Insomnia

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling and/or staying asleep.

The condition can be short-term (acute) or can last a long time (chronic). It may also come and go.

Acute insomnia lasts from 1 night to a few weeks. Insomnia is chronic when it happens at least 3 nights a week for 3 months or more.

Types of Insomnia

There are two types of insomnia: primary and secondary.

Insomnia Causes

Causes of primary insomnia include:

  • Stress related to big life events, like a job loss or change, the death of a loved one, divorce, or moving
  • Things around you like noise, light, or temperature
  • Changes to your sleep schedule like jet lag, a new shift at work, or bad habits you picked up when you had other sleep problems

Causes of secondary insomnia include:

Insomnia Risk Factors

Insomnia affects women more than men and older people more than younger ones. Young and middle-age African Americans also have a higher risk.

Other risk factors include:

  • Long-term illness
  • Mental health issues
  • Working night shifts or shifts that rotate

Insomnia Symptoms

Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Fatigue
  • Grumpiness
  • Problems with concentration or memory

Insomnia Diagnosis

Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your medical history and sleep history.

They might tell you to keep a sleep diary for a week or two, keeping track of your sleep patterns and how you feel during the day. They may talk to your bed partner about how much and how well you’re sleeping. You might also have special tests at a sleep center.

Continued

Insomnia Treatment

Acute insomnia may not need treatment.

If it’s hard for you to do everyday activities because you’re tired, your doctor may prescribe sleeping pills for a short time. Medicines that work quickly but briefly can help you avoid problems like drowsiness the next day.

Don’t use over-the-counter sleeping pills for insomnia. They might have side effects, and they tend to work less well over time.

For chronic insomnia, you’ll need treatment for the conditions or health problems that are keeping you awake. Your doctor might also suggest behavioral therapy. This can help you change the things you do that make insomnia worse and learn what you can do to promote sleep.

Insomnia Complications

Our bodies and brains need sleep so they can repair themselves. It’s also crucial for learning and keeping memories. If insomnia is keeping you awake, you could have:

  • A higher risk of health problems like high blood pressure, obesity, and depression
  • A higher risk of falling, if you’re an older woman
  • Trouble focusing
  • Anxiety
  • Grumpiness
  • Slow reaction time that can lead to a car crash

Insomnia Prevention

Good sleep habits, also called sleep hygiene, can help you beat insomnia. Here are some tips:

  • Go to sleep at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning. Try not to take naps during the day, because they may make you less sleepy at night.
  • Don’t use phones or e-books before bed. Their light can make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can keep you from falling asleep. Alcohol can make you wake up in the middle of the night and hurt your sleep quality.
  • Get regular exercise. Try not to work out close to bedtime, because it may make it hard to fall asleep. Experts suggest exercising at least 3 to 4 hours before bed.
  • Don't eat a heavy meal late in the day. But a light snack before bedtime may help you sleep.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable: dark, quiet, and not too warm or too cold. If light is a problem, use a sleeping mask. To cover up sounds, try earplugs, a fan, or a white noise machine.
  • Follow a routine to relax before bed. Read a book, listen to music, or take a bath.
  • Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleep and sex.
  • If you can't fall asleep and aren’t drowsy, get up and do something calming, like reading until you feel sleepy.
  • If you tend to lie awake and worry about things, make a to-do list before you go to bed. This may help you put your concerns aside for the night.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 04, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Insomnia Association.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Insomnia.”

National Sleep Foundation: “Insomnia.”

Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: “Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, and Consequences.”

Office on Women’s Health: “Insomnia.”

Mayo Clinic: “Insomnia.”

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