Insomnia is a sleep disorder. Individuals who suffer from insomnia find it
difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. They don’t feel refreshed when
they wake up from sleeping. This can lead to fatigue and other symptoms. Insomnia
can be diagnosed as short-term, acute, or long-term, also referred to as chronic.
Risk factors for
Insomnia can occur at any age, and is more likely to affect women than men.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, people with
certain risk factors are more likely to have insomnia. These risk factors
- high levels of stress
- emotional disorders, such as depression or distress,
related to a traumatic life event
- lower income
- traveling to different time zones
- certain medical conditions
- sedentary lifestyle
- changes in work hours or night shifts
Causes of insomnia
Acute insomnia is typically caused by stress or an upsetting event. It can
last for days, or even weeks.
Chronic insomnia occurs three times a week for three months or more. This
type of insomnia is often secondary to another problem or a combination of
problems, such as:
- medical conditions
- psychological issues
- substance abuse
Primary insomnia may be triggered by life changes, such as an ever-evolving
Symptoms of insomnia
People who experience insomnia usually report at least one of these
- waking too early in the morning
- unrefreshing sleep
- trouble falling or staying asleep
These symptoms of insomnia can lead to other symptoms, such
as fatigue, mood changes, and difficulty concentrating on tasks during the day.
Your doctor will ask questions about your:
- medical conditions
- social environment
- psychological/emotional conditions
- sleep history
This will provide information that can help find underlying causes of sleep
problems. You might be asked to:
- keep a sleep log
- recording when you fall asleep
- note whether you woke up repeatedly
- report what time you wake up each day
A sleep log will give your doctor a picture of your sleep patterns. The
doctor may also order medical tests or blood work to rule out medical problems
that can interfere with your sleep.
Sometimes a sleep study is recommended. For this, you’ll stay overnight at a
sleep center. Electrodes will be placed on your body, which will record
brainwaves and sleep cycles. The neuroelectrical and physiological information
from this type of study provides your doctor with potentially important
diagnostic information about your sleep issues.
Treatment of insomnia
There are both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical treatments for
insomnia. Your doctor can talk to you about what treatments might be
appropriate for you. You may need to try a number of different treatments
before find the one that is the most effective for you.
Sleep hygiene training may be recommended. Sometimes, behaviors that
interfere with sleep are causing insomnia. Sleep hygiene training can help you
change some of these disruptive behaviors, such as:
- Avoiding caffeinated beverages near bedtime.
- Avoiding exercise near bedtime.
- Minimizing time spent on your bed when you’re
not specifically intending to sleep, such as watching TV or surfing the web on
your cell phone.
If there is an underlying psychological or medical disorder contributing to your
insomnia, getting appropriate treatment for it can alleviate sleep
Sometimes, medications are used to treat insomnia. An example of an over the
counter medication that can be used for sleep is an antihistamine, such as
diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Medications like this can have side effects, so
it’s important to talk to a doctor before starting yourself on an
over-the-counter medication for insomnia.
Talk with your doctor before using any of the following to treat your
There might be dangerous side effects or drug interactions. Not every “sleep
aid” drug is appropriate for everyone. Many cases of insomnia can be much more
effectively managed by lifestyle changes or other remedies.
Insomnia isn’t just a nuisance or a small inconvenience. It’s a real sleep
disorder, and it can be treated. If you think you have insomnia, talk to your
doctor. By exploring possible causes, you can get the appropriate and safe
treatment you need.