Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders and is characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. This overview defines insomnia and details the causes, symptoms and treatment options for this sleep disorder.

Insomnia refers to trouble falling or staying asleep. It can affect someone for a short time, such as a few nights or weeks. In other cases, the sleep disorder is chronic and can last for months or years.

Types of Insomnia

There are a few main types including primary and secondary. The sleep disorder is considered primary (or idiopathic insomnia) when it is not caused by or associated with a medical condition, psychiatric problem or medication. Secondary insomnia, on the other hand, is due to a medical condition, such as COPD or chronic pain, that is interfering with sleep.1

“Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep and can be short-lived or long-term”

Causes of Insomnia

In some instances, the cause of difficulty falling asleep cannot always be easily identified. But in other cases, it might be apparent what is causing problems falling or staying asleep. Below are a few common causes.

  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions can interfere with getting proper shuteye. For example, COPD, GERD and congestive heart failure can all make it difficult to fall asleep. But physical conditions are not the only culprit. Psychological and emotional issues, such as stress, anxiety and depression, can leave you tossing and turning. Sleep disorders like Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) can also lead to difficulty falling asleep.
  • Medications: Side effects from certain medications can also make falling asleep difficult. SSRI antidepressants, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers may cause difficulty falling asleep in some people. Medications for emphysema, blood pressure and allergies can also sometimes lead to the sleep disorder. It’s also important to understand that people respond differently to medications. Even a drug that should not cause sleep disturbances may do just that in some people.
  • Disruption in circadian rhythm: We all have a natural sleep-wake rhythm. For most people, their circadian rhythm involves sleeping at night and being awake during the day. When this rhythm gets disrupted, it can cause it. Working overnight shifts and traveling across time zones are two factors that can alter your circadian rhythm.
  • Environmental Factors: Sometimes our environment makes it difficult to fall asleep. Most people sleep best in a cool, dark and quiet environment. When your bedroom is not conducive to sleep, it can leave you wide awake or cause you to wake several times a night.

Learn more about insomnia causes.

Risk factors for developing insomnia

It can affect anyone at any time in their life. But certain factors may increase your risk. For example, women are more likely than men to develop the sleep disorder.2

According to the Mayo Clinic, people over the age of 60 are also at a higher risk, possibly due to changes in sleep patterns as you age. Having an irregular sleep schedule is also a risk factor. For instance, if you go to bed at all different times or work different shifts, which disrupts your regular sleep hours, it can increase your chance of developing the sleep disorder.

Symptoms of Insomnia

The severity of symptoms may also vary. The sleep disorder can have an accumulative effect, which means the longer it goes on, the more severe symptoms may be. For instance, not getting a good night’s rest may leave you a little tired the next day. But if you don’t sleep well for a week or a month, you might feel the effects of sleep deprivation more severely.3

Treatments for Insomnia

The treatment may depend on the cause. For example, treating an underlying medical condition may also cure it. Also, if a certain medication is to blame, switching to a different drug may help.

In other cases, over the counter or prescription medication may help treat it, especially in the short-term.4 Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can also help some people overcome insomnia by decreasing anxiety and targeting the thoughts that cause poor sleep.

Self-Help Strategies for Treating Insomnia

In certain instances, self-help strategies may be all it takes to treat the sleep disorder. Following these non-medication-based actions is good first step to dealing with sleep problems.

Tips to Treat Your Insomnia:

  • Keep a sleep journal.  Consider recording your sleep patterns for a couple of weeks. Keeping a sleep diary can help you identify things that may be interfering with your sleep and make the needed changes.
  • Stick to a regular bedtime. Sticking to the same bedtime and waking the same time each day may help you get into a routine and improve your sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine several hours before bed. Caffeine is often a sleep stealer. Caffeine can stay in your system for several hours. Your best bet is to limit caffeine about four or five hours before bedtime.
  • Put away your cellphone, laptop and tablet. Your tech habits at bedtime may be preventing you from falling asleep. The light from your tech gadgets tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime, so the production of melatonin is decreased. Less melatonin may make falling asleep more difficult. Consider making your bedroom a tech-free zone.
  • Relax before bed. With all the things in your schedule, it can be hard to unwind. But relaxing before bedtime is essential to drift off to dreamland. It can be hard to fall asleep if you have a million things on your mind. Before hitting the sack, consider doing something that helps you relax, such as deep breathing, reading or listening to music.

If these actions don’t work, talk to your doctor as you may have issues that need to be addressed.

Insomnia Test: Diagnosing Insomnia

Insomnia is a condition characterized by habitually having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep.

This doesn’t mean that if you have a busy social life and choose not to make sleep a priority, you have insomnia. Insomnia is present when you give yourself the opportunity to sleep the recommended 7-8 hours per night, and have a hard time falling or staying asleep during this time.

Insomnia is not often a health condition on its own, but many times secondary to another condition, such as sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, anxiety, etc.

Do I have insomnia?

Here are important questions to ask yourself that may be an indicator of whether or not you have insomnia:

  • Do you give yourself enough time in your bed to allow for a full 7-8 hours of sleep?
  • Do you keep your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and safe to allow for optimal sleep?
  • Do you often feel moody or tired during the day?
  • Does it take you longer than a half hour to fall asleep? Or do you wake up at night and have difficulty getting back to sleep, or wake up much earlier than you wish to?
  • Do you often feel upset that you can’t seem to sleep?
  • Does worry or anxiety keep you from relaxing at night?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you might have insomnia.

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to be diagnosed and treated for insomnia. Your doctor may perform a physical exam and further testing.

Sleep diary for insomnia

Your doctor may have you keep a sleep diary to track your sleep patterns. This is usually done for at least a couple weeks. Things you’ll track in your sleep diary include:

  • How long it takes you to fall asleep
  • How long did you stay asleep?
  • How well you feel you slept
  • Did you wake up throughout the night? How many times?
  • Were you able to go back to sleep after waking up? How long did it take?
  • Anything you ate or drank and at what time
  • Any alcohol or caffeine consumption and what time
  • Your stress level
  • Any emotions you feel. Were you excited, anxious, happy, etc?


Your doctor may want you to have a sleep test known as a polysomnogram. This test is usually performed overnight in a hospital or sleep clinic and monitors brain activity, body movements, breathing, and blood-oxygen levels.

Digital Technology for Assessing Insomnia

Other ways to monitor how much and how well you’re sleeping is by using technology.

Sleep trackers can be wearable or not wearable, and there are several options now on the market. They can include smartwatches, smartphone sleep apps, devices to keep at the bedside, or devices to wear during sleep.

Actigraphy is used to monitor your cycles of rest and activity. It’s a small sensor, about the size of a small watch, and is worn on the wrist for about a week or more.

Technology can be a great starting point to get a general idea of how well you’re sleeping, but if you find that you may have insomnia, talk to your physician to get the proper diagnosis and treatment.

FAQs About Insomnia

  • How is insomnia diagnosed? It can be diagnosed by your symptoms. The cause is a little trickier to determine immediately. Your doctor may ask you to keep a sleep journal to determine if any environmental factors are affecting your sleep. Blood tests may be performed to rule out any medical conditions causing insomnia. A sleep study may also be recommended to determine the cause of your insomnia if another sleep disorder is suspected.
  • How long does insomnia last? It can last all different lengths of time. It may only last a few nights or it can last months or longer.
  • Do children get insomnia? People of all ages can develop insomnia including children. Children get the sleep disorder for many of the same reasons as adults including medical conditions, side effects of medication and even stress.
  • Can insomnia affect overall health? Sleep is essential to function. When you don’t get enough rest, it can affect your health and overall quality of life. The good news is, in most cases, insomnia can be successfully treated.
  • What should I do if I have insomnia? If you have these sleep problems, the first step is talking to your doctor. If you have tried self-help strategies and they have not worked, treatment is available that can help you get the restorative sleep you need.Oftentimes, the sleep disorder can be diagnosed by simply answering a few questions: Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Do you wake frequently? Are you overly tired during the day? For confirmatory diagnoses, however, providers will often perform extensive interviews that include a history and physical exam, or they may order an overnight sleep study and EEG to properly gauge sleep cycles.

Keeping a sleep diary could be greatly beneficial in the identification and diagnosis of insomnia.

Sometimes, it is necessary to have sleep studies performed to determine if the sleep disorder and frequent awakenings throughout the night is caused by sleep apnea, as this sleep disorder is a common symptom of that condition.

Treatment for acute insomnia is relatively straightforward, and oftentimes does not require anything extensive. Usually, mild insomnia can be treated with practicing better sleep hygiene (going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, for example). If difficulty falling asleep is interrupting daytime functioning, then sleeping pills and sleep aids like melatonin are sometimes prescribed. New therapies that are being studied include the use of CBD for sleep.

Chronic insomnia or secondary insomnia is a little more difficult to treat, as the provider will first need to discover and treat the underlying cause. For the most part, if the primary problem is under control, then the symptoms will resolve on its own; however, if insomnia continues after the primary conditions are treated, then behavioral techniques are then employed, which can include anything from lifestyle changes to learning pre-bedtime meditation techniques.

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23 thoughts on “Insomnia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

  1. john W. Reply

    I would be interested in an insomniacs support group. Do you know of any? I’m a fairly self reliant person, but when I am up all night, tired, and can’t sleep, then, seems to be the time I need someone to talk to the most. Got any suggestions?

  2. Terisa Reply

    911!!! I’ve had severe insomnia for the past 8 mo. No therapist has been able to find the root cause of why I can’t sleep, or they just don’t know how to help me. I
    I’ve been on all types of sleeping meds. I’m currently taking trazodone at night to help me sleep and it’s not working. I’m getting less and less sleep every night. I don’t know how long I can last like this. I’m getting to the end of my rope.

    Can someone recommend a therapist that specializes in effectively treating Insomnia? Someone who uses CBT therapy? Can anyone out there suggest any sleeping pills that might work? I’m in the Los Angeles area of California. Zoom calls are great as well.

    Thanks so much! I’m sorry for your suffering!!! God Bless You All!!!

  3. Cedric Reply

    This is a very informative blog. I was able to understand symptoms, causes, and treatment for insomnia. Insomnia can be very tough to handle sometimes.
    Thanks for enlightening me.

  4. Clarence Henry Reply

    [email protected], I am a supervisor over Corrections for our County Sheriffs Office and have somewhat a stressful job for 22yrs. But I’ve never had a sleep problem until I was remarried. My wife is a heavy sleeper that snores witch creates sleep for me. I’ve seen my Dr. and now take ambient are try to go to bed earlier then her. Any suggestions because I have now started having I’ll regular high glucose. Tired during the day. Looking for some directions.

  5. Kate Hansen Reply

    It was really helpful when you said that symptoms can be forgetfulness and daytime sleepiness. For the past couple of weeks, I have been dealing with these symptoms and it has been very hard for me to fall asleep at night, and I was wondering what the issue might be. I’ll have to look into seeing a professional for treatment for insomnia if I do have it.

  6. Jessica2y Reply

    Sleep to me was always a real-life nightmare. I never looked forward to my bedtime because 9 times out of 10 I would get a restless night’s sleep and wake up feeling lethargic and gloomy.It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this natural remedy ( ) that changed my life in one fundamental way; It has helped me turn the table in my favour. I have naturally evolved from insomniac to sleep lover.

  7. Nishi Reply

    Great this article helped me a lot I don’t know why I was facing little problem in sleeping now I can work on it to get better sleep!

  8. Barbara Pearson Reply

    Very helpful. I will check for insomnia with my doctor.

  9. Alexis Reply

    My insomnia started back in October of 2019 . I have tried all sleeping medications and now I’m on ativan for sleep and anxiety I’m still not geting any sleep may be 2hrs . I need help I’m dont know how long I can keep doing this every day.

  10. rachel frampton Reply

    I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately and honestly, I have no idea what other remedies shall I do. Anyways, I’m glad you shared how sticking to the same bedtime and waking the same time each day could gradually improve my sleep. I’ll try this out, but if I don’t see any changes, then I’ll probably have to consult from a neurology specialist.

  11. Eric Thompson Reply

    My name is Eric Thompson from the African-American male 5 7 years of age living with HIV / AIDS 3 total hip replacements and I suffer from insomnia I tried marijuana I’ve tried chamomile nothing works I go to bed at 7 p.m. and I wake up at 2 and I stay up until the sun comes up can you help me please please help me I have no one to reach out to thank you

  12. Nestor Francisco Reply

    I’m suffering insomnia almost a year.i can’t sleep the whole night. I dont smoke, I stop dringking alcohol for almost 3 years, I go to bed at 9pm but still I can’t fall Doctor gave me sleeping pills like (Jovia and Victus) but when I stop taking the medicine, I can’t sleep again. What should I do to cure my insomia. What is the best natural remedy to go back my good sleep at bed time? Pls! Help me…

  13. Caryn Reply

    I have a problem with interrupted sleep on the days that I do my cardio activities (morning/afternoon). I am awakened every 2 hrs during the night with a shock-like feeling and then have difficulty in falling back to sleep. Has anyone had a similar problem and, if so, what has worked to help?

  14. Kelly Haack Reply

    I have fibromyalgia. A sleep study revealed alpha-wave intrusion and borderline sleep apnea (only one time for the second diagnosis in three studies). Interventions for both the FM and the sleep have not helped. Sleep medications, sleep hygiene, FM medications, physical therapy, acupuncture, exercise, and trigger point injections have all not helped. I still wake up dozens of times nightly and am aware of it. What more can I try? I have gained weight, become T2D, and have lost much career ground and wages due to this. Help!

  15. Carol Bertelson Reply

    I am desperate for sleep. I currently take 3 klonopine and 3 ambient and still cannot fall to sleep. I am lost and loosing the fight. I just cannot go on.

  16. Uma B Reply

    JP, stay away from the unknown brands of products that people are hocking on the internet. Much of it is junk. Stick with a brand that you have heard of.. orbetter, try the non-medication sleep hygiene list first.

    • Anonymous Reply

      The best therapy for insomnia is usually non-medication based. CBT is the most popular right now.

  17. mary Reply

    My success story from Insomnia, I had insomnia past few years and I struggled every night without proper sleep, recently one of the specialist forums I found a natural solution insomnia guide. I had used the method and techniques only for few days my insomnia disappeared without any medicine, Now I am recommending this product to other people, those who struggling from insomnia, I have given the website link inside the bracket,
    read the guide from here >> ( )

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