Idiopathic insomnia is a form of chronic insomnia that contains no visible signs of its cause. It is theorized as being the result of an underactive sleep system, or overactive awakening system, but no verifiably true origin or cause of the disorder is known.
It is known that idiopathic insomnia exists without the detectable presence of other sleep disorders, medical problems, medication or substance use or abuse, any underlying behavioural problems that could cause poor or unfulfilling sleep, and any psychiatric disorders. It is also not the result of poor sleep hygiene. Idiopathic insomnia often occurs nightly, and may include short sleeping times, numerous nighttime awakenings that cannot be explained, and difficulty falling asleep even when the body feels sufficiently tired to do so. This all happens without the presence of any stress that may cause a similar scenario in others, no psychological or neurological disorders, and no medication or substance use.
As the disorder starts, most people suffering idiopathic insomnia will have adjusted to it, and few show signs that the disorder is having a severe detrimental effect on their lives. They often do not develop any medical or social problems as a result of the disorder.
In some cases, people with this disorder will try to correct the problem on their own without success, and may oftentimes make it worse or develop other sleeping disorders as a result. This includes consumption of medications or alcohol to help with sleep, or developing other poor sleep hygiene habits.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder, with a wide variety of causes, and affects as many as 40% of adults in any given year. Idiopathic insomnia is one of the rarest forms of insomnia though, affecting under 1% of the population. It does not seem to have hereditary link, and no genetic link to the disorder is known. Females and males are at an equal risk of having this disorder.
You should see a doctor or sleep specialist if suffering with insomnia. You will be asked for your medical and sleep history to rule out the possibility that it is in fact another sleep disorder or medical condition that is causing your problems. A diagnosis of idiopathic insomnia may take a long time to come to, as the causes of insomnia are vast, and conclusively ruling out each possible cause can take a large amount of time. You may have to take the polysomnogram test more than once before a doctor or sleep specialist is ready to diagnose you as having idiopathic insomnia.
Treatment of idiopathic insomnia is similar to other forms of insomnia, though the treatment will only help lessen the sleeping problems, where it may ultimately eliminate it in others suffering only acute insomnia.
Sleep hygiene is important for dealing with any sleeping related disorder, and that is no different for idiopathic insomnia. Conditioning the mind to prepare for bed at consistent times, and having a sleeping environment that is ideally suited to comfortable, uninterrupted sleep are the main components of this philosophy for those with idiopathic insomnia. Relaxation techniques that inhibit quick transition into sleep after getting into bed are also wise. Though short sleep times may still result, you are likely to fall asleep faster and have a higher quality of deep sleep with proper implementation of some of these options.
Sleeping pills or aids may be prescribed if the insomnia is causing excessive daytime sleepiness, and/or other symptoms related to insomnia that could be having a poor effect on a person’s social and professional life. It has been shown that taking these methods in people with idiopathic insomnia may cause numerous side effects though, so this should be discussed with a doctor and taken liberally to start.
Reviewed September, 2007