Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Sleep Disorders Health Center

Font Size

An Overview of Insomnia

Can't get to sleep at night? Can't stay asleep? Insomnia is a sleep disorder that prevents people from falling and/or staying asleep. People with insomnia have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up during the night and having trouble going back to sleep
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Feeling tired when you wake up
  • Being sleepy or tired during the day
  • Feeling cranky or irritable
  • Problems with focus or memory

Types

Primary insomnia is not directly linked to any other health condition or problem.

Secondary insomnia comes from something else, like a health condition (such as asthma, depression, arthritis, cancer, or heartburn), pain, a medication, or a substance like alcohol.

Acute vs. Chronic

Insomnia can be short-term (acute), or it can last a long time (chronic). It can also come and go, with periods of time when a person sleeps fine. Acute insomnia can last up to 3 months and often has a cause like stress. Insomnia is chronic when a person has sleep trouble at least 3 nights a week for a month or longer. Insomnia can last for years if you don't treat the cause.

Causes

Causes of acute insomnia can include:

  • Major life stress (job loss or change, death of a loved one, divorce, moving)
  • Illness
  • Emotional or physical discomfort
  • Noise, light, or being too hot or too cold while you're trying to sleep
  • Some medications (such as those for colds, allergies, depression, high blood pressure, and asthma)
  • Changes to a normal sleep schedule (like jet lag or switching from a day shift to night shift, for example)

Causes of chronic insomnia include:

  • Irregular sleep schedules
  • Substances that interfere with sleep (alcohol, caffeine, nicotine)
  • Activities that stimulate the brain (playing video games, watching TV) or the body (exercise) right before bedtime
  • Using the bedroom for activities other than sleep and sex
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Chronic stress
  • Pain or discomfort at night
  • Poor sleep habits

Diagnosing the Problem

If you think you have insomnia, talk to your doctor or health care provider. A checkup may include a physical exam and questions about your health and sleep problems. You may be asked to keep a sleep diary for a week or 2, where you keep track of your sleep patterns and how you feel during the day. Your health care provider may want to talk to your bed partner, too, about the amount and quality of your sleep. In some cases, you may be referred to a sleep center for special tests.

Treatment

You may not even need any treatment for acute insomnia. In mild cases, it can be cured with good sleep habits (see below). If your insomnia makes it hard for you to function during the day because you are tired, your doctor may prescribe sleeping pills for a limited time. These quick-working, short-acting drugs can help you avoid next-day drowsiness. But avoid using over-the-counter sleeping pills for insomnia. They may have side effects, and they tend to work less well over time.

WebMD Medical Reference

Today on WebMD

Alcohol Disrupting Your Sleep
Article
Sweating Evaluator
Article
 
Lavender sprig
Article
Always Sleepy Causes Fixes For Fat
Slideshow
 

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

How Many Hours Did You Sleep Last Night?
Is that amount of sleep typical for you?
Did you get enough sleep to feel alert today and function at your best?

Get the latest Sleep Disorders newsletter delivered to your inbox!


or
Answer:
0-6
7-8
9+

Your level is currently

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or other conditions affecting your sleep.

Sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping, have insomnia, or have other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep, since sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep because sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping or have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's important to keep your bedtime and routine consistent every night and wake up around the same time every morning.

Click here to read more about the importance of sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep this amount, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep longer, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's also important to keep bedtime consistent and wake up around the same time every morning.

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and waking up at the same time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia, another sleep disorder, or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or another sleep disorder or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Effect of short sleep duration on daily activities--United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2011; 60:239.

Carskadon, MA, Dement, WC. Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In: Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine, Fifth, Kryger, MH, Roth, et al. (Eds), Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, MO 2011. p.16.

Harvard University: "Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety."

Did You Know Lifestyle Choices
Impact Your Sleep?

Use the WebMD Sleep Tracker to track
your ZZZs over time.

Get Started

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Young woman sleeping
Quiz
Cannot sleep
Video
 
child sitting in bed
Article
Woman with insomnia
Quiz
 

nurse sleeping
ARTICLE
Foods That Help Or Harm Your Sleep
SLIDESHOW
 
Insomnia 20 Tips For Better Sleep
Slideshow
Pain at Night
ARTICLE