What is Insomnia?

Jon Stewart once said, “Insomnia is my greatest inspiration.” While that may be true for many creative people like Stewart, insomnia is more of a burden for the vast majority of people who suffer from it. Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or a combination of both. A person suffering from insomnia may feel fatigue and a desire to sleep, but is unable to do so for one reason or another.

Insomnia affects people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders, but it is slightly more prevalent in men than women. Approximately 20% to 40% of adults will experience insomnia in any given year, and 1 out of every 3 people will have it at some point during their lifespan. About 42 million Americans have chronic insomnia.

Types of Insomnia

A person can have short-term insomnia (acute) that persists for a few days or weeks, or long-term insomnia (chronic) that persists for months. Chronic insomnia is typically secondary to a primary condition such as depression or consumption of certain prescription drugs. Acute insomnia is typically primary insomnia, which is insomnia that is not associated with health conditions or problems.

Insomnia Symptoms

The main symptoms of insomnia are the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or a combination of the two problems. Some people may wake up during the night and be unable to return to sleep or awaken too early in the morning. Other symptoms associated with insomnia include:

  • Feeling fatigue upon awakening
  • Excessive sleepiness or daytime fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Anxiety about sleeping
  • Poor motor control

Causes of Insomnia

There are a wide variety of reasons why a person is unable to go to sleep or stay asleep. Jet lag, stress, persistent or loud noise, pain, acute illness, and drug or alcohol withdrawal are some of the common causes for short-term insomnia. Chronic insomnia may be the product of psychological problems like depression, mania, or anxiety, or physiological problems such as congestive heart failure, chronic pain or fatigue syndromes, GERD, COPD, sleep apnea, or neurological diseases. Consumption of certain medications can also induce either type of insomnia.

Insomnia Complications

Insomnia can negatively impact a person’s safety and quality of life. Going without sleep for even a short period of time puts a person at high risk for having an accident because of impaired mental function and poor motor control. According to several studies, approximately 100,000 accidents per year are caused by people too tired to function properly.

While insomnia is a symptom of anxiety or depression, it can also lead to their development. Lack of sleep has been shown to cause significant changes in mood and increase hormone activity that causes stress. The heart and nervous system are also adversely affected by insomnia and may lead to cardiovascular or neurological disease.

Treating Insomnia

Treating insomnia effectively will depend a lot on its cause. Sometimes insomnia will go away by itself, particularly if it is caused by temporary problems like jet lag. Other times, you may need to make lifestyle changes such as wearing ear plugs or developing a sleep-friendly bedtime routine to overcome insomnia.

If the insomnia is bad enough, your doctor may prescribe medication to help you sleep. However, sleep medications often have side effects and can be habit forming. There are natural ways to treat insomnia and get the sleep you need without the unwanted drama of side effects or an addiction. Read our recommendations of the most popular products available.