If you’re one of the many people who have difficulty sleeping, you’re not alone. But just how common is insomnia, and is it what you’re experiencing?

Insomnia is a condition that impacts your quality of sleep. It’s identified by an inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or return to sleep after waking up too soon.

If your symptoms occur at least 3 days out of the week and have been lingering for several months, you may be experiencing chronic insomnia.

Recognized as a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), chronic insomnia is also referred to as insomnia disorder.

Not all insomnia is chronic. It’s possible to experience short-term insomnia, a condition that can be brought on by stress and changes in your environment, lasting a few days to weeks.

Insomnia can also be a symptom of other health conditions.

The exact prevalence of insomnia varies across research models and by how insomnia is defined.

According to the DSM-5-TR, one-third of adults report insomnia symptoms, with 6% to 10% meeting the criteria for insomnia disorder.

A 2019 review found 1 in 3 people reported symptoms from the previous year, and between 6% and 15% met the criteria for a formal diagnosis.

Similar rates were noted in a 2020 journal overview, indicating:

  • approximately 30%–40% of adults in the U.S. report symptoms of insomnia annually
  • an estimated 9.5% of people experience short-term insomnia
  • 1 in 5 cases of short-term insomnia progress to chronic insomnia

The numbers are similar, even under broader definitions.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), defines “short sleep” as not meeting national guidelines for your age group. Short sleep can be a symptom of insomnia but doesn’t necessarily mean you’re experiencing a sleep disorder.

According to the CDC, the crude prevalence for short sleep is:

  • children (4 months–14 years): 34.4%
  • high school students: 77.9%
  • adults: 32.8%

How many people have chronic insomnia?

The DSM-5-TR and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine indicate chronic insomnia disorder affects up to 10% of people with insomnia symptoms.

Some populations may have higher rates of insomnia than others.

High prevalence was noted, for example, in a 5-year Canadian population-based study of more than 3,000 adults. Researchers found as many as 37.5% of people living with insomnia reported persisting symptoms during each of the annual 5-year follow-ups.

Sleep can be negatively affected by dozens of individual circumstances. Once sleep is disturbed, the effects can cause more sleep dysfunction, creating a persistent and progressive cycle.

This may be one reason why insomnia is so common — it has a multitude of causes.

Just some of the factors that can contribute to insomnia include:

  • mental health conditions
  • medications
  • hormonal shifts
  • neurological disorders
  • chronic pain conditions
  • respiratory conditions
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer
  • other sleep disorders
  • pregnancy
  • having a baby
  • having a partner who keeps you awake
  • uncomfortable bed
  • too much noise
  • too much light
  • stress
  • caffeine
  • alcohol and tobacco use
  • shift work
  • frequent travel over long distances
  • too much screen time before bed
  • poor temperature regulation
  • genetics
  • long daytime naps
  • not enough physical activity
  • substance misuse

You may be more likely to experience insomnia if you:

  • are older
  • have a family history of insomnia
  • perform night or shift work
  • have significant stress exposure
  • change time zones frequently
  • lead an inactive lifestyle
  • have a lower income
  • live with depression
  • are female
  • are African American
  • have poor sleep hygiene

The rate of insomnia appears to be increasing — and quickly. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of major increases in sleep disorders have been noted around the world.

While this trend may have been expedited by lifestyle overhauls and quarantine limitations, insomnia rates have already been on the incline for at least a decade.

In a 2015 study using the National Health Interview Survey, researchers found insomnia rates rose from 17.5% in 2002 to 19.2% in 2012.

A similar study published in 2019 found insomnia rates among senior Medicare beneficiaries rose from 3.9% in 2006 to 6.2% in 2013.

When you can’t get to sleep, stay asleep, or go back to sleep, you might be experiencing insomnia.

This common condition can affect anyone of any age, and it can have a wide variety of underlying causes including diet, medications, other health conditions, and genetics.

It’s possible for insomnia to get better. Medications, targeted psychotherapy, and over-the-counter supplements can help improve your sleep quality.

Sticking to a sleep routine might also help. Some options to consider include:

  • going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
  • eating meals on a regular schedule and avoiding late-night snacking
  • keeping a sleep diary
  • limiting how much liquid you drink before bedtime
  • avoiding naps, especially in the afternoon
  • getting regular physical activity
  • avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol close to bedtime
  • keeping your bedroom cool and dark
  • limiting screen time before bed