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Insomnia is awful, treatable
Insomnia is maddening but treatable

Date published: 1/21/2007

"HOW DO PEOPLE go to sleep? I'm afraid I've lost the knack. I might try busting myself smartly over the temple with the nightlight. I might repeat to myself, slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound-- if I can remember."

Anyone who's experienced persistent insomnia can understand the frustration and mental fogginess described by American writer and poet Dorothy Parker, but before you knock yourself over the head with a lighting fixture, there are better alternatives.

Insomnia affects all of us occasionally, but for some it can be very debilitating. And, if you're a woman, you're twice as likely to suffer from difficulty sleeping as is a man.

Insomnia is more than just a frustrating nuisance. It can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, clouded thinking, difficulty staying focused, depression and irritability, and it can even affect your ability to drive safely.

Recent studies have found that the impact on driving ability from sleep deprivation rivals that from alcohol.

More than just the inability to fall asleep, insomnia includes waking up multiple times throughout the night without easily returning to sleep, waking up too early or sleeping long enough but waking unrefreshed.

Poor Dorothy Parker may have had to resort to self-inflicted violence to deal with her insomnia, but fortunately you don't have to. By adopting a few key habits you may find yourself fast asleep in no time. And, if these don't work, newer insomnia medications are safer and more effective than ever.

Strategizing for sleep

Often, insomnia results from an underlying medical or psychological condition, so it's not a bad idea to consult your doctor if your difficulty sleeping is accompanied by other unusual symptoms.

For women, a common example is perimenopause--hot flashes and night sweats can often interrupt sleep. Another is pregnancy, where increasing discomfort may result as the pregnancy progresses, leading to less than satisfying sleep.

Pinpointing the cause of insomnia may require a sleep diary, a conversation with your sleep partner or a referral to a sleep center.

Assuming the absence of an underlying medical or psychological condition, there are numerous lifestyle changes that will improve your chances of getting a good night's sleep.

Some tips:

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.

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DR. ARLENE LEWIS is a gynecologist in private practice at Thrive! Health and Wellness Center for Women in Fredericksburg.