Insomnia Symptoms, Causes, Remedies, and Cures

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Do You Suffer from Insomnia?

Insomnia Symptoms

Insomnia is the perception of inadequate or poor-quality sleep. It can be due to problems falling asleep, early wakening, waking frequently during the night, unrefreshing sleep, or a combination of these. Contrary to some popular beliefs, insomnia is not defined by the total amount of sleep one gets or how long it takes a person to fall asleep. Individuals can vary in their need for sleep, and in the time required to fall asleep. What is a refreshing night's sleep for one person might be insomnia for another person.

Quick GuideSleep Better, Conquer Insomnia

Sleep Better, Conquer Insomnia

Insomnia definition and facts

  • Insomnia is a condition characterized by poor quality and/or quantity of sleep, despite adequate opportunity to sleep, which leads to daytime functional impairment.
  • Many diseases, syndromes, and psychiatric conditions may be responsible for causing insomnia.
  • Some common signs and symptoms of include:
  • Sometimes insomnia may be unrelated to any underlying condition.
  • There are several useful non-medical behavioral techniques available for treating the problem.
  • Medications are widely used to treat insomnia in conjunction with non-medical strategies.
  • Sleep specialists are  doctors who can play an important role in evaluating and treating long-standing (chronic) insomnia.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is defined as difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, or both, despite adequate opportunity and time to sleep, leading to impaired daytime functioning. Insomnia may be a cause of or result of poor quality and/or quantity of sleep.

Insomnia is very common. Ninety percent of the general population has experienced acute insomnia at least once. Approximately 10% of the population may suffer from chronic (long-standing) insomnia.

The problem affects people of all ages including children, although it is more common in adults and its frequency increases with age. In general, women are affected more frequently than men.

3 classes of insomnia based on the duration of symptoms and signs

Insomnia may be divided into three classes based on the duration of symptoms.
  • Transient insomnia: lasts one week or less and may be termed transient insomnia
  • Short-term insomnia: lasts more than one week but resolves in less than three weeks
  • Long-term or chronic insomnia lasts more than three weeks.

Insomnia can also be classified based on the underlying reasons for insomnia, for example:

  • Sleep hygiene
  • Existing health problems or other diseases
  • Sleep disorders
  • Stress factors

It's important to make a distinction between insomnia and other similar terminology; short duration sleep and sleep deprivation.

  • Short duration sleep may be normal in some patients who may require less time for sleep without feeling daytime impairment, the central symptom in the definition of insomnia.
  • Sleep deprivation: In insomnia, adequate time and opportunity for sleep is available, whereas in sleep deprivation, lack of sleep is due to lack of opportunity or time to sleep because of voluntary or intentional avoidance of sleep.

Signs and symptoms of insomnia

Impairment of daytime functioning is the defining and the most common symptom of insomnia.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Daytime fatigue
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Mood changes
  • Poor attention and concentration
  • Lack of energy
  • Anxiety
  • Poor social function
  • Headaches
  • Increased errors and mistakes

Who gets insomnia?

There are no specific risk factors for insomnia because of the variety of underlying causes that may lead to insomnia. The medical and psychiatric conditions listed earlier may be considered risk factors for insomnia if untreated or difficult to treat. Some of the emotional and environmental situations that were also mentioned above may act as risk factor for insomnia.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/19/2017

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