Key Points about Insomnia

  • Insomnia is a sleep disorder marked by problems falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Insomnia can be acute—lasting for only one night or a few weeks—or chronic, meaning it occurs at least three times per week for over three months.
  • There are two categories of insomnia: primary insomnia and secondary insomnia.
  • Primary insomnia refers to sleep problems that are not attributable to any other underlying physical or mental health condition.
  • Secondary insomnia refers to sleep problems that are caused by some other condition, such as arthritis or depression, or by drugs such as prescription medication or alcohol.
  • Set up an appointment with your doctor if you are suffering from chronic insomnia that interferes with your daily life.
Common related conditions
Anxiety Depression

Overview

Insomnia is a sleep disorder marked by problems falling asleep or staying asleep. It can be acute—lasting for only one night or a few weeks—or chronic, meaning it occurs at least three times per week for over three months.

There are two categories of insomnia:

  • Primary insomnia - primary insomnia refers to sleep problems that are not attributable to any other underlying physical or mental health condition
  • Secondary insomnia - secondary insomnia refers to sleep problems that are caused by some other condition, such as arthritis or depression, or by drugs such as prescription medication or alcohol.

Set up an appointment with your doctor if you are suffering from chronic insomnia that interferes with your daily life. 

Insomnia causes

Acute insomnia can be caused by:

  • Major life stressors such as the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one
  • Illnesses that cause pain or breathing problems
  • Emotional or physical pain
  • Changes to your normal sleep schedule, such as from jet lag
  • Certain medications
  • Influences in your environment such as light, noise, or extreme heat or cold

Chronic insomnia can be caused by:

  • Mental health problems such as depression or anxiety
  • Chronic stress
  • Discomfort or pain caused by a chronic illness

Insomnia risk factors

You may be more likely to experience insomnia if you:

  • Are a woman
  • Are over the age of 60
  • Have an existing mental or physical health condition
  • Are experiencing significant amounts of stress
  • Do not maintain a regular work and sleep schedule

Insomnia symptoms

Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Struggling to fall asleep
  • Waking up throughout the night and having a hard time going back to sleep
  • Waking up earlier in the morning than you hoped to
  • Feeling excessively tired when you wake up
  • Irritability
  • Concentration and memory problems during the day

Insomnia complications

The sleep loss resulting from insomnia can impact your mental and physical health. Insomnia can lead to:

  • Decreased performance at work or school
  • Increased risk of road accidents, as your reaction time may be slowed
  • Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse
  • Increased risk of being affected by chronic diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure

Insomnia prevention

While insomnia may not always be prevented, there are some measures you can take to improve your sleep in general, such as:

  • Maintaining a consistent bedtime and wake-up time every day
  • Doing regular physical activity
  • Checking to see if your medications can cause insomnia
  • Avoiding alcohol and large meals right before bed
  • Limiting caffeine and nicotine
  • Establishing a calming bedtime ritual, such as listening to relaxing music or reading a book
  • Wearing earplugs and an eye mask, or using a noise machine to minimize environmental noise and light

Insomnia diagnosis

When assessing possible insomnia, your doctor will review your medical history and any medications you are taking and may perform physical examination to look for any underlying medical conditions that may be disrupting your sleep. Your doctor may recommend that you keep a sleep journal to track what might be contributing to your insomnia. For some cases, doctors may recommend you to the Bon Secours Sleep Center for further testing.

Insomnia treatment

Cases of occasional or acute insomnia usually do not require treatment.

If your insomnia is chronic, your physician will begin by identifying and treating any underlying condition that may be causing your sleep disruptions. Insomnia that persists after the treatment of underlying conditions may be treated with behavioral therapy, which can help you modify your habits to promote better sleep.

For cases of insomnia that impair your ability to function in your daily life, your doctor may prescribe sleeping pills for a short amount of time.

When to seek care

If you are experiencing chronic sleep problems that are interfering with your daily life, set up an appointment with your doctor.

Next Steps

Long-term management of chronic insomnia requires maintaining changes to your habits that promote better sleep. Talk to your doctor about actions and lifestyle factors that can reduce insomnia.