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Insomnia: Types, Symptoms and Causes

Insomnia is a common condition in which a person has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, resulting in poor sleep quality and fatigue during the day.

Persistent or chronic insomnia can have a significant impact on your daily life and can cause other serious problems. For example, it could make you may feel drowsy while driving. Drowsy driving results in about 100,000 crashes each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Almost all individuals experience insomnia symptoms at some point in their lives. Although anyone can get insomnia, but it is more common in groups such as women, elderly, people under stress, and people with certain mental health problems such as depression.

On average, an ideal amount of sleep for an adult is around 7-9 hours a night. Babies and children may sleep for much longer than this, whereas older adults may sleep less.

Types of Insomnia

There are three types of insomnia, depending on the duration:

  • Transient insomnia – It lasts for less than a week. It’s a minor case of insomnia and often resolves without treatment.
  • Acute insomnia (short-term insomnia) – It usually lasts from one to three weeks. This type of insomnia is commonly caused by stressful event such as loss of a job, end of a long-term relationship, family pressure, etc. In most cases, acute insomnia will resolve itself with no treatment.
  • Chronic insomnia (long-term insomnia) – It lasts for more than a month. Chronic insomnia is often a result of a combination of factors, including underlying physical or mental disorders. Treating the underlying cause can resolve the insomnia, but sometimes it can last for years.

What are the Symptoms of Insomnia?

Common signs and symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep despite being tired.
  • Waking up several times during the night.
  • Waking up too early in the morning and not being able to fall back to sleep.
  • Feeling tired during the day despite having enough hours of sleep.
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering during the day.
  • Daytime drowsiness or sleepiness.

If you think you have insomnia, talk to your health care provider. Early treatment can help you avoid future problems associated with the condition and also improve your overall health.

What Causes Insomnia?

There are many possible causes of insomnia, including:

Mental or psychological disorders

Stress is considered by most sleep experts to be the leading cause of both acute and chronic insomnia. Common triggers include excessive workloads, a family or relationship problem, financial difficulties, death or illness of a loved one. Other common psychological causes include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and trauma.

Poor sleep environment

An unfriendly sleep environment, for instance, a bedroom that’s too bright, hot or cold. Interruptions from children or your sleep partner can also disrupt sleep. Other influences may be the comfort of your bed, mattress or pillow.

Lifestyle behaviors

Habits and activities that you do during the day or night can interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. These include:

  • Smoking or using other tobacco products.
  • Drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages in the night.
  • Exercising close to bedtime.
  • Having an irregular morning or nighttime schedule, for example because of shift work or changing time zones after a long-haul flight (jet lag).

Medical conditions

Medical conditions that can cause insomnia include chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.


Many prescription drugs that are linked to insomnia, including antidepressants, corticosteroids, stimulant for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), medicines for asthma or high blood pressure medications, and some contraceptives.

Certain over-the-counter drugs, such as cold and flu medications that contain alcohol, and pain-relievers that contain caffeine, can also interfere with your sleep.

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