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Insomnia is what we commonly refer to as sleeplessness. It is a sleep disorder wherein people experience difficulty falling sleeping or staying asleep. Insomnia can result in daytime sleepiness and lack of energy the next day. A person with insomnia is likely to feel irritable and depressed. This sleep disorder can be dangerous because it causes an individual to lose focus and concentration. These are factors that can increase the risk of motor vehicle accidents as well as work-related accidents.

Based on an estimate, 10 to 30 percent of adults suffer from insomnia at any given point in time. Older people or those over the age of 65 have higher risks compared to younger people. Females are more at risk compared to males.

What are the different types of insomnia?

There are several types of insomnia. These are:

Acute Insomnia

Acute Insomnia is also known as short-term insomnia. This is a common type of insomnia that lasts less than 3 months. Acute insomnia is usually a result of a momentous life event. It can be due to a death in the family, a stressful change in a person’s profession, travel, or a relationship problem. Unlike other types of insomnia, acute insomnia often resolves itself without the need for any treatment or medication.

Chronic Insomnia

This is a type of insomnia characterized by a long pattern of difficulty in sleeping. For insomnia to be chronic an individual must experience difficulty falling asleep or falling asleep at least three times a week. This condition lasts for at least three months. Chronic insomnia usually affects those who have a long history of sleeping difficulties.

Comorbid Insomnia

Insomnia is comorbid when it occurs together with another condition. Comorbid insomnia is often associated with psychiatric symptoms like anxiety and depression. There are also medical conditions that can cause insomnia or cause a person to be uncomfortable while sleeping. An example of a condition that can make sleeping uncomfortable are back or joint pains.

Onset Insomnia

Onset insomnia is a type of insomnia wherein a person has difficulty falling asleep at the beginning of the night. Unlike other types of insomnia when a person with onset insomnia managed to fall asleep, they will stay asleep.

Maintenance Insomnia

Unlike onset insomnia, a person with maintenance insomnia can easily fall asleep at the beginning of the night. The problem for people with maintenance insomnia is they cannot stay asleep. When an individual with maintenance insomnia wakes up in the middle of the night it will be hard to get back to sleep.

What are the signs and symptoms of insomnia?

The most common signs of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Frequent arousals during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Unrestful sleep
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of focus and attention

What causes insomnia?

Insomnia can either be the primary problem or it can be the result of another medical condition. Common causes of insomnia include:


Insomnia can be a result of stress from the patient’s workplace, school, family, relationship, finances or health. Problems concerning these areas can keep the mind of an individual active at night. They can make it difficult for a person to sleep. Insomnia can also be the result of a stressful life event such as the death or critical illness of a loved one. A divorce or the loss of a job can also lead to insomnia.

Disruptions in the Circadian Rhythm

The human body has an internal clock which we call the Circadian Rhythm. This controls the sleep and wake cycle of a person. It also oversees the metabolism and body temperature of a human being. The effectiveness of the Circadian Rhythm hinges on a regular schedule. This schedule gets disrupted by changes such as travel or a change in work schedule.

Traveling can also cause jet lag if the travel requires a person to cross multiple time zones in a short span of time. A change in a work schedule can also cause insomnia. This is common for individuals who don’t have a fixed work schedule. Changing shifts that are hours apart can disrupt the Circadian Rhythm.

Poor Sleep Habits

Having poor sleep habits can cause insomnia. These include not having a regular bedtime schedule. Sleeping in an uncomfortable sleep environment can also result in insomnia. A person who uses gadgets that emit blue light close to bedtime will also experience difficulty in sleeping.


There are some prescription drugs that can cause insomnia. Some antidepressants and anti-asthma medications can interfere with sleep. Medications for blood pressure are also known to cause insomnia. When it comes to over-the-counter medications, many of them use caffeine and other stimulants as active ingredients. Over-the-counter medications like cold medications or weight-loss products can cause insomnia.

Sleep-related disorders

Insomnia can be a result of another medical condition. Chief among these are other sleep-related disorders. An example is sleep apnea. A person with sleep apnea frequently wakes up throughout the night because this condition causes a person to stop breathing periodically while sleeping. Restless Legs Syndrome is another sleep-related condition often associated with insomnia. This disorder causes unpleasant sensations in a person’s legs. It also causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs which can prevent a person from falling asleep.

Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine

Caffeinated drinks are designed to provide a person with energy and keep them awake. Drinking these beverages late in the afternoon or early in the evening can keep a person awake when it is time to sleep. The effects of these drinks stay in the body for several hours and may not have worn off even when it is already bedtime.

Nicotine has stimulating properties that can interfere with one’s sleep. On the other hand, alcohol can help a person sleep. However, it prevents a person from reaching the deeper restorative stage of sleep. Alcohol is also a diuretic. A diuretic is something that can cause a person to frequently relieve himself. Frequent visits to the bathroom can disrupt sleep.


People of advanced age are at high risk of insomnia. This is due to the changes that their bodies and lifestyle undergo. Older people are less active which makes them more likely to take daily naps. These naps may interfere with their sleep during the night. Older people also have more health conditions that may disrupt sleep. Chronic pain due to arthritis or back problems can make it difficult to fall asleep.

Additional Resources:

Helping Children Fall Asleep: Sleep Onset Problems in Children

Sleep disorders can affect anyone. This includes children. Research by the National Sleep Foundation found that around 65 percent of children ages 10 years old and below suffer from a sleep disorder. According to a study at the Northwestern University Medical Center, lack of sleep is one of the leading… Read More »Helping Children Fall Asleep: Sleep Onset Problems in Children