Overview of Insomnia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Insomnia has become the go-to word when people struggle to fall asleep at night. But there are many sleep disorders, and insomnia is just one of them. So, what is insomnia, and how do you understand if you have this sleep disorder?

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is one of the most specific sleep disorders that make it challenging to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep through the night. Its sleeplessness symptoms are so broad that too many sleep disorders can be characterized as insomnia without a proper diagnosis. 

What are the Types of Insomnia 

There are five types of insomnia, and they are grouped according to duration and the presence of a co-morbid health condition. 

Insomnia according to duration: 

  • Transient Insomnia; 
  • Short-term Insomnia; 
  • Chronic Insomnia. 

Transient insomnia is a case of insomnia that has lasted only a month and is usually caused by an external stressor or a change in the circadian rhythm. People who study for exams or have a short-term product to work on that requires late nights are at risk of transient insomnia.

Short-term insomnia has a duration of one to six months. This type is a more severe version of transient insomnia. It is often a result of long-term stressors or a long-term change to sleep patterns, such as getting a new job where you have to work a night shift. 

Chronic insomnia is sleeplessness that has lasted for longer than six months. People with chronic insomnia might struggle with this condition for years, even after the stressors leading to the situation have been treated or taken away. Persons who have chronic insomnia will not be helped by a heavy blanket, listening to a sleep sound machine app, as well as other ways to fall asleep.

Types of insomnia based on the presence of a co-morbid condition:

  • Primary Insomnia; 
  • Co-morbid Insomnia. 

Primary insomnia occurs in people with no other underlying condition co-existing with the whole co-morbid insomnia occurs in people with a psychiatric or medical condition co-morbid with insomnia.

Symptoms of Insomnia 

The symptoms of insomnia generally rally around sleeplessness, and they are:

  • Inability to sleep throughout the night; 
  • Waking up too early in the morning without getting adequate sleep;
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night;
  • Feeling fatigued after a night’s sleep; 
  • Sleepiness and tiredness in the afternoon; 
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks; 
  • Memory problems; 
  • Depression, anxiety, and irritability.

If you experience these symptoms, you most likely have insomnia. You should see a specialist if your symptoms prohibit you from functioning during the day. 

Causes of Insomnia 

The causes of insomnia range from bad habits to medical conditions. Causes of chronic insomnia can be traced to the latter group. 

  • Overeating at night and too close to your bedtime; 
  • Change in sleep or work schedule; 
  • Irregular bedtime and using screens before bed; 
  • Stress; 
  • Medications; 
  • Ingesting alcohol, nicotine and caffeine; 
  • Medical conditions like chronic pain, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and cancer;
  • Mental health disorders like anxiety, PTSD, and depression;
  • Other sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

Who is At Risk For Insomnia?

Insomnia can happen to everybody, from children and teens to older adults. Some children have delayed circadian rhythms that make them stay up late and sleep later in the morning. Kids also develop insomnia from outside stressors or staying up late at night. In older people, insomnia is a common worry. Medications, health conditions, changes in sleep patterns, and lack of physical activity are causes of insomnia in older adults.

However, you’re at risk for insomnia if you: 

  • Are stressed; 
  • Have a flexible sleeping schedule; 
  • Are 60 and older; 
  • Are a woman. 

How to Treat Insomnia

Insomnia can be treated or managed with two methods. 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Insomnia

This therapy is designed to help patients identify and manage the underlying behaviours and thoughts that cause their insomnia. This method allows patients to form healthy habits and be aware of their stressors. It can also help patients find a long-lasting solution to their insomnia.


Some patients require medication to help correct their insomnia. These medicines are usually only advisable for a short period. Patients would still need to change their lifestyles to encourage healthier sleeping habits. 

Other non-conventional methods used to manage insomnia include using melatonin supplements, the best meditation app or calming essential oils.


Insomnia is a common sleeping disorder caused by lifestyle changes, medications, and health conditions. If your symptoms don’t align with the ones above, your sleeplessness could be a result of something else other than insomnia. In that case, it’s advisable to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Huynh Nguyen

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