Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. If a person has insomnia, they may also wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep.

Generally, adults need at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep in every 24-hour period, depending on their age. Getting sufficient sleep is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health. However, insomnia is a common sleep problem that can disrupt how much sleep a person gets.

When insomnia lasts for up to a few weeks, a health expert may refer to it as acute insomnia. When it lasts for 3 months or longer, it is known as chronic insomnia. Short-term insomnia can lead to daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and other problems. In the long term, it may increase the risk of various diseases.

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Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint. A person with insomnia has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. They may consistently wake up too early. Sleep deprivation can lead to issues such as:

  • daytime sleepiness and lethargy
  • a general feeling of being mentally and physically unwell
  • mood changes, irritability, and anxiety

Also, the issues above can contribute to insomnia — they may be causes, effects, or both.

In addition, insomnia may play a role in the development of:

It can also undermine school and work performance and limit a person’s ability to do daily activities.

Insomnia can result from a range of physical and psychological factors. Often, the cause is a temporary problem, such as short-term stress. In some other instances, insomnia stems from an underlying medical condition.

Common causes include:

  • having jet lag, switching shifts at work, or dealing with any other changes to the body’s internal clock
  • the room being too hot, cold, or noisy, or the bed being uncomfortable
  • caring for someone in the house, if it disrupts sleep
  • getting too little physical exercise
  • having night terrors or bad dreams
  • using recreational drugs, such as cocaine or ecstasy

In some people, stress or a mental health issue is responsible for insomnia. A person may be experiencing:

Some other health conditions that can limit sleep include:

In rare cases, some people may inherit a condition known as fatal familial insomnia. This genetic condition can cause sleep problems and brain damage that eventually lead to death.

Many different factors can increase the risk of insomnia. These can include:

  • older age
  • family history of insomnia
  • certain occupations, such as shift or night work, or jobs that require travelling to different time zones
  • stress
  • being female
  • experiencing frequent sleep interruptions, such as waking up often to care for a baby
  • taking long naps during the day
  • getting too little exercise during the day
  • using caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or recreational drug
  • using media technology, such as screen devices, in the bedroom before bed

Additionally, certain drugs can make it hard to fall or stay asleep. These can include:

Resources for healthy sleep

To discover more evidence-based information and resources on the science of healthy sleep, visit our dedicated hub.

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Apart from disrupted sleep, insomnia can lead other issues, such as:

  • daytime fatigue or sleepiness
  • irritability, depression, or anxiety
  • low motivation or energy
  • poor concentration and focus
  • a lack of coordination and rash actions, which can lead to errors or accidents Y
  • concerns or frustrations about sleeping
  • poor performance at school or work
  • difficulty socializing, working, or studying

Insomnia can be classified by duration:

  • Acute, or transient insomnia, is a short-term problem that can last for a few days or weeks.
  • Chronic, or long-term insomnia, occurs 3 or more nights a week and lasts more than 3 months.

Some health experts may also use the term other insomnia disorder in rare cases when a person has symptoms of insomnia that fail to meet criteria for acute or chronic insomnia.

Doctors may also classify it by cause. For example, primary insomnia is an issue by itself and secondary insomnia is a result of another health issue. In addition, they may classify it by severity and use tools such as the insomnia severity index.

Previously, some guidelines may have further categorized insomnia into subtypes. These included:

  • psychophysiological insomnia
  • idiopathic insomnia
  • paradoxical insomnia
  • inadequate sleep hygiene
  • behavioral insomnia of childhood
  • insomnia due to a mental health condition
  • insomnia due to medical condition
  • insomnia due to a drug or substance

The best approach can depend on the underlying cause and the type of insomnia, but some options include:

However, there is not enough strong evidence to prove that melatonin helps with sleep.

A number of remedies and tips can help manage insomnia. They involve changes to:

Sleeping habits

When possible, it can help to:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same times, establishing a routine.
  • Avoid using any device with a screen right before bed.
  • Start winding down an hour before bedtime, for example, by taking a bath.
  • Keep telephones and other devices outside of the bedroom.
  • Ensure that the room is a comfortable temperature before bedtime.
  • Use blackout blinds or curtains to darken the room.

Dietary habits

  • Avoid going to bed hungry. Have a healthy snack before bed, if necessary.
  • However, avoid eating a heavy meal within 2–3 hours of going to bed.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake, especially at night.
  • Have a healthful, varied diet to boost overall well-being.

Well-being and relaxation

  • Exercise regularly, but not within 4 hours of bedtime.
  • Do breathing and relaxation exercises, especially before sleeping.
  • Find something that helps you sleep, such as soothing music or reading.
  • Try not to nap during the day, even if you feel sleepy.
  • Receive medical attention for any mental health issues, such as anxiety.

A sleep specialist can help diagnose and treat sleep problems. They may:

  • ask the person about their medical history, sleep patterns, and use of drugs and alcohol
  • do a physical examination
  • test for underlying conditions
  • request an overnight sleep test to record sleep patterns
  • suggest wearing a device that tracks movement and sleep-wake patterns

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), a doctor may diagnose insomnia if the following criteria are met:

  • dissatisfaction with sleep quality or quantity
  • significant distress with personal functioning in daily life due to sleep difficulty
  • the sleep difficulty occurs at least 3 times a week
  • the sleep difficulty is present for at least 3 months
  • the sleep difficulty occurs despite adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep
  • a complaint of one or more of the following sleep difficulties:
    • difficulty initiating sleep
    • difficulty maintaining sleep
    • early morning awakening
    • nonrestorative sleep

Some FAQs about insomnia may include:

How do you fix insomnia?

There are several strategies and treatments available for insomnia. This can include a combination of improving sleeping hygiene, CBT, and medications.

Will insomnia ever go away?

The length of time a person experiences difficulty with sleep will depend on the underlying cause and the severity of insomnia.

Lifestyle modifications may help alleviate acute insomnia, which should relieve within a few weeks. However, if a person experiences disruptive sleep for 3 months of longer, it may be necessary to seek medical attention.

Read on to learn more about insomnia duration.

What is the main cause of insomnia?

Many different factors can trigger insomnia. These can vary between people and it may not always be possible to identify a clear cause. However, some common causes of insomnia include stress, anxiety, and depression.

What is life like for someone with insomnia?

Along with difficulty sleeping, insomnia may cause a person to feel irritable, sad, unrested, and experience headaches. It may also impact concentration and increase the risk of an accident. Chronic insomnia can also affect how well the brain, heart, and other parts of the body work.

Insomnia is a common problem. It can result from a range of issues, which may involve physical or mental health. In some cases, they are environmental or relate to lifestyle factors, such as shift work and caffeine or alcohol use.

A lack of sleep can lead to a variety of problems, ranging from mild tiredness to chronic illness.

Anyone who experiences ongoing trouble sleeping and feels that it is affecting their daily life should consult a doctor, who can help identify the cause and recommend a solution.