Insomnia is a sleep-wake disorder that is indicated by the presence of several characteristic problems: trouble falling asleep, maintaining sleep, and experiencing nonrestorative sleep. People who suffer from persistent insomnia typically have difficulty falling or staying asleep for at least three months.
Insomnia is a common condition that affects people of all ages with varying levels of intensity. If it persists and is not addressed, it can have repercussions that include daytime sleepiness, inability to concentrate, susceptibility to illness, anxiety, or depression.
There are several insomnia types. These types are classified in various ways according to their duration and cause. These differences help distinguish between episodic, persistent, and recurrent insomnia.
Episodic insomnia is the presence of insomnia symptoms that last between one and three months. Persistent insomnia is defined as insomnia that lasts for an extended period of time, typically three months or longer. Recurrent insomnia is the presence of multiple episodes of trouble sleeping within the period of one year.
Acute or short-term insomnia is not actually classified as insomnia unless the problem persists for longer than four weeks. Short-term or acute insomnia is usually difficulty sleeping that is the result of an external stressor, such as a new job or upcoming deadline.
In defining insomnia, it is also standard to examine its causes. Although these are complex and varied, they can be broken down into two main categories: primary and secondary insomnia.
Primary insomnia is insomnia in which the cause is not directly linked to another medical or mental health condition. This form of sleep disorder can be idiopathic, stemming from causes unknown, or as the result of stress or emotional turmoil.
In contrast, secondary insomnia is known to be caused by or linked to another coexisting health issue. These comorbidities can include conditions such as anxiety, depression, neurological conditions, hyperthyroidism, and endocrine problems. Secondary insomnia can also be caused by substance abuse and/or medications. These can disrupt sleep cycles on two fronts. Firstly, difficulty sleeping can be a direct byproduct of the drug's effects. Secondly, periods of substance withdrawal can often induce insomnia, leading to cycles of insomnia.
There is no single clear cause of insomnia, but there are several factors that put people at higher risk for developing it. Among these insomnia risk factors are added stress, big life changes, erratic work schedules, excessive worry, substance abuse, and pain.
Although insomnia obviously affects sleep and falling asleep, many signs of insomnia are actually classified under daytime sleepiness. These symptoms include headaches, sadness, grumpiness, and inability to concentrate. Some of the more serious repercussions of trouble sleeping are acid reflux, memory problems, mental health problems, complications with pregnancy, and a weakened immune system. Being severely unrested also puts people at risk for road accidents.
Insomnia is a common disorder, and over the last few decades people have found numerous ways to both combat it and find reprieve. As psychologists and doctors learn more about the nature of sleep and the human brain, they are better able to address not just the problem, but its causes.
Insomnia treatment benefits from a holistic approach. There are thought to be preventative steps that people can take, which both minimize the chances of developing insomnia and lessen its effects. These lifestyle changes include developing consistent daily routines, exercising, practicing breathing techniques, and ensuring a calm sleep environment. For those already suffering from chronic or severe sleep difficulties, there are therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, that aim to relieve the stress surrounding sleep. Some medications can also relieve the symptoms and reduce distress; certain sleep medications are very effective, but are best used under instruction from a medical professional. Medication and therapy can help greatly when combined with fundamental lifestyle changes. Together these can regulate the human body and mind.
Unfortunately, there is no single cause for trouble sleeping. Some causes of long-term insomnia are idiopathic, although poor sleep quality can often be brought on by emotional tumult or stress. Sudden life changes can also trigger extended bouts of insomnia. Other causes of fitful or nonrestorative sleep are the by-product of coexisting physical and physiological conditions.
No. Insomnia is very rarely seen as an isolated mental condition. It is usually accompanied by the presence of other issues such as anxiety or depression.
People suffer most frequently from a variation of short-term, acute insomnia. These bouts of difficulty feeling rested usually last just a few days to a few weeks, and usually coincide with periods of drastic change.
There is no one solution that helps everyone dealing with insomnia. A variety of different approaches work for different people. For some, creating and maintaining regular habits and routines, and physical exercise help reduce the effects of long-term insomnia. For others, cutting down or cutting out alcohol or stimulants like nicotine and caffeine has been known to improve the depth and quality of sleep. Another important step that can help relieve insomnia is creating a sleeping environment that is calming, quiet, and dark. Some people use noise machines or black-out curtains to reduce noise and distractions. For more intense cases of insomnia, a holistic combination of dietary supplements, medication, and therapy may be needed to address the issue. If insomnia is interfering with everyday activities it is always best to seek the help and guidance of a medical professional.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.