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Self-Help for Insomnia & Sleep Deprivation

A Self-Help Workbook by Lucinda Sykes , M.D.

Chapter 2

Sleep Disorders & Other Medical Causes of Insomnia


When should I talk to a doctor about my insomnia?

Insomnia is common and it doesn’t always need medical help. Many healthy people have trouble sleeping from time to time. For example, a healthy person can have temporary sleeplessness caused by a stressful event, or work/family demands, or noise/disturbance at night. In such cases, normal sleep returns after the cause passes.

  • Consult your doctor if sleep problems persist for longer than 2-3 weeks.
  • Consult your doctor if you have additional symptoms other than just occasional sleeplessness.
  • Consult your doctor if you think that lack of sleep is harming your health or family/work life.

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Your Doctor’s Role

To your doctor, insomnia is a symptom with many possible causes. The doctor investigates & diagnoses your condition so that appropriate treatment can be prescribed. A medical doctor follows standard treatment guidelines based on your diagnosis.

The doctor will check for the psychological or physical illnesses that cause lack of sleep. Often these medical conditions can be treated and then you will sleep better.

After initial investigations, your doctor might refer you to a sleep specialist to evaluate your sleep problem in detail. A sleep specialist is usually another medical doctor or a clinical psychologist.

Even while investigations continue, the doctor usually begins insomnia treatment by offering advice about “sleep hygiene” and a “sleep diary” (see Chapter 3).

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Medical Conditions that Cause Lack of Sleep

Several medical conditions can cause sleep problems and lack of sleep. These include various neurological and psychiatric illnesses, conditions of endocrine (hormonal) or metabolic imbalance, gastrointestinal disturbance, urinary frequency, fever, and chronic pain. In these various conditions, lack of sleep or sleep disturbance is just one symptom of the illness.

“Sleep disorders” are a special category of medical condition. In sleep disorders, the sleep problem is the main or only symptom.

Interestingly, not all sleep disorders involve insomnia. People with some sleep disorders actually get too much sleep! Other sleep disorders give people unusual movements or other problems associated with sleep. Some types of sleep disorder are caused by other medical illnesses.

Your doctor can determine if your insomnia should be diagnosed as a sleep disorder. If so, the doctor will advise you on appropriate treatment.

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Two Sleep Problems to Watch For

Your doctor will ask if you (or your spouse) have noticed signs of “obstructive sleep apnea”. People with this serious sleep disorder exhibit prolonged snoring, sometimes with gasping or choking. There may be frequent long pauses between breaths while they sleep. In the morning they feel tired and not refreshed. This sleep disorder requires early medical treatment because obstructive sleep apnea affects the health of the heart and other body systems.

Depression is a common insomnia cause, but sometimes people feel reluctant to discuss this with their doctor. If you’ve lost interest in life, have been been feeling sad or lonely, and maybe have problems concentrating, you might be experiencing a depression. (Depression can also cause crying spells, weight change, or decreased appetite.) If any of these symptoms apply to you, talk to your doctor. Your depression can likely be treated and your sleep restored.

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Is self-help useful for sleep disorders?

If you are diagnosed with a sleep disorder, your doctor will supervise your treatment. The doctor usually offers some self-help suggestions. (The doctor may call this “sleep hygiene” advice, as described in Chapter 3.)

Even if a sleep disorder is caused by physical or hormonal imbalance, factors of diet and lifestyle can worsen insomnia. Discuss this possibility with your doctor.

During illness, some people develop the “habit of insomnia” (as described in Chapter 14). This means insomnia persists even after the illness has ended. Using self-help methods, the habit of insomnia can be understood and changed -- but first the initial illness must be adequately treated.

Sometimes people can’t sleep even with the best medical care. In that case, self-help methods give people a way to cope with sleeplessness. They can learn to relax and find stress relief even while they can’t sleep (as described in Chapters 18-20).

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Can this workbook & CD help sleep disorders?

Chapters 5-17 offer self-help tips that might help you if you have a sleep disorder that’s worsened by diet, lifestyle & stress. (Check with your doctor.)

Chapters 18-20 explain self-help practices to help people cope with sleeplessness. These practices can be helpful for the sleeplessness of most types of sleep disorder. (Check with your doctor.)

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What about alternative treatment for sleep disorders?

A person diagnosed with a sleep disorder has a medical condition that should be supervised by a suitably trained medical doctor or clinical psychologist.

Reliable information about alternative treatments is available from medical doctors educated in “integrative medicine”. Integrative medicine combines standard medical treatment with alternative treatments that have been investigated scientifically & shown to be safe and effective.

Look for a medical doctor in your area who has interest & training in integrative medicine. (Note: Integrative medicine is sometimes still called “complementary medicine” or “alternative medicine” or “CAM”.)

A medical doctor practicing integrative medicine can refer you to alternative health practitioners even while continuing to supervise your care.

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Note: This workbook of “Better Sleep Tips” is included with purchase of the Sleep Meditation CD.

Chapter Selection -> 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8-20   Sleep Meditation CD

sleep meditation cd
  • a self-help CD for people who have trouble sleeping
  • easy to follow even if you’ve never meditated before
  • helps occasional and chronic sleeplessness
  • listen to a sample audio clip

CAUTION:“Self Help for Insomnia” is an educational site about adult insomnia & sleep deprivation. This site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. The site provides general information that might not apply to your particular sleep problem.

If you have chronic trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. Discuss this site’s information & CD with your doctor to decide what’s appropriate for you.

Be sure to read Chapter 2: Sleep Disorders & Other Medical Causes of Lack of Sleep.

Copyright ©2007 Lucinda Sykes
Permission granted for personal, non-commercial use
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