Insomnia Frequently Asked Questions

Millions of people are living with insomnia. Whether you have insomnia or know someone who does, here is a guide to the basics.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. It the most common sleep disorder in the U.S., affecting over 40 million people each year.1 While most people experience the occasional restless night, insomnia is different and left untreated, it can cause physical and mental health problems and disrupt many aspects of life.

What are the types of insomnia?

There are 2 types of insomnia:2-4,5

  • Short-term, or acute, insomnia which usually lasts for a few days or weeks. It affects 30 percent to 50 percent of people. Short-term insomnia is usually triggered by stress and tends to get better once the stress goes away.
  • Chronic insomnia occurs at least 3 times a week for 3 months or longer. This type of insomnia is less common, affecting between 5 percent and 15 percent of people. Chronic insomnia can cause serious health issues and should be addressed by a doctor.

What causes insomnia?

Short-term insomnia can result from any type of stress such as pain, job loss, death of a loved one, divorce, or worry. Changes in routine may also cause this type of insomnia. Short-term insomnia usually improves once the stress has passed or the body has adjusted to the new routine.2,3

Chronic insomnia may come and go from night-to-night over years, depending on stress and overall health.2,4 If the chronic insomnia is primary, it has no known cause. If it's secondary insomnia, another health condition is the cause.

How is insomnia diagnosed?

The tools your doctor may use to diagnose insomnia include a sleep diary, questionnaires, and a physical exam. Unlike other sleep disorders, diagnosing insomnia usually does not require tests in a sleep lab.

There is no set standard for how mild, moderate, or severe insomnia may be considered. This is partly because the amount of sleep someone needs varies by age. It also depends on how much the person thinks their quality of life is impacted and how much daytime activities are affected.

How is insomnia treated?

Treatment for insomnia depends on its root cause. People with an underlying health issue, such as depression, chronic pain, or sleep apnea, may need to be treated for that medical condition to see their insomnia improve.6

Changing sleep habits may bring relief, especially for those with short-term, or acute insomnia. Going to bed and waking up at a consistent time each day (including weekends) may help some. Chronic, or long-term, insomnia may alsobenefit from improved sleep habits. More often, chronic insomnia requires cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-I) and drugs.6

How can insomnia impact mental health?

Insomnia and mental health have a chicken and egg relationship. People with insomnia often have depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. And, people with mental health issues often have insomnia. It is possible to take steps to improve your mental health and your insomnia at the same time. It may take some trial and error to find which combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, relaxation techniques, and prescription or over-the-counter drugs works for you.

How can I manage life with insomnia?

Living with insomnia can impact many areas of a person’s life. Doing things like improving sleep habits, eating healthy foods, avoiding caffeine late in the day, staying active, quitting smoking, and managing stress can all help reduce insomnia symptoms and help you get a better night's sleep.

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