What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a condition that is characterised by difficulty falling asleep or the inability to fall asleep. Insomnia includes a wide range of different sleeping problems, and is something that regularly affects millions of people worldwide. While it can affect people of all ages, insomnia is typically more common in adult females than adult males.

Insomnia can have several negative consequences on a person’s life. It can impact several things including work and school performance, relationships, and a person’s overall wellbeing. Insomnia also commonly leads to irritability, anxiety, and depression.

Types of Insomnia

Insomnia is generally separated into three different types. These include:

Transient Insomnia: Symptoms last for up to three nights.

Acute Insomnia (short-term insomnia): Symptoms last for several weeks.

Chronic Insomnia: Symptoms last for several months or years.

What Are the Causes?

There are several causes for insomnia, most of which are from an underlying condition such as lifestyle habits or illness. An individual may experience insomnia because of many different physical and psychological problems they are experiencing, with the type of insomnia related to what is causing it. For example, chronic insomnia may be caused by an underlying medical problem, while acute insomnia may be caused by a recent event or something that occurred in a person’s life.

People more likely to experience insomnia include: workers with frequent shift changes, individuals who frequently travel (especially in different time zones), drug and alcohol abusers, elderly individuals, college students, pregnant women, menopausal women, and individuals with mental health disorders.

Common causes of insomnia can include:

  • Psychological problems: anxiety, depression, excessive worry, tension, relentless stress, bipolar disorder
  • Lifestyle habits: working at home at night on the computer, sleeping in late to make up for lost sleep, working non-traditional hours, taking naps (can be helpful for some, but can make it difficult for others to fall asleep at night)
  • Drug and alcohol abuse and/or withdrawal
  • Disruptions in the natural sleep rhythm: environmental noise, jet lag, high altitudes, extreme heat or cold
  • Certain medical conditions: Asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain, problems with the endocrine system, low back pain, tumours, and gastrointestinal problems
  • Hormone problems: menopause, perimenopause, estrogen production
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Technology in the bedroom: using smartphones and television before bed, backlight from computer tablets


There are several symptoms commonly associated with insomnia. These include:

  • Problems falling asleep at night
  • Waking up throughout the night
  • Difficulty falling back asleep when waking up in the night
  • Waking up earlier than desired
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Not feeling rested or refreshed after sleeping
  • Trouble with focus and concentration
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Problems communicating with others
  • Decreased coordination
  • Worrying about sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal issues


There are countless individuals who experience insomnia that find it goes away after a few days. Others however, may find that insomnia becomes a regular occurrence and that it begins to negatively impact their daily lives. When bouts of insomnia become regular, seeking treatment can help.

The treatment a person receives for insomnia depends on what is causing it. Common types of treatment for insomnia include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation
  • Lifestyle changes that include: regular exercise, a healthy, well-balanced diet, avoiding caffeine after mid-day, avoiding cigarette smoking, and going to bed at the same time each night in a comfortable sleeping environment
  • Avoiding television, computer screen time, and use of smartphone before bed
  • Setting an alarm for the same time each morning (even on the weekends)
  • Medications that include: antidepressants, over-the-counter sleeping pills, prescription sleep medication, melatonin, antihistamines, and ramelteon

Insomnia FAQ

What are the two systems that affect sleep and the ability to sleep?

The two systems that affect a person’s sleep cycles is their wake system and sleep system. The wake system gives signals to help wake a person up in the morning and keep them awake. The sleep system gives signals to help a person fall asleep and stay asleep.

How much sleep does a person need?

In general, adults need approximately 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

How long does insomnia usually last?

Insomnia affects everyone differently. Some people may experience insomnia for just one or two nights, while others will develop chronic insomnia that lasts for several months or years.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is several different practices and healthy habits that are fundamental in receiving good sleep at night. Good sleep hygiene practices include: limiting caffeine intake at least 6 hours prior to bed, exercising regularly (but avoiding strenuous workouts before bed), avoiding food that can disrupt sleep (fried foods, heavy or rich meals, sugar, spicy foods, and citrus), ensuring exposure to natural sunlight, engaging in a regular bedtime routine, and having a pleasant sleep environment.

External Links

What is insomnia, Sleep Foundation

Insomnia in the Medical News Today

What Causes Insomnia, Sleep Foundation

Treatment for Insomnia, Sleep Foundation

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