Health Watch -- Tossing and Turning

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

How much sleep are you really getting at night?

When we think of insomnia, we think of people staying up all night, wide awake and unable to sleep. But you don't have to be wide awake all night to have insomnia. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say that by a fairly conservative clinical definition, you have insomnia if you're awake for 15 percent of the time you spend in bed, trying to sleep.

For a standard eight-hour sleep period, that translates to 72 minutes a night, or a little more than an hour, spent awake on a regular basis, tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling. If it regularly takes you more than an hour to fall asleep after you go to bed, or if you wake up for a total of about an hour during the night, you could have insomnia.

Everyone experiences trouble sleeping from time to time, especially when you've got something on your mind. But Dr. John Herman, a UT Southwestern sleep disorders specialist, says you should seek medical attention if this kind of sleeplessness lasts for several weeks, or most nights for several months. 

Insomnia can be treated, so there's no need to let it go on this way, robbing you of much-needed rest. A sleep specialist can help you analyze your sleep patterns to find out why you're not sleeping well. Treatments may include medication or behavior modification to help you learn to sleep again.