The Chronic Insomniac
Her challenge: Kristy Lewis, 29, a married homemaker and photographer from Hampton, Virginia, can't remember a time when she didn't have trouble sleeping. "I thought it was normal to take an hour or longer to fall asleep, but in 2004 my doctor diagnosed me with insomnia," she says. She also wakes several times during the night and remains awake for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. She also suffers from restless legs syndrome and frequently talks in her sleep. Sleep medications help to some degree but leave her feeling drowsy the next day. She has also tried practicing yoga, doing vigorous exercise earlier in the day, avoiding caffeine, and reading or writing in a journal before bed.
Expert advice: "I would first want to investigate her restless legs problem," says sleep-medicine specialist David Neubauer. Restless legs syndrome, which has recently been taken more seriously by doctors, can sometimes be caused by anemia. If blood tests show that Kristy has anemia, iron supplementation could help. If anemia is not the cause, she could ask her doctor about medications like Mirapex and Requip, which are often prescribed for restless legs syndrome. Otherwise, Kristy might consider:
- Pay even more attention to her evening routine and her sleep environment. "Good sleep habits don't necessarily solve sleep problems, but they do create a foundation for improved sleep," says Neubauer. Good habits include things such as keeping the bedroom cool and dark, using a fan or a white-noise machine to create a blanket of sound, and using the bed exclusively as a place for sleeping―and not for watching television, for example.
- Making an appointment at a sleep clinic, which can be a smart step for people with a long history of sleep issues. Most often this involves office visits (which will not necessarily be overnight observations), during which the patient will undergo a physical examination and work with a doctor to assess and diagnose the cause of the sleep problems. (For more information or to locate a sleep specialist near you, go to the website of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, at aasmnet.org.)