Get developments in medicine, nutrition and fitness delivered to your inbox with our The Health Report newsletter. Sign up »
There are several cognitive and behavioral techniques that may help you stay asleep at night, says Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, director of sleep medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Some simple suggestions include:
* Keep a regular sleep schedule (go to sleep and wake up at the same time, night after night, even on the weekends)
* Limit exposure to bright lights at night (light is the main signal to our brain's circadian clock)
* Eliminate caffeine consumption for seven to 10 hours before bedtime
* Limit late-night alcohol to one drink (alcohol can help you fall asleep, but in large quantities it disrupts the quality of sleep that follows)
"Some more intensive techniques that have proven to be effective for insomnia include cognitive behavioral therapy and certain medications," says Ellenbogen. "These should be done under the guidance of a doctor.
"As a sleep physician evaluating a patient with insomnia, I always ask myself: 'Is this really insomnia?' "he adds. "While insomnia is very common among adults, many sleep disorders can masquerade as insomnia, including obstructive sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, disorders of circadian rhythm and even narcolepsy. They do this by disrupting sleep."
It's important to distinguish between these very different disorders, Ellenbogen says, because each has different associated problems and different treatment strategies. So he advises anyone with problems sleeping at night to talk with his or her physician.
"A doctor trained in sleep medicine can pick up on clues of these disorders, and a sleep laboratory can provide valuable information that can secure a diagnosis and lead to treatment," he says.