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Insomnia - Symptom, Treatment And Causes

Last Updated: Aug 05, 2021

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder which makes the affected hard to sleep, stay asleep or make you wake up too fast. Insomnia can also make it difficult for you to go back to sleep once you have woken up. This disorder makes you tired the whole day and drains your energy levels, health, mood, work performance and quality of life.

A lot of adults can experience short-term (acute) insomnia that lasts for weeks or days. This is usually due to an after effect of a traumatizing event or just stress. But mostly, people who experience chronic (long term) insomnia which lasts for more than a month is caused due to certain medical conditions or side effects of medicines.

What are the types of insomnia?

Insomnia is classified as Acute, Chronic, Onset, Maintenance, and behavioral insomnia of childhood.

  • Acute insomnia: The most common type of insomnia lasts for a few days to months. It is otherwise called adjustment insomnia as it develops when you start with a new job, experience a stressful incident.
  • Chronic insomnia: It is defined as occurring sleep problems for at least three days a week or lasting for at least a month. Primary and secondary chronic insomnia are the types where the first one is called idiopathic. Secondary or co-morbid insomnia may have caused such as medical conditions say diabetes, hypertension, depression, anxiety, medicines like chemotherapy drugs, anti-depressants, using caffeine or other drugs, lifestyle factors such as jet lag, night shifts, napping.
  • Onset insomnia: It defines trouble in falling asleep at the start of the night.
  • Maintenance insomnia: Unable to stay asleep. People who suffer from maintenance insomnia will wake up during the night and face difficulties in returning to sleep.

Insomnia Symptoms:

People experiencing insomnia usually reports below symptoms:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Low motivation or energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Day time fatigue or sleepiness
  • Worry or anxiety about sleeping
  • Headache
  • Difficulty socializing or working
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Waking up during night

What is the difference between insomnia and narcolepsy?

Both narcolepsy and Insomnia are sleeping disorders, however, Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or staying asleep while narcolepsy is the inability to control when to fall asleep.

Causes of Insomnia:

For the treatment of insomnia, it is important to treat the underlying cause. It can be caused due to life events, stress and bad habits that affect your sleeping patterns. However, some other causes of insomnia include:

  • Stress- Concerns about family, finances, health, school and work can keep our mind active even if you are tired. This makes it very difficult to sleep. Trauma or life events like a job loss, divorce, illness or death of a loved one can result to insomnia.
  • Work or travel schedule- Frequently changing shifts at work, doing a late shift, jet lags and travelling across different time zones can disrupt your body’s sleep cycle and lead to insomnia.
  • Unhealthy sleep habits- Sleep habits such as eating just before sleeping, watching too much television, using your bed during work, uneasy sleep environment, stimulating physical activities before bed, uneven naps and irregular sleep schedules can cause insomnia.
  • Eating too much before bed- Eating a lot of food can make you very uncomfortable while lying down. A lot of people who eat a lot before sleeping complain of heartburn. This occurs when the food and acid from the stomach flows into the esophagus. This is a major reason for insomnia.
  • Mental issues- Disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorders can also trigger insomnia. Certain form of impulse control disorders might also make you stressed out which eventually leads to insomnia.
  • Medications- Prescription drugs and certain medications used to treat blood pressure and asthma can also cause insomnia.
  • Other disorders- Medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, overactive thyroid, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), asthma, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic pain can also trigger insomnia.

How much sleep do insomniacs get?

The amount of sleep insomnia varies from person to person, almost everyone at some point of their life experiences acute Insomnia which may last for about one night a week or more.

Is insomnia a mental illness?

Insomnia is the difficulty in falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep. It is not considered a mental illness, however, it has been associated with other mental disorders such as depression, bipolar syndrome. People with Insomnia are more prone to become depressed than those who do not have sleeping disorders.


How to diagnose insomnia?

Depending on the patient’s situation, the insomnia is diagnosed.

Generally, a physical examination will be done initially if the cause of the problem is unknown. In the physical examination, the doctor will check out the signs and he may prescribe some blood tests to rule out any underlying disease of the problem. Next, the sleeping habits will be reviewed by the medical professional with a questionnaire such as wake-up time, sleeping time and day time sleepiness.

If the cause of insomnia is not clear or the patient has signs of other sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea, then he/she will be made to spend a night at the sleep center. Tests will be conducted to assess various bodily activities while sleeping including breathing, eye and body movements, brain waves and heartbeat.

Insomnia in children

Children also face insomnia often for the same reasons as adults. These reasons might include:

  • Medications
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Stress
  • Excessive of caffeine intake

The symptoms of Insomnia in children also include:

  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Disciplinary issues
  • Memory problems
  • Attention deficits
  • The treatment for childrens is the same as of childrens.

Insomnia during Pregnancy

Especially in the first and third trimester of pregnancy it is common because during that time hormones fluctuate, frequency of urination increases and one also feels nausea. The changes in body may keep the person awake in early pregnancy. During pregnancy, women may face anxiety or depression and pain such as back discomfort or cramps which may keep them awake.

During pregnancy, the female body undergoes many changes like increase in progesterone or active metabolism to accommodate the new life growing. Changes that may help like:

  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Staying well-hydrated
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
  • Practice relaxation techniques

Consult with your healthcare expert for any medications, supplements and exercise routine. Insomnia during the pregnancy usually passes and also it doesn’t affect the development of the baby.

Insomnia and Covid

The recent pandemic situation has changed much about our life which also includes our pattern for sleep, stress, anxiety and depression. The sleep disorder or insomnia have affected badly on our physical and mental and health. Below are the ways to tackle your mental health. Anxiety, stress and worry in a healthy way:

  • Establish your regular sleep schedule
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Stay active during the day
  • Adopt healthier daytime habits
  • Eat healthy food

Insomnia and Anxiety

Anxiety can cause insomnia and anxiety can cause insomnia. The short time anxiety starts when you frequently think or worry about the same issue like your personal relationships. It usually goes away once the issue is resolved and sleep returns to normal as well.

The causes of anxiety are not completely understood. Anxiety treatment is usually long-term and it includes a combination of therapy and medications.

Insomnia and Depression

Insomnia may develop depression, depression can also make you likely to develop insomnia. The symptoms of depression may lead to insomnia. The treatment may include lifestyle change, therapy and medication.

What are the effect of insomnia over the body and mind?

While sleeping the body is hard at work tending to both physical and mental health and helping to get ready for the next day. Suffering from insomnia will cause serious effects over the body and mind. Just missing out one night’s sleep may cause a lack of energy, and focus along with mood swings and irritability.

The long-term effects of insomnia are highly serious that cause poor physical and mental coordination, struggling in decision making. The psychological effects of insomnia are anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation.

When you discuss the effects of insomnia over the body it includes cardiovascular issues such as stroke, hypertension, brain issues such as paranoia, hallucinations, mania, impulsive disorder, stomach issues and immune system issues such as inability to prevent and fight against sickness, even common cold. The victim may also have a poor sex drive, increased weight, poor balance.

Can insomnia go away?

Acute insomnia usually go away within one night to a few weeks however chronic Insomnia lasts for longer, it takes approximately 3 nights a week for 3 months or more to go away.

What is the best treatment for insomnia?

Insomnia is one of the sleeping disorder types in which individuals feel difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep or both. Insomniac patients will always feel fatigued and dull since their sleep is totally deprived. Irregular and interrupted sleep may lead to other health issues.

Hence, it is always better to treat the problem in the early stage itself. The treatment for insomnia can also offer medical and non-medical therapy.

Psychotherapy, developing better sleep habits and medicines will come under non-medical therapy. If diabetes or menopause causes insomnia, then the condition will be treated. If medicines are the culprit of insomnia, then either the drug will be altered or the dose will be reduced.

Short-term insomnia is caused due to travel, stress that can be treated with OTC drugs whereas chronic insomnia can be treated with medicines after a thorough physical and medical examination.

Insomnia Risk Factors:

Insomnia affects younger people more than older ones. Insomnia and mental issues in kids go hand in hand. There can be multiple reasons like work pressure, health issues, study pressure, bad performance in school etc. Other risk factors include:

  • Long term illness.
  • Mental illness and anxiety disorders.
  • Insomnia is very common during pregnancy.
  • Hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle and menopause can contribute to the sleepless nights.
  • For people over 60, the change in the sleep cycle and health issues lead to insomnia.
  • If you’re not following a particular sleep cycle, then it is obvious that you’re losing your precious sleep during nights.
  • When you’re under a lot of stress, the restless brain of yours doesn’t let you sleep.

Can you go crazy from insomnia?

Studies have suggested that, in some people, insomnia usually gets worse before an episode of mania or depression. It is also known that sleeping disorders adversely affect the mood and contribute towards anxiety disorders.

Insomnia complications:

Sleep is the natural rejuvenation process. It is as important to your health as regular exercising or a healthy diet. That is why, when you go through insomnia, it affects your physical and mental health badly. Your ruins your productivity and quality of life.

Complications of Insomnia can be:

  • The low productivity in school or at work
  • Mental health issues - depression, anxiety disorder and drug abuse
  • Long term insomnia can be a cause of some severe diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and other heart-related issues.
  • Your reaction time gets slower and your mind starts to grasp things slower than usual
  • Grumpiness
  • Trouble focusing on things around you

Can Insomnia be Cured?

Yes, the good news is that insomnia can be cured in most of the cases. You don’t have to take the over the counter medications or visit your doctor unless it’s very serious. Just by making a few little changes in your lifestyle can help you with your problems. By figuring out the underlying causes, you can work on it.

Furthermore, change your daily habits, and get a good environment to sleep. Initially, it is going to be tough for you to fall asleep but that’s where you need to put a little effort. Take a good long shower before you go to bed, listen to some sleep-inducing music and avoid any external distractions. Once you're habitual to your sleep cycle it’ll be easier for you to sleep on time. Later on, you just need to follow the cycle.

Is insomnia hereditary?

Yes, if you’re not being able to sleep at night, your genes might be responsible for this. There are studies to confirm that insomnia is in fact hereditary. Researchers believe that there are some specific genes that trigger insomnia.

These genes are the same which are responsible for your response to stress. Hence, it is important to have a good sleep not just to rejuvenate yourself but also to keep yourself away from psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorder, insomnia and physical conditions.

Insomnia Prevention Tips

Here are some good tips you can use to prevent insomnia and get good sleep:

  • Have a positive mindset: It is not a good idea to go to your bed with a negative thought in your mind. Whatever you do, whether you’re a student or a professional, take a 30 mins break after you are done with your daily routine; try to keep your mind clear in those 30 mins, then only you should go to sleep.
  • Follow a sleep routine: Nowadays, people are not being able to get a good night sleep because they do not have a routine. Your work is important, but try not to ruin your sleep-cycle over it. Try to maintain a routine, especially for the time when you sleep and wake up.
  • Get regular exercise: It is important to burn the calories that you intake every day hence daily exercise becomes a necessity. Do not hesitate to do any physical activity. Daily exercise improves the quality of your sleep. Try not to exercise close to your bedtime though, it might stimulate you and make it even harder for you to sleep. According to health experts, you should not exercise for 4 hours before you go to sleep.
  • Have a comfortable sleeping space: People with insomnia often find excuses to not sleep, subconsciously. You should have a comfortable sleeping place; it should be quiet, dark, just the right temperature and without external distractions. Try a sleeping mask and earplugs just in case.
  • Relax before going to sleep: It is a common practice among individuals to do something relaxing or what they consider fun before going to bed. One might choose to read, listen to music, take a nice long bath, body massage etc. It distracts your mind and provides you with a sleeping mood.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal: It is advisable to not to eat anything heavy before bed time; your guts might tease you otherwise. You should consume a light snack or salad before you go to sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, smoking and alcohol: Caffeine in coffee and nicotine in tobacco are widely considered as stimulants, taking either before bed can keep you from sleeping. Alcohol can make you wake up during the night and ruin the quality of your sleep.

What are the home remedies for insomnia?

  • Many cases of insomnia can be well treated with lifestyle changes and home remedies. Herbal tea, warm milk and poppy seeds can be tried for the best results.
  • Meditation is the key to stay away from insomnia naturally. It calms your mind and body, makes you fall in sleep and stay in sleep. Meditation helps very much in reducing depression, anxiety, stress, pain, and digestive issues.
  • Melatonin is produced in the body naturally which makes your sleep pattern firm. Adding melatonin supplements will help extremely to insomniacs. At the same time, only for a short period of time, the melatonin intake is recommended.
  • Aromatherapy is found to be good for insomniacs. The essential oils such as sandalwood, cedarwood, lavender available with strong aroma naturally. Inhaling the oils and massaging with the oil/s on the head or whole body brings out good sleep


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Written ByDr. Mool Chand GuptaMD - Pulmonary,MD PULMONARY,DTCDPulmonology
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