What is insomnia?

Having insomnia means you often have trouble falling or staying asleep or going back to sleep if you awaken. Insomnia can be either a short-term or a long-term problem.

Insomnia affects 1 in 3 adults every year in the US.

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How does it occur?

Causes of insomnia include:

Insomnia may be temporary (called situational insomnia) or ongoing (chronic insomnia).

Situational insomnia occurs with a stressful event. It is often caused by noise, pain, worry, or family, work, financial, or school problems. It lasts 3 weeks or less. This kind of insomnia generally goes away when the stressful event is over or resolved.

Chronic insomnia can be caused by irregular sleep-wake patterns resulting from shift work, drug dependency (including long-term use of sleeping pills or alcohol), stress, illness, or mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. It lasts longer than 3 weeks and requires treatment of the underlying problem.

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What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include:

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How is it diagnosed?

Your health care provider will ask you about:

Your health care provider may also ask your spouse, bed partner, or other family members about your sleep habits. After talking with you, your health care provider may give you a physical exam. A blood sample may be taken for lab tests.

Your health care provider may ask you to take notes each morning about:

Your health care provider may suggest that you sleep overnight in a sleep center. At the sleep center you may have a continuous, all-night recording of your breathing, eye movements, muscle tone, blood oxygen levels, heart rate and rhythm, and brain waves.

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How is it treated?

When appropriate, your health care provider will prescribe treatment for underlying problems that are causing the insomnia. For example, if you have depression, medicine used to treat depression should help the insomnia. If drug or alcohol abuse is the cause of your insomnia, the treatment is to help you to stop using these substances. If you have chronic insomnia, it must be treated with management of the underlying problem.

In some cases of temporary insomnia, your health care provider may prescribe medicine to help you sleep until the stressful event is over or resolved. Counseling may also help you deal with psychological problems or reduce stress that may cause or contribute to your insomnia.

Some sleeping medicine can be addictive. Your health care provider will work with you to choose the right medicine for short-term or long-term use.

Your health care provider may recommend relaxation techniques, changes in diet, cutting out caffeine, and a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise. Your provider also will probably discuss good sleep habits and a regular sleep routine.

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How long will the effects last?

Often insomnia lasts for just a few nights. If you cannot sleep almost every night for 2 weeks, tell your health care provider. Insomnia that lasts this long usually continues until the cause is identified and treated.

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How can I help prevent insomnia?

Practice good sleep hygiene:

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