If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, or you wake up feeling unrefreshed, you may be suffering from insomnia. Insomnia is a symptom. It may be caused by stress, anxiety, depression, disease, pain, medications, sleep disorders or poor sleep habits. Your sleep environment and health habits may also play a role in your sleep problems.
Some medications can lead to insomnia as well. These include medications for cold and allergy (some antihistamines and decongestants, high blood pressure ( antihypertensives), heart disease ( betablockers), thyroid disease and birth control ( hormones), as well as asthma and pain medications (containing caffeine).
Some common sleep disorders can also cause poor sleep. These disorders range from restless legs syndrome (a creeping, crawling sensation in the legs only relieved by movement) to a bed partner's sleep apnea (a breathing disorder with loud snoring and brief periods when breathing stops).
Insomnia may be experienced for a few days, for two to three weeks, or it may be chronic, lasting for three weeks or more. Chronic insomnia is more difficult to treat, and doesn't go away on its own. You may need to see a physician or sleep specialist.
Many people experience insomnia, particularly women before and at the onset of the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and menopause.
Before you can treat insomnia, you need to identify its cause. Your doctor may ask about your mood. Are you depressed? Anxious? Under stress? Could your insomnia be caused by pain, medications, disruption in your life due to travel across time zones, or working non-traditional shifts? Could caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or spicy foods play a part in your difficulty sleeping? Questions you answer with a "no" may help point to a diagnosis of primary insomnia.