What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a condition in which the individual has difficulty sleeping. This can take the form of being unable to fall asleep, waking frequently during the night and being unable to go back to sleep, or waking up too early. People with insomnia tend to be tired when they wake up in the mornings, and they may suffer declines in their energy levels, work performance, general health and quality of life.
Although there are general guidelines about healthy amounts of sleep, the number of hours of sleep needed varies greatly from one person to another. Almost everyone experiences acute insomnia that lasts for a few days, but some people have chronic insomnia lasting for a month or more. Insomnia is frequently a symptom of other medical conditions, and it can also be caused by some medications.
Other common sleep disorders include sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy.
Symptoms of insomnia include the following:
- Taking a long time to fall asleep at night, in spite of being tired
- Waking up during the night and being unable to go back to sleep
- Waking up too early and being unable to go back to sleep
- Tiredness during the day; waking up without feeling well rested
- Difficulty with memory or concentration
- Depression, anxiety or irritability
- A tendency to make careless mistakes or have accidents
- Ongoing anxiety about sleep
What causes insomnia?
Insomnia is sometimes the primary problem, but it is often a symptom of an underlying medical condition, or a side effect of a medication. Causes of insomnia include the following:
- Stress: major life events, or physical or mental stress, can elevate the level of brain activity, making it difficult to sleep at night
- Irregular routines: eating too late at night, traveling across time zones and working a job that has rotating shifts can affect the circadian rhythms and metabolism
- Medical conditions: asthma, reflux disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions can affect one’s ability to sleep
- Medication: prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can affect sleep include those used to treat asthma, allergies, blood pressure and colds
- Mental health problems: people suffering from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder often experience insomnia
- Poor sleep habits: insomnia can be caused or exacerbated by irregular bedtime routines, too much sleep during the day, excessive screen time at night, and use of the bed for non-sleep activities like work, watching TV and eating
- Use of stimulants: caffeine and tobacco contain stimulants that may hinder the ability to fall asleep. Although alcohol can create a feeling of sleepiness, it can prevent the deep stages of sleep and make the individual wake up in the middle of the night
- Other sleep disorders: some sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome, can interrupt sleep
- Aging: as people get older, they experience changes to their sleep patterns, health and activity levels, and they tend to use more prescription drugs that may have insomnia as a side effect
- Hormonal changes: hormonal changes that occur as a result of pregnancy, the menstrual cycle and perimenopause can disrupt sleep