Troubled Sleep: Insomnia

Troubled Sleep: Insomnia

Sleep Insomnia Explained

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a condition in which you have trouble falling or staying asleep. Some people with insomnia may fall asleep easily but wake up too soon. Other people may have the opposite problem, or they have trouble with both falling asleep and staying asleep. The end result is poor-quality sleep that doesn’t leave you feeling refreshed when you wake up.

Insomnia is a common health problem. It can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and a lack of energy. Long-term insomnia can cause you to feel depressed or irritable; have trouble paying attention, learning, and remembering; and not do your best on the job or at school. Insomnia also can limit the energy you have to spend with friends or family.

Insomnia can be mild to severe depending on how often it occurs and for how long. Chronic insomnia means having symptoms at least 3 nights per week for more than a month. Insomnia that lasts for less time is known as short-term or acute insomnia.

Quick Facts About Insomnia

  • Insomnia is a condition in which you have trouble falling or staying asleep. It is a common condition that can cause daytime sleepiness and lack of energy.
  • There are two types of insomnia: secondary and primary. Secondary insomnia is the most common type. Secondary means that the insomnia is a symptom or a side-effect of some other problem. Primary insomnia is not a side-effect of another problem, and it generally persists for 1 month or longer.
  • Insomnia that lasts for more than 1 month and is present at least 3 nights a week is called chronic insomnia. Insomnia that lasts for less than 1 month is called short-term or acute insomnia.
  • Chronic insomnia is a serious problem that can affect your mood, safety, and performance at work or school. If insomnia continues for a few weeks, see your doctor.
  • Secondary insomnia often goes away or improves without treatment if you can eliminate its cause.
  • Your doctor will usually diagnose insomnia based on your medical history, sleep history, a physical exam, and a sleep study if the cause of your insomnia is unclear.
  • Lifestyle changes, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and sleep medicines can be used to treat insomnia.
  • Sleep medicines can help treat insomnia, but these medicines may make you feel groggy after you wake up, especially if you don’t get 7 to 8 hours of sleep.

Types of Insomnia

There are two types of insomnia. The most common type is called secondary insomnia. More than 8 out of 10 people with insomnia are believed to have secondary insomnia. Secondary means that the insomnia is a symptom or a side-effect of some other problem. Some of the problems that can cause secondary insomnia include:

  • Certain illnesses, such as some heart and lung diseases
  • Pain, anxiety, and depression
  • Medicines that delay or disrupt sleep as a side-effect
  • Caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and other substances that affect sleep
  • Another sleep disorder, such as restless legs syndrome; a poor sleep environment; or a change in sleep routine

In contrast, primary insomnia is not a side-effect of medicines or another medical problem. It is its own disorder, and generally persists for least 1 month or longer.

Secondary insomnia often resolves or improves without treatment if you can eliminate its cause. This is especially true if the problem can be corrected soon after it starts. Better sleep habits and lifestyle changes often help relieve insomnia. You may need to see a doctor or sleep specialist to get the best relief for insomnia that is persistent or for which the cause of the sleep problem is unclear.

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