Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint. Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint. It occurs when you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep even though you had the opportunity to get a full night of sleep. The causes, symptoms and severity of insomnia vary from person to person. Insomnia may include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep throughout the night
- Waking up too early in the morning
Insomnia involves both a sleep disturbance and daytime symptoms. The effects of insomnia can impact nearly every aspect of your life. Studies show that insomnia negatively affects work performance, impairs decision-making and can damage relationships. In most cases, people with insomnia report a worse overall quality of life.
Everyone has the occasional night of poor sleep. In many cases this is due to staying up too late or waking up too early. This does not mean you have insomnia, it means you didn’t get enough sleep.
As many as 30 to 35 percent of adults complain of insomnia. It is more common in groups such as older adults, women, people under stress and people with certain medical and mental health problems such as depression.
There are two types of insomnia based on the regularity and duration of the sleep disturbance and daytime symptoms:
- Short-term insomnia: This type of brief insomnia lasts for up to three months. It occurs in 15 to 20 percent of people.
- Chronic insomnia: This type of insomnia occurs at least three times per week and lasts for at least three months. About 10 percent of people have chronic insomnia.
A board certified sleep medicine physician diagnoses chronic insomnia. The sleep team at an accredited sleep center can provide ongoing care.
Symptoms and causes of insomnia are different for every patient. Insomnia symptoms may include:
- Problems with attention, concentration or memory (cognitive impairment)
- Poor performance at school or work
- Moodiness or irritability
- Daytime sleepiness
- Impulsiveness or aggression
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Errors or accidents
- Concern or frustration about your sleep
Insomnia is most often associated with another problem. Insomnia that is not caused or worsened by other factors is rare. These factors may include:
This varies from relatively minor things like work or personal stress, to more severe changes such as death, divorce or job loss.
Other sleep disorders
Some sleep disorders can cause insomnia or make it worse. For instance, people with restless legs syndrome may have a hard time falling asleep.
Many physical illnesses can cause insomnia. People who experience pain, discomfort or limited mobility from medical problems may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia due to medical conditions is most common in older adults because people tend to have more chronic health problems as they age. Conditions such as pregnancy, particularly the third trimester, and menopause can cause sleep problems. The severity and duration of insomnia often varies with the related health condition.
The relationship between sleep and mental health is complex. Insomnia is sometimes caused by a mental health disorder. Often a mental health disorder will be found after a complaint of insomnia. Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States and a frequent cause of insomnia. People with depression often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Difficulty falling asleep is also common in people with anxiety disorders. Other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder may also cause sleep problems.
Medication or substance use or abuse
Insomnia can be an unwanted side effect of many prescription or over-the-counter medications. Common cold and allergy medicines contain pseudoephedrine and can make it difficult to fall asleep. Antidepressants and medications to treat ADHD, high blood pressure or Parkinson’s disease can also cause insomnia. Drinking alcohol before bedtime can cause frequent awakenings during the night. Insomnia also can occur if you suddenly stop using a sleeping pill. Caffeine and other stimulants can prevent you from falling asleep. Stimulants also cause frequent awakenings during the night. Some people are sensitive to certain foods and may be allergic to them. This can result in insomnia and disrupted sleep.
The environment where you sleep can cause insomnia. Disruptive factors such as noise, light or extreme temperatures can interfere with sleep. Sleeping with a bed partner who snores also can cause sleep disruption. Extended exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals may prevent you from being able to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Habits or lifestyles
Irregular sleep schedules (see shift work disorder) can cause insomnia in workers who try to sleep during the day.