What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a chronic sleep condition where you can’t go to sleep or stay asleep that is characterized by low energy levels, moodiness or difficulty concentrating.

Insomnia is a common condition that affects up to 50 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. Approximately 10 percent of people suffer from chronic insomnia.

Common related conditions
Alcoholism (Alcohol Use Disorder) Anxiety Disorders Depression

Types of insomnia

There are two types of insomnia:

  • Acute insomnia — patients who experience sleeplessness due to life’s circumstances.
  • Chronic insomnia — if you have disturbed sleep for more than three nights in a week that lasts three months or longer, you have chronic insomnia.

Causes of insomnia

Insomnia is caused by a variety of medical conditions, or symptoms from that condition, including:

  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • GERD
  • Low back pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Other factors that can contribute to insomnia include:

  • Stress
  • Eating too much too late in the evening
  • Poor eating habits
  • Work schedules such as shift workers
  • Caffeine intake
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Tobacco addition

Risk factors for insomnia

You are at greater risk of insomnia if you fall into one of the following high-risk categories:

  • Women
  • Over 60 years old
  • Have a mental health condition
  • Experience daily stress
  • Work night shifts or irregular schedule

Symptoms of insomnia

Signs or symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Inability to fall asleep
  • Inability to stay asleep
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Moodiness
  • Decreased work performance

Diagnosis of insomnia

A primary care doctor can diagnose insomnia but may send you to a sleep specialist for further testing and treatment in severe cases.

Your doctor will take a full medical history, ask questions to determine your sleep history and perform physical exam during your clinic visit. He or she may recommend filling out a sleep log to help you tract your sleep patterns.

Other tests he or she may order include:

  • Sleep study — during an overnight sleep study, you will be connected to an EEG, which monitors the stages of your sleep, your oxygen levels and heart rates.
  • Blood test — can rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms.

Treatment for insomnia

Your doctor may recommend lifestyle and home remedies, like improved sleep habits, as well as encourage you to address concerns that may be causing your sleep issues such as stress, eating habits or work hours, before moving to more advanced treatment options.

If these changes are not allowing you to sleep soundly, your doctor may recommend the following treatments:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy — can help you control negative emotions that disrupt your sleep.
  • Medications — prescription medications such as Lunesta, Rozerem, Sonata and Ambien can help you get to sleep and stay asleep longer. Medications should only be used for a few weeks at a time.
  • Alternative medicine — alternative medications such as melatonin, valerian, acupuncture, medication or yoga have also been proven effective in some patients to help them sleep better.

Find a primary care doctor nearby

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