Whats It Called When You Cant Sleep?

When someone has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, it is known as insomnia. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can be short-term (acute) or can last a long time (chronic). It may also come and go, with periods of time when a person has no sleep problems. Acute insomnia can last from one night to a few weeks, whereas chronic insomnia is characterized by sleep disruption that occurs at least three nights per week and lasts for at least three months.

Types and Causes of Insomnia

Acute Insomnia

Acute insomnia is often caused by life circumstances such as stress at work, family pressures, or traumatic events. It is usually temporary and resolves without treatment.

Chronic Insomnia

Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, is more complex and often results from a combination of factors, which may include underlying physical or mental health issues. Some common causes include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Pain or discomfort at night
  • Nighttime respiratory problems, such as sleep apnea
  • Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety
  • Medications that disrupt sleep
  • Substance abuse

Chronic insomnia can also arise without a clear cause, a condition known as primary insomnia or idiopathic insomnia.

Diagnosing Insomnia

To diagnose insomnia, a doctor will typically conduct a thorough medical and sleep history. This may involve discussing sleep patterns, medication use, and lifestyle factors. In some cases, a sleep diary or sleep studies, such as polysomnography, might be recommended to gather more information.

Sleep Hygiene Questionnaire

Part of the assessment for someone experiencing insomnia might include a discussion on sleep hygiene—the habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis.

Specialized Tests

If there’s a suspicion of an underlying condition, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome, specific tests such as overnight oximetry, actigraphy, or a blood test for iron levels might be conducted.

Consequences of Insomnia

Impact on Health

Insomnia can have numerous effects on health, including weakened immune function, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Daytime Fatigue and Accident Risk

Insomnia can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, diminished cognitive function, and an elevated risk for vehicular or workplace accidents.

Impaired Quality of Life

Chronic sleep deprivation can adversely affect one’s overall quality of life, causing irritability, mood swings, and problems with personal relationships.

Insomnia Management and Treatment

Lifestyle Modifications and Behavioral Therapies

Initial treatment for insomnia typically involves lifestyle changes and behavioral therapies. Good sleep hygiene practices are a cornerstone of this approach, and may include:

  • Keeping a regular sleep schedule
  • Creating a bedtime routine that is calming and regular
  • Ensuring the sleep environment is comfortable and free from disturbances
  • Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and heavy meals close to bedtime
  • Limiting naps during the day, especially in the afternoon
  • Engaging in regular physical activity, but not right before bedtime

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is another highly effective treatment. It involves structured interventions that address thoughts and behaviors that can contribute to insomnia.

Pharmacological Interventions

Medications for insomnia include over-the-counter remedies, such as antihistamines, and prescription medications, like benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepines (such as zolpidem and eszopiclone), and melatonin receptor agonists. However, these drugs are generally not intended for long-term use due to potential side effects and the risk of dependency.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Some individuals may find relief with CAM therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture, or the use of supplements like melatonin or valerian root. It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any supplement as they can have contraindications and interact with other medications.

Preventing Insomnia

While not all cases of insomnia can be prevented, adopting healthy lifestyle and sleep habits can minimize the risk. Monitoring stress levels, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and ensuring regular physical activity are all beneficial preventative measures.

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Environmental Considerations

It also helps to optimize the sleep environment. This might involve using comfortable bedding, regulating room temperature, reducing noise and light exposure, and reserving the bedroom for sleep and intimacy only, leaving work and other stressors in a different space.

When to Seek Professional Help

It is important to seek medical advice if insomnia becomes a regular occurrence or starts to affect daily functioning. Professionals can help identify underlying causes, develop an appropriate treatment plan, and provide guidance on sleep-improvement strategies.

Finishing Thoughts

Insomnia is a common sleep issue that many people experience at some point in their lives. While occasional sleeplessness may be a minor inconvenience, chronic insomnia can significantly affect one’s wellbeing. Understanding the types, causes, and treatments for insomnia is the first step towards restoring healthy sleep patterns and improving overall health. Remember, achieving quality sleep is just as critical to health as diet and exercise, so addressing sleep concerns should be a priority. If simple lifestyle changes do not resolve insomnia, seeking help from a healthcare provider or a sleep specialist is advisable.


  • Ashton Roberts

    I love learning and sharing everything about sleep. I am one of the energetic editors here at GoodSleepHub, where I talk about how to get a better night's sleep. When I'm not writing, I'm probably walking my dog Luna or trying out new sleeping gadgets. My goal is to help you sleep easier and better. Join me, and let's find simple ways to enjoy great sleep every night!

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