Understanding the Causes and Symptoms of Insomnia

Insomnia can be quite tricky to get a handle on, as it can affect anyone at any time. Insomnia is classified as the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night.  Many people may experience this trouble sleeping and attribute it to a rough day at work, or to the anxiety of an upcoming vacation. Most of the time, people ignore the tell-tale signs of insomnia, and it will progressively get worse and even wreak havoc at home and work. Having trouble sleeping can greatly affect your concentration, memory and focus.

Insomnia is also known to accompany health concerns and other sleep disorders that may interrupt your sleep. Insomnia is not the reason you cannot sleep, insomnia is what we call your inability to sleep.

A great way to start minimizing the effect insomnia has on your life is first understanding what can cause insomnia. Once you understand what causes insomnia, you can take preventative measure to help safe guard your sleep by reducing these causes. If you are overly stressed, you can try stress relieving activities such as meditation, aromatherapy or exercising. If a medication you are taking is known to disrupt sleep,  it may be time to consult your doctor about an alternative that will not disrupt sleep.

Here are some common “symptoms” of people who may have insomnia:

  • Difficulty waking up.
  • Difficulty falling asleep.
  • Waking up periodically throughout the night and having trouble getting back to sleep.
  • Waking up too early in the morning.
  • Feeling tired after waking up and throughout the day.
  • Irritability.
  • Fatigue.
  • Trouble concentrating.

The two types of insomnia are primary and secondary insomnia. Each type  is attributed to something different. Primary insomnia means that a person is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, and it is not directly correlated with an underlying health condition or issue. Secondary insomnia is attributed to possible health problems like asthma, depression, cancer, etc. Secondary insomnia can also be caused by medications a person is using or a substance such as alcohol.

The duration of insomnia can also vary from acute to chronic. Acute insomnia means a person has trouble sleeping one night a week for up to a few weeks, and is short-term. Chronic insomnia, or long-term insomnia, can result in 3 or more nights of troubled sleep a week, and can last for a month or longer. To understand each variation, let’s look at some underlying causes of insomnia.

Acute Insomnia:

  • Life stress or emotional stress (change of job, death of family member, divorce, moving).
  • Illness.
  • Discomfort (emotional and physical).
  • Change in sleep schedule (jet lag, change in work shift).
  • Medication (some medication can make it difficult to sleep or stay asleep).
  • Environment (noise from outside, lights, temperature).

Chronic Insomnia:

  • Depression or anxiety.
  • Constant stress (chronic stress).
  • Pain or discomfort at night.

30% – 50% of the general population suffers from insomnia, and 10% have chronic insomnia. Understanding that insomnia may be caused by another illness or disorder can be a signal that something has gone awry. If you have trouble sleeping, do not brush it off, as it can possibly lead to greater health risks or further disruptions of both sleep and your peace of mind.

To properly diagnose insomnia, speaking with your primary care physician is a great place to start. An evaluation may be needed to fully diagnose any sleep disorder or condition. It is always good to keep a sleep journal by your bed. Whether you think you may have a sleep disorder or not, a sleep journal may also help you with remembering ideas, thoughts, and even dreams that we sometimes forget.

There are many different treatment options for insomnia, but never try to self diagnose. If you feel you have a sleep disorder or condition speak with your medical care provider and discuss possible options.


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