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I find the nights long, for I sleep but little, and think much.

-Charles Dickens

The impact of Insomnia

About 10% of the Canadian population is afflicted by insomnia and another 25% is dissatisfied with their sleep or experiences occasional insomnia symptoms. Poor sleep has become epidemic in Canada.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep problem characterized by one or more of the following:

  1. difficulty falling asleep
  2. difficulty staying asleep
  3. early awakening
  4. non restorative sleep.

Insomnia is not defined by the number of hours of sleep at night; everyone’s sleep requirements are different.  Sometimes insomnia can happen for a few days or weeks, often due to a temporary stress.  This is called acute insomnia.  But when the sleep problem persists for more than 3 months, it is called chronic insomnia.  Chronic insomnia rarely resolves on its own.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

People with insomnia often:

  • Have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
  • Experience daytime fatigue or lack of energy
  • Struggle with daytime sleepiness (e.g., difficulty staying awake)
  • Have trouble focusing or have memory problems
  • Are irritable
  • Have excessive worry about sleep
  • Make workplace errors or have accidents more often than usual

When should I seek help?

If you suffer from insomnia and it is causing you distress, you should seek help from your medical doctor or nurse practitioner.

What are the treatment options for insomnia?

The treatment approach is different for every patient. If a medical problem is causing or contributing to your insomnia, it should first be treated so you can sleep better. For example, if you snore loudly at night because you have undiagnosed, untreated sleep apnea, getting a proper diagnosis and treatment (e.g., using a CPAP machine at night) will already improve your sleep. For chronic insomnia, there are two specific, first-line, evidence-based treatment options available.

1. Sleeping pills.  

Prescription sleeping pills are often use in acute insomnia.  As acute insomnia turns into chronic insomnia, many patients unfortunately find themselves depending every night on their sleeping pills.  Different sleeping pills can be prescribed for sleep, each with a unique and specific side effect profiles.  Sleeping pills’ side effects range from memory impairment and daytime sleepiness to dizziness and hallucinations.  Over-the-counter ‘sleep supplements’ are not safe nor effective in treating chronic insomnia, and therefore are not recommended.

2. Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (or CBT-i).  

CBT-i has gained preference in the last decade from both patients and healthcare practitioners alike.  It is a validated form of psychotherapy with a strong emphasis on education about behavourial conditioning, cognitive restructuring, relaxation training, and sleep hygiene principles to effectively treat insomnia and develop self-efficacy about sleep.

Can drinking alcohol help me sleep?

No.  Many people turn to alcohol when they cannot find sleep.  The truth is that “night caps” can help you fall asleep faster since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant (which means that alcohol slows down your brain) BUT they also change the quality of your sleep (e.g., interrupted, or restless sleep) and your sleep pattern (e.g., absence of REM sleep).

Bottom line: never use alcohol to treat insomnia.

If you have been struggling with chronic insomnia, book your sleep consultation with our expert team now.  Our CBT-i program will help you learn the tools and acquire the skills to break old patterns and habits that interfere with your sleep.

Relevant OHIP-funded Group Counselling

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