Insomnia, or sleeplessness, is a disorder in which there is an inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep as long as desired.
Insomnia is most often thought of as both a medical sign and a symptom that can accompany several sleep, medical, and psychiatric disorders characterized by a persistent difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep or sleep of poor quality. Insomnia is typically followed by functional impairment while awake. Insomnia can be short term (up to three weeks) or long term (more than 3–4 weeks), which can lead to memory problems, depression, irritability and an increased risk of heart disease and automobile related accidents.
Those having trouble sleeping sometimes turn to sleeping pills which can help when used occasionally but may lead to substance dependence or addiction if used regularly for an extended period. Because insomnia has become such a pervasive problem, research has focused on the use of sleep aids. Findings include shocking evidence that the wide use of Ambient (a common sleep aid) prevents normal progress through important stages of sleep and interferes with cellular metabolism during sleep.
It is important to identify or rule out medical and psychological causes before deciding on the treatment for insomnia. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been found to be as effective as prescription medications for short-term treatment of chronic insomnia. Moreover, there are indications that the beneficial effects of CBT, in contrast to those produced by medications, may last well beyond the termination of active treatment.
Pharmacological treatments have been used mainly to reduce symptoms in acute insomnia. However, many doctors do not recommend relying on prescription sleeping pills for long-term use. It is important to identify and treat other medical conditions that may be contributing to insomnia, such as depression, breathing problems, and chronic pain.
There is evidence that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for insomnia is superior to the long-term use of benzodiazepines and the nonbenzodiazepines in the treatment and management of insomnia. CBT teaches clients improved sleep habits and how to release counter-productive assumptions about sleep. Some of the common misconceptions that can be modified include:
- “I can get by on 4 to 6 hours of sleep each night” (unrealistic sleep expectations)
- “I cannot do anything after a bad night’s sleep” (amplifying the consequences of insomnia)
- “I have a chemical imbalance that’s causing my insomnia,” (misconceptions about insomnia causes).
Numerous studies have reported positive outcomes of combining Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia with Relaxation therapies.
EEG biofeedback has been effective in the treatment of insomnia. Improvements in duration as well as quality of sleep have been noted.
Brain wave patterns found in individuals with the complaint of insomnia usually are lacking in adequate levels of alpha activity in the back of the brain. Alpha activity is dominant in stage-one sleep and usually begins the journey to deeper sleep. When alpha activity is sparse, the journey to sleep may be impaired.
A brain wave evaluation will quickly determine the production of alpha. Neurofeedback training to improve alpha levels has been found to be of benefit in the management of symptoms of insomnia.