What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is defined by difficulties in both falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. Various factors, both mental and physical, can contribute to its onset. If not addressed, insomnia can result in sleep deprivation and the associated array of difficulties.

What causes Insomnia?

Insomnia can either be the primary condition or accompany other conditions. Persistent insomnia typically stems from factors such as stress, life events, or disruptive sleep habits. Although addressing the underlying cause may alleviate the sleep problem, in some cases, insomnia can endure for an extended period. Common contributors to long-term insomnia include

  • Chronic Stress
  • Incompatible travel or work schedule
  • Changes in sleep schedule
  • Eating too much late in the evening
  • Mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety
  • Medication side effects
  • Medical conditions causing pain or discomfort
  • Sleep-related disorders such as sleep apnea
  • Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol use

Insomnia becomes more common with age. This is the result of changing sleep patterns, activity levels, additional health conditions, and additional medications that often accompany getting older.

Symptoms of Insomnia

Insomnia symptoms may include

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Feeling tired or sleepy during the day
  • Feeling cranky, depressed or anxious
  • Struggling with attention, focus, or memory
  • Making more errors or having more accidents
  • Consistently worrying about sleep

Diagnosing Insomnia

Insomnia is not a disease, so there is no singular test that can be used for diagnosis. Sleep difficulties are typically linked to an underlying cause.

Determining the cause of poor-quality sleep begins with assessing individual variations in "normal sleep." A crucial step involves examining your health and sleep history. Factors such as medical history, existing health issues, and current medications are essential considerations for diagnosis. In some cases, blood labs or sleep studies may be required to identify specific medical conditions like thyroid problems or sleep apnea that result in insomnia.

Treating Insomnia

Changing sleep habits and addressing any issues related to insomnia, such as stress, medical conditions or medicines, can result in restful sleep for many people. If these changes are unsuccessful in resolving insomnia, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), medication, or both may be utilized to improve relaxation and sleep.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Insomnia

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia can assist individuals in controlling or halting negative thoughts and actions that interfere with sleep. It is commonly recommended as the initial treatment for those experiencing insomnia. Typically, CBT is as effective as, or even more effective than, sleep medications.

In the cognitive component of CBT, one learns to identify and modify beliefs influencing sleep. This aspect aids in managing or eliminating negative thoughts and concerns that disrupt sleep. It may also involve breaking the cycle of excessive worry about falling asleep, which, ironically, hinders the ability to do so.

The behavioral facet of CBT focuses on cultivating healthy sleep habits and discontinuing behaviors that hinder restful sleep. Strategies include

  • Stimulus control therapy
  • Relaxation methods
  • Sleep restriction
  • Remaining passively away (paradoxical intention)
  • Light therapy


Prescription sleeping medications are generally not recommended for more than a few weeks and should not be the only method to treat Insomnia. In some cases, medication can be approved for long-term use. Prescription sleeping medications can have side effects such as daytime grogginess. They can also be habit-forming.