Having a hard time falling asleep? Waking up frequently from sleep? These could be the signs of insomnia. It is a type of sleep disorder wherein an individual experiences difficulty in initiating sleep or maintaining it. Insomnia can cause innumerable problems like lack of energy, mood swings, less concentration power, etc. In short it can affect the quality of life.

Sleep is the most important function of the body. An average human sleeps for about eight hours a day. Sleep is a type of an unconscious state which refreshes the body and mind. Getting a necessary amount of sleep helps an individual to maintain a healthy life.  Any change in the pattern of sleep can be harmful. The inability to sleep or fall asleep is called insomnia. Medically it has been termed as the total failure to sleep soundly or remain asleep for a normal length of time.

Causes of Insomnia

An average human spends one third of his life sleeping which keeps the body and mind well fueled and rested. It helps the body cells, which are active during the waking hours, to repair themselves and to get rid of the waste. This most important bodily function revitalizes the energy which is necessary to carry out the tasks of the day. Disturbances in this sleep wake cycle leads to innumerable problems like anxiety, irritability, lack of concentration and coordination, tardiness, chronic absenteeism, etc. This insomnia or sleep disorder or sleeplessness is noticed when an individual has difficulty in maintaining or initiating sleep for at least three night per week.

Symptoms of Insomnia

Insomnia, broadly categorized as acute or chronic, has common symptoms. The affected patient tends to either have a difficulty in initiating sleep at night or awakes very early in the morning. Some patients complain of waking throughout the night while some have the problem of non restorative or poor sleep. Acute or mild insomnia is referred to poor quality of sleep, waking up tired or simply the inability to sleep well for a period of less than a month. It is also referred to as stress related insomnia as this situation is brought on by stress, family pressure or traumatic events.

Chronic insomnia or secondary insomnia is caused due to the side effects of another problem. Many medical or psychological conditions like depression or medicines can trigger chronic insomnia. Any changes in the body’s circadian rhythm, change in the body temperature, anxiety, stress, alcohol, coffee, etc can cause primary insomnia.

Other Details about Insomnia

Culprits mainly responsible for the onset of insomnia is weight gain, substance abuse, menopause, advancing age, psychiatric conditions, medicines, snoring partners, excessive computer work, etc. Individuals leading a sedentary lifestyle or having a night shift work schedule or travelling across different time zones are most prone to insomnia. Insomnia affects all age group but is most frequently seen among adults. Physical examination and Polysomnography (overnight sleep study) are the best way to diagnose this problem. However insomnia can be easily prevented or totally eliminated during its onset.

Lifestyle changes like a regular exercise regime, minimizing caffeine intake, reducing stress, etc are some of home remedies to treat this problem during its onset. In acute cases mind body therapies, acupuncture, acupressure, herbal remedies massage and aromatherapy have proved to be beneficial. The most important and effective treatment is establishing healthy sleeping habits or cultivating sleep hygiene. In cases where sleep hygiene does not help, especially in chronic cases then medicines are prescribed. Dietary supplements can also promote sleep.

A daily dose of multivitamin tablet or taking omega 3 fatty acids can greatly improve the mental balance thus initiating sleep. It should be noted that any mood stabilization and sleep improvement supplement must be taken under the guidance of a doctor to avoid side effects. Blood thinning is the most common side effect of encountered while taking dietary supplements.

Sleep hygiene is the best form of treating insomnia without medicines. Just following simple steps can greatly improve the quality of sleep and increase sleeping time. Some pointers that an insomniac should follow are to maintain a tight schedule for sleeping and waking. The affected individual should not go hungry to bed and caffeinated beverages, alcohol should be avoided. Relaxation therapy, stimulus control therapy is equally helpful.

Insomnia is a sign and a symptom. Mostly it is caused due to various physical and psychological problems which cause disturbances in the sleep cycle. Older adults are most prone to insomnia as compared to the younger ones and women are more prone to it. Regular sleep hygiene, exercise and change in life style are the best way to combat and prevent insomnia.

Insomnia can be a sign of an impending problem or a symptom (side effect) of another ailment. Finding the root cause of this disorder is important for its prevention and cure. Insomnia is primarily not caused due to any known physical or mental conditions. Most of the affected persons develop this condition as a side effect of another ailment.


There are several factors which can  be the causes for insomnia in people, some of them have been discussed below:

Psychological causes

Stress, anxiety and depression are the most common reasons for giving an individual sleepless nights leading to insomnia. Concern about family or work, feeling of helplessness, tension, uncertainty can lead to a change in the chemical balances giving restless sleep. These emotional disorders and everyday anxieties disrupt sleep severely affecting day to day function thus further aggravating sadness and discouragement. This vicious cycle of a psychological problem depriving an individual of a good night’s sleep which leads to more problems should be dealt with professionally.

Regular exercise, yoga, meditation, stress control management are some of the ways to curb these problems. Professional counseling from sleep specialist or a therapist is the best ways to deal with this problem.


Night shift work schedule, travelling across different time zones are some of the factors which can give poor sleep quality causing insomnia.

Physical causes

Hormonal changes in women like pregnancy, menopause, and premenstrual syndrome can give sleepless nights. A decrease in the quantity of melatonin (sleep controlling hormone) causes insomnia.  This hormone decreases in level with an increase in age and by the age of 60 body produces very less melatonin.

Some medical conditions like arthritis, high blood pressure, allergies, asthma, heart disease, Parkinson”s disease, headache, overactive thyroid, heartburn, stroke, and hot flushes are responsible for the onset of insomnia. Any pain or discomfort in the body first interferes with sleep. Even restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea (sleep related breathing problem) are the root cause of insomnia.

Managing these conditions and taking appropriate medicine like pain killers to keep these ailments under check can greatly improve the insomnia conditions. In a few case it is noticed that beta.

blockers, asthma medicines and others can cause secondary insomnia. It means that the side effects of these medicines greatly affect the amount and quality of sleep. Thus care should be taken while consuming these medicines and it should be done only under medical supervision.

Substance abuse is another well known stimulant for insomnia. Consuming caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, and cola especially at night can cause difficulty in initiating sleep. Tobacco products like nicotine are another culprit for causing insomnia. It is a well known fact that alcohol induces sleep but many are not aware that it prevents the deeper stages of sleep. That is alcohol deprives an individual of a sound and well rested sleep making the person to awake in the middle of the night.

It is still being researched whether this sleep disorder insomnia is genetic or not?

Temporary factors

There are many temporary factors which may lead to short term insomnia. A slight change in the environment or work schedule, early morning shifts or late night shifts can cause an effect in the sleep wake cycle. These changing factors can alter the internal clock, metabolism and body temperature creating havoc to the circadian rhythms thus making sleep difficult.

Poor sleep hygiene

Habits that do not help in promoting good sleep is called poor sleep hygiene. Uncomfortable environment, stimulating activities before bed, disrupted sleep routine are some of the factors linked to short term insomnia. Even eating a heavy meal just

before going to bed can make the individual stay awake at night. Changes in the life style, trouble shooting habits, sleep patterns, and health accompanied with medicines, if necessary, can greatly help in keeping insomnia at bay.

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