Insomnia ranks right behind the common cold, stomach disorders, and headaches as the reasons people seek a doctor's help. In a Gallup poll of more than 1,000 adults, one-third complained that they woke in the middle of the night and couldn't fall back to sleep.
At one time, doctors might have automatically prescribed a pill or two to ease you into dreamland, but that isn't always the case today. Researchers and doctors are learning more about sleep each year, broadening their knowledge of how to deal with its related problems.
Indeed, there are quite a few commonsense approaches that you can use to try to correct the problem yourself. It may take just one therapy; it may take a combination. In any case, the key to success is discipline. As Michael Stevenson, Ph.D., says, "Sleep is a natural physiological phenomenon, but it's also a learned behavior."
Serious sleeping troubles sometimes can result in what experts call chronic insomnia, which could have profound underpinnings, such as psychiatric disturbance, breathing problems, or unexplained leg movements during the middle of the night. Experts agree that if you can't easily fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night for a month or so, it may be time to consult an expert.
According to the American Sleep Disorders Association, first explain your problems to your personal physician. If your doctor can't offer any advice, have her recommend a sleep-disorders specialist.
Sonia Ancoli-Israel, Ph.D., is a psychologist and a professor in the department of psychiatry and research director of the Sleep Center at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine.
Jean R. Joseph-Vanderpool, M.D., is an associate program director for the Sleep Disorder Center at Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas.
David Neubauer, M.D., is an associate director at the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center in Baltimore. He is also a general psychiatrist in the department of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University, also in Baltimore.
Magdi Soliman, Ph.D., is a professor of neuropharmacology at Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy in Tallahassee, Florida.
Edward Stepanski, Ph.D., is a sleep specialist, was formerly the director of the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Michael Stevenson, Ph.D., is a psychologist and clinical director of the North Valley Sleep Disorders Center in Mission Hills, California.
James K. Walsh, Ph.D., is executive director and senior scientist at the Sleep Medicine and Research Center of St. John's/St. Luke's Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, and adjunct professor of psychology at Saint Louis University.