Insomnia is more than the inability to sleep. Insomnia is a Latin word that translates to “no sleep.” However, insomnia is more than the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep. It is a sleeping disorder than can be disruptive to your life. Your energy levels will decrease. Your mood can become depressed. Your health, job performance and the quality of your life can also be negatively impacted by insomnia.

Symptoms of Insomnia

There are several symptoms associated with having insomnia. The most common symptom is having difficulty falling asleep. Another symptom is the difficulty of falling back into sleep. For example, if you have insomnia and wake up in the middle of the night, you will have a hard time going back to sleep. Other symptoms include waking up too early or not feeling refreshed after you have slept.

Insomnia can also impact your mental and emotional state. Insomnia can cause you to have irritability, anxiety, depression, difficulty paying attention, and a hard time focusing on tasks. You might also experience a hard time remembering things. Tension headaches and distress in your stomach and intestines are also symptoms.

Types of Insomnia

In some cases, insomnia is the primary health concern. Primary insomnia occurs when there is no other health reason causing the insomnia. In other cases, insomnia is a secondary problem. When this occurs, it is called secondary insomnia, and it means that insomnia is acting as a symptom of another health concern. A heart condition, asthma, arthritis, and pain might be the primary problem.

The amount of sleep someone who suffers from insomnia gets varies from person to person. If you have a few sleepless nights, you are suffering from acute insomnia. It can last for one night up to three weeks. Most adults will suffer acute insomnia once in their life. Chronic insomnia is defined as long term difficulty sleeping. You have chronic insomnia if you have difficulty sleeping for three nights out of every week in a month.

What Causes Insomnia?

The causes of insomnia vary between acute and chronic insomnia.

Common causes of acute insomnia are the following:

Stress. Life can be stressful. If you are having concerns about your family, your work, or your health, it can lead to you have restlessness wide awake. Sudden life changes can lead to stress. A death in the family, a divorce, moving, or a loss of a job can lead to you having acute insomnia.

Illness. An illness can cause acute insomnia in two ways. The anxiety and stress over having the illness can disrupt your sleep or the illness itself can cause your body to have difficulty falling asleep. Chronic pain, respiratory illnesses, and frequent urination can lead to acute insomnia. There are several other illnesses and medical conditions that cause insomnia. They are lung disease, cancer, gastroesophageal reflux disease, arthritis, overactive thyroid, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Anxiety. You do not have to have an anxiety disorder to suffer from anxiety. Every day anxieties that come with living life can increase your difficulty to get some sleep.

Change. Change is not always good for your sleep cycle. If you change your environment or your work schedule, you might suffer from acute insomnia, because your internal clock has to reset itself. This happens a lot when you travel or work different shifts. Change also refers to noise in your environment or a change in temperature. A drastic change from hot to cold or from cold to hot can lead to insomnia.

Medication. Insomnia is a side effect of many of the prescription drugs that are taken for high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disease and asthma. Stimulants such as Ritalin and corticosteroids increase the likelihood of having difficulty sleeping. Cold and allergy medicine, pain medications and birth control cause insomnia, as well. Decongestants and weight loss supplements that have caffeine can lead to a long night of wakefulness.

Poor sleeping habits. If you have an irregular sleep schedule or if you do a vigorous activity such as exercise before bed, you might develop acute insomnia. If you use your sleeping environment for more than sleep, you can create poor sleep habits.

Poor eating habits. If you eat too much too late in the evening, this can affect your sleeping patterns. You can have a light snack before you go to bed, but you should not have a full meal. You will get heartburn or acid in your stomach. Both can result in insomnia.

Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. These three things usually make it on someone resolution list. If you want to avoid acute insomnia, they should be on yours too. Caffeine comes in many forms. It can be found in coffee, cola, tea, sports drinks and diet supplements, you should avoid consuming caffeine past dusk. Caffeine acts as a stimulant. If you drink it in the evening, you can be up for hours. Nicotine is a stimulant as well. Alcohol can put you to sleep, but you will not go through the proper sleep cycle. Therefore, you will be restless when you wake.

Causes of Chronic Insomnia

Chronic Stress. Just like regular stress can lead to acute insomnia. Chronic stress or a stress disorder can result in developing chronic insomnia.

Anxiety. Anxiety disorders such as GAD and post-traumatic stress disorder will cause chronic insomnia.

Depression. Insomnia can cause depression, and depression can cause insomnia. Insomnia for people suffering from depression can happen in two ways. Either they are sleeping too much and feel unrested or they are having trouble falling asleep.

Risk Factors

There are a few risk factors that make certain people more prone to having insomnia.


One of the main risk factors is age. Insomnia relationship with age is a positive correlation. As you get older, the occurrence of insomnia increases. This can be due to many different reasons. Here are the main ones.

A change in sleep habits. As you get older, your sleep may become less restful. You can easily awake to a noise or a light. Another change in sleep habits involves your internal clock. You will tire easier and will likely retire to bed early in the evening. You might also wake too early in the morning. As you get older, you will need the same amount of sleep as a child. Your body might not know how to handle this. As a result, you get insomnia.

Change in your activities. You are not as active as you used to be. This lack of physical and social activity can disturb your sleep. If you are less active, you are more likely to take an afternoon nap. Naps can also interfere with your sleep at night.

A change in health. You know that health problems such as arthritis, chronic pain and anxiety can interfere with your sleep. Other problems can also affect your sleep. For older men, frequent urination caused by an enlargement of the prostate gland can disturb sleep. For women, the hot flashes that they experience during menopause can cause them to lose sleep.

Medication. Older people are more likely to be on medication that can increase the chances of getting acute insomnia.


Due to hormonal shifts, women are more likely to have insomnia. For women, it usually happens during a menstrual cycle, menopause or pregnancy.

Mental Health Disorders

If you suffer from a mental health disorder, you are more likely to have insomnia than a person without a disorder.


If you travel long distances, you will experience jet lag. Jet lag can cause insomnia.


Stress from divorce, loss of job or too many concerns can lead to insomnia. Insomnia is mainly found in the unemployed and poor because of this risk factor.

What Happens if I Have Chronic Insomnia?

You should go see your health care provider. They will do a physical exam, evaluate your medical history and your sleep history. They may ask you to keep a sleep diary and set a follow up appointment to discuss options.

Insomnia Treatment

If you have acute insomnia, you will not need treatment. It will go away naturally. However, if you have chronic insomnia, you and your doctor will have to determine the root cause in order to treat it. The doctor will suggest trying to change your sleep habits. If the insomnia is disruptive to your everyday life, the doctor will prescribe sleeping pills to people with primary insomnia. If you suffer from secondary insomnia, your doctor will address the underlying medical condition first and hope that your insomnia will be cured due to that treatment. Some doctors do not initially prescribe sleep aids. Some turn to practicing some behavior therapies to help with insomnia.

Behavior Therapies Used for Insomnia.

Educating you about sleep habits. Shows you how to avoid stimulants before bedtime, and teaches you how to get in the habit of a nightly routine.

Cognitive behavior therapy. This focuses on eliminating negative thoughts and worries that cause you to stay awake.

Relaxation techniques. These work great for reducing stress. If your insomnia is stress related, meditation, biofeedback and other breathing exercises can help. Your heart rate will decrease, and you will lose muscle tension and anxiety.

Sleep restriction. This lessens the time you stay in bed. The goal is to cause sleep deprivation. Once your sleeping habits have improved, you can increase the time you stay in bed.

Light therapy. This uses light to help you adjust your internal clock.

Are There any Over the Counter Solutions to Treat Insomnia?

Antihistamines are an over the counter solution to insomnia. However, they lessen the quality of sleep you will get from other options. They make you drowsy, and the side effects include urinary retention, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, confusion and dry mouth.

Health | General

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