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Counting sheep? Tips for the eternally tired

Didn't sleep at all last night? In part four of the special series, “Sleep from A to Z,” the “Today” show examines the types and causes of insomnia.
/ Source: TODAY

Are you one of the many who have been tossing and turning all night? With over 100 million Americans claiming they suffer from insomnia, the sleeping pill culture is popping. In response, a $2 billion industry has sprung up. The “Today” show's continuing series, “Sleep from A to Z,” takes a closer look at this common problem.

Insomnia — a term used broadly to define “difficulty with sleeping” — can take many forms. Your insomnia may be characterized by one of these problems primarily, but it most likely will entail some combination of:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep; frequent wakings
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling rested when you wake up

Insomnia is estimated to affect more than half of the U.S. adult population. In a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 58 percent of adults reported having insomnia at least a few nights a week. And the vast majority of those surveyed agreed that sleep loss can have a major impact on their lives:

  • 93 percent agreed that sleep loss can impair work performance
  • 92 percent felt that sleep loss can increase one's risk of injuries
  • 90 percent agreed that not getting enough sleep makes it difficult to get along with others
  • 86 percent believed that sleep deficits can lead to health problems

Types of insomnia
There are three basic types of insomnia:

Transient insomnia lasts only a few nights. It is often caused by jet lag, temporary stress, excitement, illness, or a change in sleep schedule.

Short-term insomnia lasts up to three weeks. It often results from more prolonged stress or worries, such as financial troubles, death of a loved one, job change, or divorce. If not addressed, short-term insomnia may escalate into a chronic problem.

Chronic insomnia, also known as long-term insomnia, lasts more than a month. It can occur every night, most nights, or several nights each month. Chronic insomnia is often caused by a medical problem; treating the underlying problem may alleviate the insomnia. Chronic sleeplessness may also be caused by bad sleep habits.

Causes of insomnia
You might be surprised at the vast range of factors that can cause sleep problems. Health and lifestyle issues such as stress, illness, or sleep environment might be at play. Or you might have a sleep disorder that interferes with the quality of your sleep. Whatever the cause or causes of your insomnia, there are effective solutions.

Your emotional life Stress, anxiety, worry: Temporary anxieties (such as having to give a presentation at work) as well as periods of life change (a death in the family, a divorce) can lead to trouble sleeping.

Depression and other mood disorders: Depression and sleep problems are closely linked. Insomnia can be an early sign of depression.

Your physical health Chronic medical conditions: Asthma, arthritis, and other long-term problems can be at the root of sleep problems.

Medications: Medicines for chronic conditions can contribute to sleep problems. Common examples: antidepressants, arthritis medications, asthma medications, blood pressure medications, cold/allergy medications, and diet pills.

Food, drink, and other stimulants: Alcohol consumed at night may help you fall asleep but may cause you to wake during the night. Caffeine-containing beverages (coffee, tea, cola) can hinder sleep if ingested in the evening. For some people, drinking caffeine at any time of day can cause sleep problems at night. Likewise, smoking cigarettes in the evening can be problematic, as nicotine is a stimulant. Heavy, spicy, or high-sugar foods eaten at night can cause indigestion strong enough to wake you.

Sleep routine (or lack thereof): Going to bed and waking up at vastly different times each day can make sleep more difficult.

Your sleep environment
Your bedroom may not be as conducive to sleep as it could be. Are any of the following a problem in your home?

Noise:Even if you fall back to sleep after noise wakes you, the quality of your sleep may be lessened.

Light: The issue isn't merely how light affects your eyes. Light also affects the way your brain produces hormones that regulate your sleep rhythms. Even a minimal amount of daylight shining through closed curtains can disrupt your sleep.

Room temperature: If you are too warm or too cold, you are less likely to sleep soundly.

Your partner: A sleep partner who snores, tosses and turns a lot, talks while sleeping, or gets up often can compromise your own sleep.