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Conditions InDepth: Insomnia

Insomnia is defined as inadequate or poor-quality sleep despite having adequate time to sleep. Insomnia may take the form of difficulty falling asleep, or middle-of-the-night or early-morning awakening. It may be a short-term problem or occur more often over a long period of time. It becomes more common as you get older.

Over the course of a year, about one third to half of adults experience some level of insomnia. About 10%-15% have more severe or chronic insomnia. It may cause problems during the day, such as tiredness, a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

Insomnia is not a disease. Instead, it is a result of a behavior or a symptom of an underlying mental or physical problem. There are many causes of insomnia.

Short-term insomnia is often due to temporary situations. It generally occurs in people who are experiencing one or more of the following:

  • A life crisis or stress
  • A change in the sleep environment, including factors such as noise, light, or temperature
  • Sleep/wake schedule problems, such as those due to jet lag or temporary shift work
  • Side effects of medication

Chronic insomnia often results from a medical condition. They may include:

Chronic insomnia may also be due to behavioral factors. These include:

  • Misuse of nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, or other substances
  • Disrupted sleep/wake cycles from shift work or other nighttime activity schedules
  • Chronic stress

For some people, insomnia is aggravated by:

  • Expecting to have difficulty sleeping and worrying about it
  • Excessive napping in the afternoon or evening
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References:

Buysse DJ. Insomnia. JAMA. 2013;309(7):706-716.
Can't sleep at night? National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: https://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/home. Accessed March 2, 2016.
Insomnia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114839/Insomnia-in-adults. Updated March 21, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
Merrigan JM, Buysse DJ, Bird JC, Livingston EH. JAMA patient page. Insomnia. JAMA 2013;309(7):733.
What is insomnia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated December 13, 2011. Accessed March 2, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardMarcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 3/15/2015

 

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