Insomnia is a condition that affects millions of people around the world. Women suffer from insomnia more than men yet often they're undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because their symptoms differ from men.
Dr. Meir Kryger, author of Can't Sleep, Can't Stay Awake: A Woman's Guide to Sleep Disorders joined Balance Television host Dr. Marla Shapiro to talk all about insomnia.
"Insomnia is really a symptom (not a disease). It's really something someone complains to a doctor about," Kryger said. "And sometimes the person that complains about insomnia doesn't even have it. In other words they can fall (asleep) very, very quickly but their perception is that it took them a long time to fall asleep."
"Basically the term insomnia refers to people who have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep," he said. "And many people actually have both symptoms."
For those suffering from insomnia to the point where it is affecting quality of life, Kryger says the first thing the individual should do is see a doctor to make sure there isn't a medical reason causing the problem. In his definition of medical reason he includes things such as depression, heart disease or taking a medication (such as an anti-depressant) that could adversely affect sleep. In short, it's important to try and determine the cause of the insomnia.
"For example, people with heart failure develop a breathing pattern where they stop breathing (at different times) throughout the entire night," Kryger said. "That actually wakes them up repetitively and so people with heart failure will have trouble falling asleep and they'll wake up sometimes very short of breath."
In cases where the individual has seen a doctor, had a full checkup and still no cause for the insomnia can be found, Kryger suggestst that the sleeping problem may be related to stress or behaviours developed over the years that keep the individual from sleeping.
"Stress is an extremely common cause," he said. "Their minds are thinking, they can't turn them off, they're thinking about work the next day and so forth. They have forgotten how to shut their minds down as they're trying to sleep."
As difficult as it may be, Kryger said, everyone needs to learn to shut the mind down unconsciously -- it can't be done willfully. Sometimes people need to visit a psychologist to learn how to do this, he said.
As far as medications are concerned, Kryger prefers ones that have actually been tested for insomnia. Many have never been tested for insomnia and are actually drugs used for anxiety, stress, seizures and other illnesses.
"Doctors are sometimes funny people and they will sometimes use the side-effect of a medication to treat insomnia," Kryger explained. "For example, many doctors in Canada will use very low doses of anti-depressants to treat insomnia. What they're doing there is they're actually using the side-effect of the anti-depressant (sleepiness)."
The issue is not one of danger, Kryger said, but rather one of effectiveness. Drugs that cause drowsiness or sleepiness usually leave the individual feeling groggy the next day.