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What is Insomnia?


What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing non-restorative sleep despite having the opportunity to sleep. 

Individuals with insomnia often report persistent fatigue, mood disturbances, and impaired daytime functioning due to poor sleep quality. 

This disorder can be acute, lasting for a short period of time, or chronic, persisting for months or even years. 

Primary insomnia occurs independently of other health conditions, while secondary insomnia is associated with underlying factors such as medical conditions (e.g., chronic pain, asthma), mental health disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression), medications, or substance use.

The signs and symptoms of insomnia can  impact an individual’s ability to function during daily activities and affect their overall well-being.

Signs and Symptoms of Insomnia:

  1. Difficulty falling asleep despite feeling tired.
  2. Waking up frequently during the night and having trouble returning to sleep.
  3. Waking up too early in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep.
  4. Non-restorative sleep, feeling unrefreshed upon waking.
  5. Daytime sleepiness or fatigue.
  6. Irritability, mood disturbances, or anxiety related to sleep difficulties.
  7. Difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
  8. Increased errors or accidents due to impaired cognitive function.
  9. Tension headaches or gastrointestinal distress associated with sleep disruptions.
  10. Persistent worries about sleep and its impact on daily functioning.

Causes of Insomnia 

As humans, we tend to casually ignore the problem of sleeplessness. We may think it might happen due to uneasiness or lack of fatigue. But persistent sleepless nights cannot be ignored.

Lack of awareness poses a significant challenge in addressing insomnia, often leading individuals to resort to over-the-counter sleep medications as a solution. Sound sleep is important as it relaxes the body and energizes the human brain and body. 

Risk Factors and Complications

  1. Stress and Anxiety: High levels of stress, worry, or anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns and make it difficult to relax and fall asleep.
  2. Mental Health Disorders: Conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or bipolar disorder are often associated with insomnia.
  3. Poor Sleep Habits: Irregular sleep schedules, excessive napping, using electronic devices before bedtime, or consuming stimulants (like caffeine) close to bedtime can contribute to insomnia.
  4. Medical Conditions: Chronic pain conditions (e.g., arthritis, fibromyalgia), respiratory disorders (e.g., asthma), gastrointestinal issues (e.g., acid reflux), or neurological disorders (e.gParkinson’s disease) can disrupt sleep.
  5. Medications: Certain medications, such as those for asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, or depression, may interfere with sleep patterns as a side effect.
  6. Substance Use: Excessive alcohol consumption, nicotine use, or substance abuse can negatively impact sleep quality and increase the risk of insomnia.
  7. Shift Work or Jet Lag: Irregular work schedules, especially those involving night shifts or frequent travel across time zones, can disrupt the body’s internal clock and lead to insomnia.
  8. Environmental Factors: Noisy or uncomfortable sleeping environments, extreme temperatures, or disruptions in daily routines can contribute to sleep disturbances

Treatments and Medication for Insomnia

  1. Sleep Hygiene Education: This involves teaching individuals about healthy sleep habits and behaviors, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding stimulating activities before bed, and optimizing the sleep environment.
  2. Stimulus Control Therapy: This behavioral therapy aims to associate the bed and bedroom environment with sleep by restricting certain activities (e.g., using electronic devices) in bed and establishing consistent sleep-wake patterns
  3. Relaxation Techniques: Practices like progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation, or yoga can help calm the mind and body before bedtime, reducing anxiety and promoting better sleep.
  4. Sleep Restriction Therapy: This approach involves limiting the time spent in bed to the actual amount of time spent asleep, gradually increasing sleep efficiency and consolidating sleep.
  5. Medications: In some cases, medications like sleep aids (e.g. benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, melatonin agonists) may be prescribed for short-term management of insomnia. 

Hypersomnia V/S Insomnia

Psychological terms are often confused with one another. Same is with hypersomnia and insomnia, but the two are very different. Let us understand how!

Insomnia involves difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing non-restorative sleep despite adequate opportunity for rest. Individuals with insomnia often struggle with daytime fatigue, irritability, and impaired concentration due to sleep deprivation. 

In contrast, hypersomnia refers to excessive daytime sleepiness and prolonged nighttime sleep, where individuals may sleep for extended periods but still feel excessively tired during the day.

Unlike insomnia, hypersomnia can be caused by conditions such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or certain medications. While insomnia disrupts the ability to achieve sufficient sleep, hypersomnia involves difficulty staying awake and alert during waking hours despite ample sleep.


A clinical interview is conducted to gather information about sleep patterns, nighttime behaviors, daytime functioning. People are advised to maintain a sleep diary to get valuable information about sleep-wake patterns, sleep quality, and daytime symptoms associated with insomnia. Patients may be asked to complete standardized questionnaires designed to assess sleep quality, insomnia severity, daytime sleepiness, and other sleep-related symptoms. If stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions are suspected to be contributing to insomnia, a psychological evaluation may be conducted


Some key strategies in maintaining a consistent sleep schedule include going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, creating a relaxing bedtime routine (e.g., reading, listening to calming music), and ensuring a comfortable sleep environment (cool, quiet, dark bedroom with comfortable bedding). It’s important to limit screen time before bed, avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime, and engage in regular exercise earlier in the day to promote better sleep quality.

Managing stress through relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation, as well as moderating caffeine and alcohol intake, can also contribute to improved sleep. By incorporating these self-help activities into daily habits, individuals can take proactive steps toward better sleep and overall well-being.