What is insomnia?


Although an occasional night of poor sleep can be common, insomnia is a sleep disorder that includes difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep or waking up too early. This may occur multiple nights per week. Insomnia can cause you to feel fatigued, anxious and affect your mood, performance and overall health.

While this can vary, adults generally need seven to eight hours a night. Some people experience several nights of poor sleep patterns which lasts for days or weeks as a result of stress or a traumatic event. This is called acute or transient insomnia because it usually resolves itself. But some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia that lasts for a month or more. Insomnia may be the primary problem, or it could be a reflection of other medical conditions or medications.

Simple changes in your daily habits can often help you improve your sleep.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

Insomnia symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night.
  • Waking up during the night.
  • Waking up too early.
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night's sleep.
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness.
  • Irritability, depression or anxiety.
  • Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering.
  • Increased errors or accidents.
  • Ongoing worries about sleep.

Causes of Insomnia

Lack of sleep can cause you to fall asleep while driving and result in car accidents. Periods of stopped breathing can, with time, cause high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, stroke and early death.

  • Stress. Life is full of challenges both big and small and this can be stressful. It can be difficult to shut your mind off at night. This can lead to insomnia.
  • Travel or work schedule. Nature provides each one of us with an internal clock to synchronize our sleep according to the time of day. When this pattern gets disrupted it can cause insomnia. Examples might include shift work or Jet lag.
  • Poor sleep habits. Poor sleep habits include an irregular bedtime schedule, daytime naps, an uncomfortable sleep environment, and using your bed for work, eating or using electronic devices just before bed can interfere with your sleep cycle.
  • Eating too much late in the evening. Having a light snack is probably helpful but large meals or too much fluid prior to bedtime can cause awakenings and insomnia.

Chronic insomnia may also be due to underlying medical conditions or the use of certain drugs. Treating the medical condition may help improve sleep, but the insomnia may persist even if the medical condition is resolved.

Additional causes of insomnia include:

  • Mental Health Disorders. Depression and anxiety are common causes of insomnia.
  • Medications. Drugs used to treat hypertension, asthma and depression are common examples but it is important to recognize even over the counter drugs, especially cold remedies and weight loss products, can result in insomnia.
  • Medical Conditions. Diabetes, heart disease, overactive thyroid, irritable bowel or gastric reflux, cancer and dementia are some of the many medical conditions that can be associated with insomnia.
  • Sleep-related disorders. Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and a variety of other sleep disorders can lead to insomnia.
  • Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Especially when consumed in the late evening hours can cause insomnia.

There are some special risk groups like elderly patients and post menopausal women in whom insomnia is more common.

Risk Factors

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night. But your risk of insomnia is greater in:

  • Females
  • People over the age of 60
  • People with mental health or medical illnesses
  • People in stressful situations
  • Poor sleep habits


Lack of quality sleep can affect you both mentally and physically. People with insomnia have a lower quality of life compared with people who are sleeping well.

Complications of insomnia may include:

  • Reduced performance at work or at school.
  • Higher risk of accidents due to slow reaction times.
  • Depression, anxiety disorder or substance abuse.
  • Increased risk and severity of long-term diseases or conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Prevention (Sleep Hygiene Tips)

  • Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, including weekends.
  • Stay active. Regular activity helps promote a good night's sleep.
  • Check your medications to see if they may contribute to insomnia.
  • Avoid electronics and bright light prior to bedtime.
  • Avoid or limit naps.
  • Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol, and don't use nicotine.
  • Avoid large meals and limit fluids before bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and comfortable for sleep and only use it for sex or sleep.
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a warm bath, reading or meditating.

Prevention (Sleep Hygiene Tips)

If your insomnia lasts for more than a few weeks and especially if it is interfering with your ability to work or reducing the quality of your life it may be time to seek sleep consultation with us.

Treatment usually starts with a thorough evaluation for the possible causes underlying your insomnia. Specialists can offer insights and help through cognitive and behavioral treatments which are often longer lasting and superior to medications, although medications may be part of an overall treatment plan.