INSOMNIA : what it is about

Insomnia is described as the inability or difficulty an individual faces when they cannot fall or stay asleep even when they get the chance to. Insomnia sufferers are usually not satisfied with their sleep and tend to present with symptoms such as fatigue and concentration difficulties during the day.

There are a wide range of sleep disorders that are categorized under insomnia, from lack of sleep quality to lack of sleep quantity. However, it is usually separated into the following types based on its duration:

  • Acute Insomnia – This is the type of sleep disruption that most people experience. It is a brief episode of difficulty sleeping that is usually caused by some kind of stressful life change or event such as a new job or bad news etc. This lasts for a few days to a few weeks and usually resolves itself without any treatment.
  • Chronic Insomnia – A long term pattern of sleep difficulty. It is only really considered chronic if the patient has issues with sleeping for at least 3 nights a week for 3 months or longer. Most people with chronic insomnia have a long standing history of sleep difficulty and it can be the result of numerous causes.
  • Maintenance Insomnia – The inability to stay asleep where patients usually wake up during the night and can’t return to sleep.
  • Onset Insomnia – Difficulty falling asleep at the beginning of the night.
  • Comorbid Insomnia – This usually occurs as a result or symptom of another condition. Psychiatric symptoms have been linked to certain changes in sleep (such as depression and anxiety) as well as other physical conditions making it uncomfortable or painful to sleep etc.

Insomnia is a very common condition for adults and it is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the general population suffer from sleep disruption or have some symptoms that are consistent with insomnia, and it is more common in adult females than males but can generally affect people of any age.

Risk Factors

Insomnia is usually caused by psychiatric and/or medical conditions which can range from unhealthy sleep habits, specific substances, and other biological factors. Some of the risk factors of developing insomnia are shown below:

  • Medical conditions that cause insomnia can include:
    • Chronic pain
    • Asthma
    • Neurological conditions
    • Sinus allergies
    • Gastrointestinal problems such as reflux
  • Stress, anxiety and depression
  • Poor sleeping environments
  • Lifestyle factors such as jet lag, work, and alcohol or caffeine before bed
  • Medications such as antidepressants, steroids or epilepsy medication.

Associated Signs and Symptoms


It is often a challenge to differentiate a passing sleep problem from an actual serious form of insomnia that requires treatment. However, guidelines from a physician group show that people with insomnia have at least one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Cognitive impairment such as difficulty concentrating
  • Mood disturbances
  • Behavioral changes such as increased aggression
  • Unrefreshing sleep

One thing to keep in mind with insomnia is that while most of us experience brief periods or episodes of some sleep disturbance, it is not always requiring treatment. Only really chronic cases, where symptoms are present at least 3 days a week for 3 months, require some form of treatment.

Diagnosing The Condition

Since there is no definite lab test for insomnia, doctors have to rely on using numerous different tools for diagnosing and measuring the symptoms of insomnia. These range from questionnaires to blood tests in order to give the doctor a good understanding of your personal experience with the condition. Some of these tools are listed below:

  • Sleep Logs – A diary where you record simple things about your sleep such as bedtime, wake up time, tiredness level throughout the day etc.
  • Blood Tests – A doctor may perform certain blood tests to rule out some medical conditions.
  • Sleep Inventory – An extensive questionnaire into the patients medical health, medical history and sleep patterns.
  • Sleep Study – Your doctor would make you sleep overnight to monitor and gather information about your nighttime sleep.

How To Treat And Manage The Condition

Most types of insomnia resolves itself once the underlying cause of the condition wears off. Therefore, a large portion of the treatment of insomnia focuses on determining the actual cause of the sleeplessness. Once identified, this can then be treated. Some medical treatments of insomnia include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Prescription sleeping pills
  • Sleep aids
  • Antihistamines
  • Melatonin
  • Ramelton

There are also some non medical, i.e cognitive and behavioral treatments for insomnia which include:

  • Relaxation training – teaches the patient how to tense and relax certain muscles in the body to induce sleep
  • Stimulus control – This limits the amount of activities that you conduct in the bedroom in order to build an association with sleep and said bedroom.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This for the most part constitutes behavioral changes such as bed times, and eliminating naps.

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