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Your Healthy Family: Exactly what is insomnia, and do you really have it?

Posted at 9:26 AM, Nov 12, 2018
and last updated 2019-07-09 11:27:39-04

COLORADO SPRINGS – If you’re still working to adjust your sleeping schedule after the time change from Daylight Saving Time, this is a great time to take note of your overall sleep health. For example, it would be obvious to you if you have insomnia, right?

Dr. Timothy Rummel, medical director of the UCHealth Sleep Medicine Center at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, explains: “If the patient is saying they perceive that they are not getting enough sleep, that they are frustrated by difficulty falling or staying asleep, that is insomnia.  The clinical definition of insomnia is defined by the patient.”

With other sleep conditions like sleep apnea, the main challenge is awareness, but once it’s diagnosed, it’s easier to explain and treat than insomnia,says Dr. Rummel.

“When we talk about insomnia it’s multi-factorial and more complex so it is more difficult to understand.  Everyone has a different insomnia story, and the factors that contribute to their insomnia are different for each person.”

Sometimes insomnia can be cured with some behavior modification, particularly in cases where people find themselves lying awake in bed worrying.

Dr. Rummel says, “We call that psychophysiologic insomnia, and it means psychological worries are making their body have a higher arousal.  The more they worry, the more frustrated they are by not sleeping, and the more aroused they are, and the less likely they are to sleep.”

It’s a pattern that needs to be broken but isn’t often easily recognized because many simply feel the bed is the place you should be at night.

“Sleep is a passive thing. You have to set up the right atmosphere to fall asleep.  If your bedroom has become your worrying place or you’re fretful place, you have to change that habit.”

Like many habits, restlessly worrying in bed can be a hard one to break, but it’s often a better option than medication.  “One of our simplest things is we tell people ‘when you start worrying, you have to get out of bed and go someplace else, get your mind off it, do something that is relaxing.  Reading a magazine, watching TV, something simple, washing the dishes and then when you feel like you could nod off again, you go back to bed. If you start worrying again, you have to break the habit and get out of bed again.’  It can be a really tough discipline to develop.”

If you have any questions about any of your sleep habits or health, your primary care doctor is the best place to start asking questions.