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Insomnia: NWHIC

Article title: Insomnia: NWHIC

Conditions: Insomnia, transient insomnia (type of Insomnia), Chronic insomnia (type of Insomnia)

Source: NWHIC


What is insomnia?
Who is likely to get insomnia?
What causes transient (temporary) or intermittent insomnia?
Can insomnia be aggravated by certain behaviors?
How do I know if I have insomnia?
What kind of treatment is there for insomnia?

See also...

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is the perception or complaint of inadequate or poor-quality sleep because of one or more of the following:

  • difficulty falling asleep

  • waking up frequently during the night with difficulty returning to sleep

  • waking up too early in the morning

  • unrefreshing sleep

Insomnia is not defined by the number of hours of sleep a person gets or how long it takes to fall asleep. Individuals vary normally in their need for, and their satisfaction with, sleep. Insomnia may cause problems during the day, such as tiredness, a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

Insomnia can be classified as transient (short term), intermittent (on and off), and chronic (constant). Insomnia lasting from a single night to a few weeks is referred to as transient. If episodes of transient insomnia occur from time to time, the insomnia is said to be intermittent. Insomnia is considered to be chronic if it occurs on most nights and lasts a month or more.

Who is likely to get insomnia?

Women, the elderly, and individuals with a history of depression are all more likely to experience insomnia. If other conditions (such as stress, anxiety, a medical problem, or the use of certain medications) occur along with the above conditions, insomnia is more likely.

What causes transient (temporary) or intermittent insomnia?

There are many causes of insomnia. Transient and intermittent insomnia generally occur in people who are temporarily experiencing one or more of the following:

  • stress

  • environmental noise

  • extreme temperatures

  • change in the surrounding environment

  • sleep/wake schedule problems such as those due to jet lag

  • medication side effects .

What causes chronic insomnia?

Chronic insomnia is more complex and often results from a combination of factors, including underlying physical or mental disorders. One of the most common causes of chronic insomnia is depression. Other underlying causes include arthritis, kidney disease, heart failure, asthma, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, Parkinson's disease, and hyperthyroidism. However, chronic insomnia may also be due to behavioral factors, including the misuse of caffeine, alcohol, or other substances; disrupted sleep/wake cycles as may occur with shift work or other nighttime activity schedules; and chronic stress.

Can insomnia be aggravated by certain behaviors?

Some behaviors may prolong existing insomnia, and they can also be responsible for causing the sleeping problem in the first place:

  • expecting to have difficulty sleeping and worrying about it

  • ingesting excessive amounts of caffeine

  • drinking alcohol before bedtime

  • smoking cigarettes before bedtime

  • excessive napping in the afternoon or evening

  • irregular or continually disrupted sleep/wake schedules

Stopping these behaviors may eliminate the insomnia altogether.

How do I know if I have insomnia?

Patients with insomnia are evaluated with the help of a medical history and a sleep history. The sleep history may be obtained from a sleep diary filled out by the patient or by an interview with the patient's bed partner concerning the quantity and quality of the patient's sleep. Specialized sleep studies may be recommended, but only if there is suspicion that the patient may have a primary sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

What kind of treatment is there for insomnia?

Transient and intermittent insomnia may not require treatment since episodes last only a few days at a time. For example, if insomnia is due to a temporary change in the sleep/wake schedule, as with jet lag, the person's biological clock will often get back to normal on its own. However, for some people who experience daytime sleepiness and impaired performance as a result of transient insomnia, the use of short-acting sleeping pills may improve sleep and next-day alertness. As with all drugs, there are potential side effects. The use of over-the-counter sleep medicines is not usually recommended for the treatment of insomnia.

Treatment for diagnosed chronic insomnia include identifying behaviors that may worsen insomnia and stopping (or reducing) them, possibly using sleeping pills (although the long-term use of sleeping pills for chronic insomnia is controversial), trying behavioral techniques to improve sleep, such as relaxation therapy, sleep restriction therapy, and reconditioning.

For More Information...

You can find out more about insomnia by contacting the following organizations:

National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR)
Two Rockledge Centre
Suite 7024
6701 Rockledge Drive, MSC 7920
Bethesda, MD 20892-7920
(301 ) 435-0199
(301) 480-3451 (FAX)

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Information Center

This information was abstracted from fact sheets developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services; citation of the source is appreciated.

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Publication date: 1998



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