Insomnia symptoms may include difficulty falling or staying asleep, or non-refreshing sleep. It causes emotional and cognitive problems during the day.
Insomnia means difficulty sleeping. While occasional difficulty sleeping is experienced by nearly everyone, some people experience a greater degree of this problem, and for a longer duration.
Insomnia may include the following:
• Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up too early
• Non-refreshing sleep (feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep)
• Fatigue or low energy
• Impairment of behavior, such as difficulty concentrating, memory problems, irritability, impulsive or aggressive behaviors
• Problems at school, work, or home related to the above
• Physical symptoms, like headaches or digestion problems
It is normal to take about 20 minutes to fall asleep, so if you aren’t “out when your head hits the pillow,” it doesn’t mean that you have insomnia. However, if it regularly takes you 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep, that may indicate insomnia. If you get only six hours of sleep per night or less, that’s also a potential indication of insomnia.
Insomnia usually interferes with activities during the day. There is an increased risk of car accidents and other dangerous errors in people with insomnia. They may also suffer from relationship problems with their spouse, children, or others, because of the irritability caused by insomnia. Problems with concentration and memory can cause difficulties at work or school.
Insomnia may be classified as acute or chronic. Someone with chronic insomnia has had trouble sleeping at least three nights every week for one month. Shorter durations are classified as acute insomnia.
Insomnia can also be classified as primary or secondary. Primary insomnia means that you have trouble sleeping that is not associated with any other medical condition. Secondary insomnia means that the trouble sleeping is caused by another medical condition; for instance, difficulty breathing due to asthma, or pain from arthritis, could prevent someone from sleeping. Secondary insomnia can also be caused by a medication or substance you are consuming. Certain allergy medicines, blood pressure medicines, and medicines for depression may cause insomnia, as can common substances such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
If you have occasional nights where you have trouble falling or staying asleep, then it’s probably nothing to worry about. However, if this is happening often, then you should consider talking to your doctor about your insomnia. Your doctor may order some tests to figure out what’s causing your sleep problems, and you may be able to receive treatment that restores your ability to sleep.
In some cases, daytime sleepiness is related to a mismatch between the individual’s internal clock and the environment. For instance, teenagers commonly feel sleepy during the day. The internal biological clocks of teenagers are naturally set later than those of adults; they naturally fall asleep later and wake later. However, school usually demands that teenagers get up early. Because they aren’t naturally sleepy until late, and are forced to get up early, they feel tired during the day. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have insomnia.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” CDC website (2015). http://www.cdc.gov/Sleep/index.html
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” NINDS website (2014). http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Insomnia: Symptoms.” Mayo Clinic website (2014). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/basics/symptoms/con-20024293