in bed when what we're really trying to do is train ourselves to be asleep in bed. So eliminating bedtime activities that have nothing to do with sleep is one important aspect of sleep hygiene.

ANNOUNCER: But changing habits can take time.

DANIEL BUYSSE, MD: Behavioral treatments for insomnia can be very effective for people who are highly motivated and people who are able to practice the techniques that are given to them. The downside of behavioral treatments is that they require some time with a practitioner and it's important for patients to realize that these techniques don't work overnight, so to speak.

ANNOUNCER: For some, prescription medications may offer relief.

DANIEL BUYSSE, MD: The only drugs currently approved for treatment of insomnia are hypnotic drugs that tend to fall into one of two classes. One class is benzodiazepine drugs that are similar to some of the older drugs like Valium, Librium or Ativan.

Interestingly, the most common side effect is also the desired effect. That is, if a drug makes us sleepy at night, it's a therapeutic effect. If it makes us sleepy into the next morning, we consider that to be a side effect.

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