Definition of insomnia
Insomnia is a type of sleep disorder. Individuals with insomnia find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both.
People with insomnia often don’t feel refreshed when they wake up from sleeping, either. This can lead to fatigue and other symptoms.
Insomnia is the most common of all sleep disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In fact, the APA states that about one-third of all adults report insomnia symptoms. But between 6 to 10 percent of all adults have symptoms severe enough for them to be diagnosed with insomnia disorder.
The APA defines insomnia as a disorder in which people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Doctors make a clinical diagnosis of insomnia if both of these criteria apply:
Sleep difficulties occurring at least three nights a week for a minimum of three months.
Sleep difficulties creating major distress or functional difficulties in a person’s life.
Keep reading to learn all about the symptoms, causes, and types of insomnia.
The causes of your insomnia will depend on the type of sleeplessness you experience.
Short-term insomnia may be caused by stress, an upsetting or traumatic event, or changes to your sleep habits.
Chronic insomnia lasts for at least three months and is usually secondary to another problem or a combination of problems, including:
medical conditions which make it harder to sleep, such as arthritis or back pain
psychological issues, such as anxiety or depression
Risk factors for insomnia
Insomnia can occur at any age and is more likely to affect women than men.
There are both pharmaceutical and nonpharmaceutical treatments for insomnia.
Your doctor can talk to you about what treatments might be appropriate. You may need to try a number of different treatments before finding the one that’s most effective for you.
The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a first-line treatment for chronic insomnia in adults.
Sleep hygiene training may also be recommended. Sometimes, behaviors that interfere with sleep cause insomnia. Sleep hygiene training can help you change some of these disruptive behaviors.
Suggested changes may include:
avoiding caffeinated beverages near bedtime
avoiding exercise near bedtime
minimizing time spent on your bed when you’re not specifically intending to sleep, such as watching TV or surfing the web on your phone
If there’s an underlying psychological or medical disorder contributing to your insomnia, getting appropriate treatment for it can alleviate sleep difficulties. Discover more treatments for insomnia.
Sometimes, medications are used to treat insomnia.
An example of an over-the-counter (OTC) medication that can be used for sleep is an antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Medications like this can have side effects, especially long term, so it’s important to talk to a doctor before starting yourself on an OTC medicine for insomnia.
Prescription medications that may be used to treat insomnia include:
Talk with your doctor before using any medications or supplements to treat your insomnia.
There might be dangerous side effects or drug interactions. Not every “sleep aid” is appropriate for everyone. Get more information on insomnia medications.
Home remedies for insomnia
Many cases of insomnia can be effectively managed by making lifestyle changes or trying home remedies.
Warm milk, herbal tea, and valerian are just a few of the natural sleep aids you can try.
Meditation is a natural, easy, drug-free method for treating insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, meditation can help improve the quality of your sleep, as well as make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
The Mayo Clinic says that meditation can also help with symptoms of conditions that may contribute to insomnia. These include:
Many apps and videos are available to help you meditate.
The hormone melatonin is naturally produced by the body during the sleep cycle. People often take melatonin supplements in hopes of improving their sleep.
Studies are inconclusive regarding whether melatonin can actually help treat insomnia in adults. There’s some evidence that supplements may slightly decrease the time it takes you to fall asleep but more research is needed.
Melatonin is generally thought to be safe for a short period of time, but its long-term safety has yet to be confirmed.
It’s always best to work with your doctor when deciding to take melatonin.
Essential oils are strong aromatic liquids made from a variety of plants, flowers, and trees. People treat a variety of conditions by inhaling oils or massaging them into the skin. This practice is called aromatherapy.
Essential oils that are thought to help you sleep include:
neroli, or bitter orange
A review of 12 studies in 2015 found aromatherapy to be beneficial in promoting sleep.
Another study found lavender to be especially useful in promoting and sustaining sleep. The study reported that a mixture of essential oils reduced sleep disturbance and increased well-being in older adults.
Essential oils don’t generally cause side effects when used as directed. Most essential oils have been classified GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, aromatherapy isn’t regulated by law in the United States, and no license is required for practice. Therefore, it’s important to select practitioners and products carefully.
Find out more about safe and healthy home remedies for insomnia.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), people with certain risk factors are more likely to have insomnia. These risk factors include:
high levels of stress
emotional disorders, such as depression or distress related to a life event
traveling to different time zones
changes in work hours, or working night shifts
Certain medical conditions, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease, can also lead to insomnia. Menopause can lead to insomnia as well. Find out more about the causes of — and risk factors for — insomnia.
People who experience insomnia usually report at least one of these symptoms:
waking too early in the morning
trouble falling or staying asleep
These symptoms of insomnia can lead to other symptoms, including:
You may also have difficulty concentrating on tasks during the day. Learn more about the effects of insomnia on the body.