What Is Insomnia?

To put it simply, insomnia is a sleep disorder that is defined by an inability to stay or fall asleep.

There are three characteristics associated with insomnia: adequate sleep opportunity, persistent sleep difficulty, and daytime impairment.

You may find it difficult to fall asleep, and when you do finally fall asleep you may find it difficult to stay asleep. You may also wake up during the night and not be able to get back to sleep. These symptoms can result in you feeling very tired throughout the day.

Insomnia can have serious implications on both your physical and mental health. It can significantly affect your quality-of-life, and can promote unwanted dangers, such as workplace accidents due to fatigue.

Insomnia may also be the symptom of another pre-existing disease or disorder.


There are a number of symptoms associated with insomnia. Knowing what the symptoms are will be able to help you identify whether or not you suffer from the disorder.

Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up during sleep
  • Waking up too early
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Depression, irritability, and anxiety
  • Lack of concentration
  • Worrying about sleep

If you identify with a number of these symptoms then you may suffer from insomnia.


There are several things that may cause insomnia to occur, such as:

  • Anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Medication
  • Other sleep disorders


Anxiety, stress, and depression are all common causes of insomnia. In contrast to this, insomnia can also promote the onset, or worsen the signs of anxiety, stress, and depression.

There is an overlapping relationship between insomnia and these health conditions. In order to maximize treatment for insomnia it is also important to treat the underlying issues associated with the disorder.

Studies have shown that patients who suffer from persistent insomnia are much more likely to develop depression (by up to three times the amount).

Medical Conditions

There are a variety of medical conditions that can contribute to insomnia, such as: asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism, acid reflux, kidney disease, cancer, and chronic pain.


Some medication may interfere with your sleep. An obvious example would be medication that contains caffeine, which will cause you to feel more energetic and therefore feel less tired.

Other examples include:

  • Antidepressants (i.e. Zoloft, and Prozac)
  • Blood pressure mediation (i.e. beta blockers)
  • Common cold/flu medication
  • Alcohol
  • Pain relievers (i.e. Excedrin, and Midol)
  • Thyroid medication

Other Sleep Disorders

It is possible for insomnia to be a symptom that stems from another pre-existing disorder.  The most common are restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.


If insomnia is causing you consistent problems then you should seek out treatment for it. Some people may only experience the symptoms of insomnia for a brief period of time, so if it is reoccurring then it should be dealt with appropriately.

The first step you should take is to contact a health professional who will be able to inform you of your options, or refer you to a sleep specialist.  You may be required to undergo an assessment to find out the severity of your insomnia. This will assist in finding out which treatment option would suit your needs. 

Treatment options for insomnia include:

  • Improving sleep routine/environment
  • Exercise
  • Avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol
  • Avoiding naps
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Medication

Improving Your Sleep Routine/Environment

You may find that improving your sleep routine, or the environment you sleep in, can assist with insomnia. There are several things you can do, such as making sure your room is nice and dark, removing any noise, and setting it to a comfortable temperature – just make sure it’s not too hot, and not too cold!

You may also find that sticking to a consistent sleep schedule can help greatly. Try to go sleep and wake up at the same time every night/morning. This will allow you to adjust your sleep pattern.

Try to turn off all the electronics in your room before you go to sleep, such as your TV, and mobile phone. Use this time to unwind before calling it a night.

Avoiding Naps

Taking naps throughout the day can increase the difficulty to fall asleep at night. You may want to reduce the amount of time you spend napping, or cutting it out completely.

Avoiding Caffeine, Smoking, and Alcohol

A study showed that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bed had a significant impact on sleep disturbances. [3] From these results you should look to avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before you plan on sleeping.


Medication can be a good option in the treatment of insomnia. Examples include:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antidepressants (i.e. doxepin)
  • Hypnotics (i.e. eszopiclone, zaleplon, zolpidem)
  • Antihistamines
  • Other medications (i.e. ramelteon, Suvorexant)

Types of Insomnia

According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders – Third Edition (ICSD-3) there are three different classes of insomnia:

  • Chronic insomnia disorder
  • Short-term insomnia disorder
  • Other insomnia disorder

Chronic insomnia disorder can be determined by satisfying a number of different criteria. [2] This includes:

  1. A report of sleep initiation or maintenance problems
  2. Adequate opportunity and circumstances to sleep
  3. Daytime consequences
  4. Minimum duration of 3 months

Frequency of at least 3 times per week


It is estimated that between 8-40% of the general population suffer from insomnia. Furthermore, around 8-10% are said to suffer from chronic insomnia. [1] With these statistics in mind it is obvious that insomnia is a very common sleep disorder.

DISCLAMER: The information on this page is intended for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for proper medical attention. If you would like to know more then please read our disclaimer.

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