Insomnia: Symptoms & Treatment


Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which there is an inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep. Because different people need different amounts of sleep, insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping—not the number of hours you sleep or how quickly you fall asleep.

Insomnia could result as a symptom of another problem, which differs from person to person. It could be something as simple as drinking too much caffeine during the day or a more complex issue like an underlying medical condition or feeling stressed.

Insomnia also varies in how long it lasts and how often it occurs. It can be short-term (acute insomnia) or can last a long time (chronic insomnia). It can also come and go, with periods of time when a person has no sleep problems. Acute insomnia can last from one night to a few weeks. Insomnia is called chronic when a person has insomnia at least three nights a week for a month or longer.


Causes of insomnia

Causes of acute insomnia can include:

  • Stress
  • Illness
  • Emotional or physical discomfort
  • Environmental factors like noise, light, or extreme temperatures that interfere with sleep
  • Certain medications may interfere with sleep
  • Disturbance to normal sleep schedule (e.g. jet lag)

Causes of chronic insomnia include:

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Chronic stress
  • Pain or discomfort at night

Common mental and physical causes of insomnia:

  • Psychological problems
  • Medications
  • Medical problems
  • Sleep disorders (e.g. sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome)


Complications of insomnia

  • Difficulty falling asleep despite being tired
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Trouble getting back to sleep when awakened
  • Exhausting sleep
  • Relying on sleeping pills or alcohol to fall asleep
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Daytime drowsiness, fatigue, or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating during the day


While treating underlying physical and mental issues is a good first step, it may not be enough to cure insomnia. Some of the daily activities may actually be making the problem worse.

  • Adopting new habits to help you sleep
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule
  • Avoid naps. Napping during the day can make it more difficult to sleep at night
  • Avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
  • Increase light exposure during the day
  • Limit artificial light at night

Habits that make insomnia worse:

  • Drinking a lot of caffeine
  • Drinking or smoking before bed
  • Taking naps during the day
  • Irregular sleep schedule

A variety of relaxation techniques help you achieve the relaxation response, including:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Yoga