What is Insomnia?
When you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or wake up way too early and then can’t fall asleep again, you are generally said to experience insomnia. In each case, you still have plenty of opportunity to sleep. You just can’t.
Insomnia is not defined by how many hours you normally sleep, as what is normal for one person may not be normal for another. Instead, it is identified as either an acute or chronic problem.
Acute (short-term) insomnia means you have a really bad night, here or there, when you just can’t sleep. It might come after a day of stress, or a major life event has taken place makes it hard to sleep.
Chronic insomnia describes sleepless nights that take place at least 3 nights of the week and persist for longer than 3 months.
In both cases, the person suffering sleeplessness awakens feeling unrefreshed in the morning and notices an impact on their daily functioning.
Insomnia is now considered more likely a symptom of another problem than a sleep disorder of its own making.
Revisions of clinical definitions of insomnia in 2015, in both the International Classification of Sleep Disorders manual (3rd edition) used by sleep medicine professionals, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) used by mental health professionals, have helped to merge and clarify a wider clinical understanding of what insomnia is (or is not).
These recent clarifications within the medical community make it easier for doctors to more conclusively identify insomniacs who experience a true hyperaroused state. They may be—and frequently are—suffering separately from cardiovascular, psychiatric, or neurological problems, and require help in isolating the root cause of and appropriate treatment for their insomnia.
Insomnia is still considered the most prevalent sleep problem across the general population. Reasons for this can be internally explained, while other cases on sleeplessness may be caused by external factors.
Fortunately, symptoms of insomnia are not as clinically challenging as they might seem, and are often the result of identifiable and treatable disruptions, such as:
- A sleeping environment that is not conducive to sleep (too noisy, too light, or a public or shared space where there is no privacy, in example)
- Side effects from medications that the insomniac may be using for other health problems
- A lifestyle or work schedule that intrudes upon a person’s normal sleeping period
- The presence of other sleep disorders, medical conditions, mental health conditions, or
- Poor sleep hygiene habits, such as too much caffeine late in the day, that could explain one’s inability to fall asleep, maintain sleep, or return to sleep after awakening at night
These influences on sleep need to be acknowledged and reconciled before one can receive an official diagnosis of insomnia as a sleep disorder.
People with complaints of insomnia suffer from a variety of symptoms that are shown to be markers of problematic sleeplessness:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Problems with memory, focus, or attention
- Concerns about problems with relationships, work, or school based linked to sleeplessness
- Emergence of mood problems such as crankiness or irritability
- Feelings of fatigue or lassitude
- Sudden behaviors like impulsiveness, hyperactivity, or aggression that are atypical when one gets enough sleep
- Lack of energy, initiative, or motivation
- Increases in accidents, falls, mistakes or errors while at work or while operating equipment or vehicles
- Anxiety about poor sleep, concern about “racing thoughts” or other problems with relaxing at night
Treatments in years past typically involved the use of sleep aids like zolpidem (Ambien). However, more recent research suggests a much better long-term solution can be employed using a wide variety of therapeutic techniques known as CBT-i (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia).
14 links on insomnia in SleepyHeadCentral:
- Sleep Disorders 101: What is insomnia?
- Sleep Hygiene Tip of the Week || Capture your worries first
- Do you have insomnia… or do you have sleep apnea?
- When naps set you up for a visit with the Insomnia Vampire
- Acupuncture can relieve insomnia and, possibly, more [Dr. Dave Shirazi]
- Are insomnia and winter depression linked?
- Using yoga to achieve relaxation, sleep and stress management [David Schaar]
- INSOMNIA: Guest Post on Sleep State Misperception, with Dr. Robert Rosenberg, DO
- The problem with insomnia forums
- If you have been taking Ambien (zolpidem) long-term (since before 2013), please read this
- INSOMNIA || Why is it linked to depression?
- Are you accident prone? The potentially deadly link between insomnia and accidents of all kinds
- 3 potential ways to treat sleeplessness that you might not know about
- Complications of Insomnia || Sleep Fundamentals
Links to learn more: