In the United States alone, 70 million people suffer from sleep disorders. So how do doctors treat all these individuals? The treatment of sleep disorders can be divided into two basic categories: Behavioral therapy and medication. A successful plan may incorporate elements of both. Sleep-aid medications are often a short-term option for treating insomnia. They tend to provide quick relief from wakefulness, but can also result in addiction, and may have decreased effectiveness over time. Benzodiazepine hypnotics are one class of prescription drugs that are commonly used to treat insomnia. These drugs include temazepam, which is sold under the brand name Restoril, and flurazepam, also known as awake. Here's how benzodiazepines work: GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter found in the brain. When these medications enter the brain, they bind to a receptor on GABA, creating a sedative effect which induces sleep. These medications tend to have long-lasting action and are the most beneficial to those who frequently awaken during the night. Another group of medications, the non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, are chemically different than benzodiazepines but have a similar method of action....they also work by binding to a sleep-inducing receptor on GABA. Non-benzodiazepines include eszopiclone, which is commonly known as Lunesta, and zolpidem, which is sold under the name Ambien. These quick-acting, but short-lasting, medications are the most effective for people who have trouble initially falling asleep at night. Certain antidepressant medications are used to encourage sleep when chronic depression leads to insomnia. Examples include trazodone, or Desyrel and nortiptyline, or Pamelor. As with all prescription medications, sleep aids can be addictive and should only be used under the direct consultation of a doctor. People with circadian rhythm disruptions, like those who work odd hours or suffer from jet lag, may benefit from over-the-counter melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a hormone which is naturally released by the brain's pineal gland. This hormone influences the circadian rhythm cycle, or the body's natural sleep/wake patterns. During the day, levels are low, while darkness causes an increase in melatonin. While medications can be a great option for short-term insomnia, behavioral therapy is often necessary to make the habit changes that will lead to a lifetime of restorative sleep. Sleep hygiene measures are simple actions you can take to correct factors that stop you from getting sleep. Common examples include maintaining a regular sleep schedule seven days a week and only using the bed for sleeping and sex. People who lie in bed with their minds racing may benefit from relaxation therapy, which entails practices like progressive muscle relaxation and meditative breathing. If you suffer from a sleep disorder, your doctor will probably combine behavioral therapy with medication to treat the problem. These therapies all have high success rates, so the odds are good that you'll be sleeping soundly in no time!
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012