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Insomnia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Insomnia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment 

Raj Dasgupta

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. If a person has insomnia, they may also wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, adults need at least 7–9 hours of sleep in every 24-hour period, depending on their age. Research shows that around 25% of people in the United States experience insomnia each year, but around 75% of these people do not develop a long-term problem.

Short-term insomnia can lead to daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and other problems. In the long term, it may increase the risk of various diseases. This article looks at what insomnia is, as well as its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments.

A person with insomnia has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. They may consistently wake up too early.

This can lead to issues such as:

  • daytime sleepiness and lethargy
  • a general feeling of being mentally and physically unwell
  • mood changes, irritability, and anxiety

Also, the issues above can contribute to insomnia — they may be causes, effects, or both.

In addition, insomnia may play a role Trusted Source in the development of chronic diseases, such as:

  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • cardiovascular disease
  • depression

It can also undermine school and work performance and limit a person’s ability to do daily activities.

Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia can result from a range of physical and psychological factors. Often, the cause is a temporary problem, such as short-term stress. In some other instances, insomnia stems from an underlying medical condition.

Common causes include:

  • having jet lag, switching shifts at work, or dealing with any other changes to the body’s internal clock
  • the room being too hot, cold, or noisy, or the bed being uncomfortable
  • caring for someone in the house, if it disrupts sleep
  • getting too little Trusted Source physical exercise
  • having night terrors or bad dreams
  • using recreational drugs, such as cocaine or ecstasy

In some people, stress or a mental health issue is responsible for insomnia. A person may be experiencing:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia

Some other health conditions that can limit sleep include:

  • restless legs syndrome
  • an overactive thyroid
  • sleep apnea
  • gastrointestinal reflux disease, commonly called GERD
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD
  • chronic pain

Often, symptoms of another health issue or natural transition cause difficulty sleeping. During menopause, for example, hormonal changes can lead to night sweats, which can interrupt sleep.

In people with Alzheimer’s disease, changes in the brain disrupt or change sleeping patterns.

Also, some people have a rare genetic disorder called fatal familial insomnia, which prevents sleep and can be life threatening.

Media technology in the bedroom

ResearchTrusted Source suggests that using devices with screens before bed can cause a loss of sleep in young people.

These devices can also harm sleep patterns in adults. Recreational use after lights-out appears to increase the riskTrusted Source of insomnia, for example.


According to the American Association of Retired Persons, the following medications can cause insomnia:

  • corticosteroids
  • statins
  • alpha-blockers
  • beta-blockers
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, antidepressants
  • angiotensin converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitors
  • angiotensin II receptor-blockers, or ARBs
  • cholinesterase inhibitors
  • nonsedating H1 agonists
  • a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin

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