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New Answers for Insomniacs

Insomnia is the most common form of sleep disorder, and a new study indicates that there may be a physical reason for why some people have this problem.

Dr. George Chrousos of the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, is an endocrinologist and an author of the study. He visited the Early Show to explain the findings.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the National Institute of Child Health and Development studied the sleep patterns of 11 insomniacs--both men and women--and of 13 healthy people without sleeping problems for four consecutive nights in a sleeping lab.

Researchers found that those with sleeping problems had higher secretions of the hormones ACTH [adrenocorticotropic hormone] and cortisol, which are stress hormones. Insomnia is usually associated with psychological factors, particularly with stress. That is why this study, although it is small, is interesting.

Chrousos described insomniacs as chronically tired and chronically aroused people, in terms of their hormone levels. So people should try to relax as much as they can during the day and take breaks to reduce stress. He said that doctors have to focus more on treating the whole person--not just on getting a night's sleep.

Insomniacs should not be prescribed a Valium or a sleeping pill, says Chrousos, because that only takes care of the problem for one night. In his opinion, it's not just the time when insomniacs should be sleeping in the evening that physicians should be concerned about. They should be focused on treatment that moderates or eliminates the persistent arousal that stress hormones cause.

Estimates of how many people suffer from insomnia vary. It has been estimated that up to half of all adult Americans have occasional problems sleeping. For more information visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
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