The statement “I cannot sleep” is the most common complaint I hear from patients. Insomnia can be transient or acute, lasting days to weeks. Chronic insomnia is diagnosed after a three-month period of sleepless nights. The first step in finding a resolution is listening to understand the root cause. The second step is identifying if the root cause is organic or inorganic. The third step is understanding ones willingness to make consistent lifestyle changes to improve the condition.

The rabbit hole of insomnia starts at the moment you choose how to treat the sleep disorder. It is often discovered individuals may self-medicate with over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as Tylenol PM, Advil, Benadryl, and even alcohol. This may initially improve sleep symptoms, but increase the risk of liver and kidney toxicity. The rabbit hole deepens once an individual is medically prescribed sleep medications without understanding the root cause. An important side note is OTC and prescribed sleep aids

may affect brain chemicals and the natural architecture of sleep cycles. Some individuals began to rely heavily on sleep aids and develop feelings of powerlessness. Some began to identify as terrible sleepers or an insomniac.

The recycling effects of insomnia can disrupt total wellness. Know there is hope and the rabbit hole can be stopped. Lifestyle and medical intervention may be needed. I would advise an individual to seek out a sleep specialist who listens. A specialist can help identify if an underlying medical issue (organic cause), or lifestyle factors (inorganic cause) are root causes. Diagnostic testing may be needed to further evaluate sleep complaints. Lastly, be truthful with your willingness to make consistent lifestyle changes. Behavior may be the perpetuating cause of ones insomnia. I recommend making the following three sleep behaviors foundational for optimal sleep health.

  1. Expose yourself to bright light during morning and afternoon hours, but not at night. Why? Bright light is a natural source that can improve alertness, energy, mood, and sleep cycles. Bright light exposure at night including LED and blue light can disrupt the circadian rhythm. It can also suppress the secretion of the melatonin hormone, produced by the pineal gland.
  2. Stop caffeine intake by noon. Why? Caffeine is a stimulant that has an average half-life of 5-6 hours. This means only half of the caffeine you consume is metabolized 5-6 hours after consumption. Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause insomnia.
  3. Develop and implement a regular sleep schedule 7 days a week. Why? A consistent sleep routine can align your circadian rhythm. This allows an opportunity for greater sleep efficiency.

For more information visit or call 901.255.7149.

Danielle Avery, DNP-FNP, BC, MSN-CNL. For more information call Neurology Clinic Sleep Center at 901.2555.7149 or visit