Insomnia

blue clock

If you can't sleep, you may be wondering if you have insomnia. Insomnia is a complicated condition.

What is the definition of insomnia?

According to guidelines from a physician group, insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so. People with insomnia can feel dissatisfied with their sleep and usually experience one or more of the following: fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school.

How long does insomnia last?

Insomnia may be characterized based on its duration. Acute insomnia is brief and often happens because of life circumstances (for example, when you can't fall asleep the night before an exam, or after receiving stressful or bad news). Many people may have experienced this type of passing sleep disruption, and it tends to resolve without any treatment.

Chronic insomnia is disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week and lasts at least three months. Chronic insomnia disorders can have many causes. Changes in the environment, unhealthy sleep habits, shift work, other clinical disorders, and certain medications could lead to a long-term pattern of insufficient sleep. People with chronic insomnia may benefit from some form of treatment to help them get back to healthy sleep patterns. Chronic insomnia can be comorbid, meaning it is linked to another medical or psychiatric issue, although sometimes it's difficult to understand this cause and effect relationship.

People with insomnia tend to have difficulty falling asleep (onset), staying asleep (maintenance), and/or they wake up too early in the morning. Treatment for insomnia can include behavioral, psychological, medical components or some combination thereof. You and your doctor will need to talk about your particular situation and history of insomnia, as well as its causes, to decide on the best treatment plan.

What are some facts about insomnia? 

Insomnia is a common sleep problem for adults. The National Institutes of Health estimates that roughly 30 percent of the general population complains of sleep disruption, and approximately 10 percent have associated symptoms of daytime functional impairment consistent with the diagnosis of insomnia.

In a 2005 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) Poll, more than half of people reported at least one symptom of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, waking up a lot during the night, waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep, or waking up feeling un-refreshed) at least a few nights per week within the past year. Thirty-three percent said they had at least one of these symptoms every night or almost every night in the past year. The two most common symptoms, experienced at least a few nights a week in the past year, included waking up feeling unrefreshed and waking up a lot during the night. A 2002 NSF Poll found that 63 percent of women (versus 54 percent of men) experienced symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week.

Other polls have found interesting trends associated with insomnia. For example, 68 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 report experiencing symptoms of insomnia, compared with 59 percent of adults ages 30 to 64, and only 44 percent of people over the age of 65. Not surprisingly, parents report more insomnia symptoms than adults without children in the household (66 vs. 54 percent).