Insomnia Mysteries Keep Sleep Experts Up Nights

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ALTHOUGH ALMOST A THIRD of American adults have frequent trouble sleeping, an expert panel convened by the National Institutes of Health recently concluded that science knows surprisingly little about the causes and cures of chronic insomnia. The experts' report called insomnia a major public health problem, and warned that too many sufferers are using unproven treatments to combat sleeplessness. The most common of these are alcohol-which actually disrupts quality sleep-and over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl, which can leave users drowsy the next day. The panel also found no evidence for the effectiveness of popular dietary supplements melatonin and valerian as insomnia treatments.

So what does work? Cognitive/behavioral therapy can help insomniacs break out of their sleepless habits. It's important, though, to consult only a board-certified psychologist or sleep specialist, the report cautioned. The experts also cited newer prescription treatments such as Sonata, Ambien and Lunesta as effective over longer periods of time and without the side effects of trazodone, the most commonly prescribed sleep aid.

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