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Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia), difficulty staying asleep (nocturnal awakenings), or a lack of restorative sleep (poor sleep quality). It is associated with a feeling of being rundown and/or fatigued. In order for one to be diagnosed with insomnia, symptoms need to negatively affect the individual’s life by causing distress and interfering with his or her functioning. The elderly and women experience insomnia more often than others. There are two categories of insomnia: primary and secondary insomnia.

Primary insomnia cannot be entirely attributed to psychological or medical conditions or substance use (or abuse). One to ten percent of the general adult population has primary insomnia.

Secondary insomnia can be divided into several different categories:

1. Mental disorder related: Mental disorders can be responsible for insomnia. Insomnia is commonly linked to the following mental disorders:

2. Substance-Induced Sleep Disorder: Insomnia can be brought on by withdrawal, current chemical dependency, or intoxication. It is commonly associated with the following substances:

  • Caffeine
  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol (which may cause insomnia during use, withdrawal, and long after withdrawal; despite this, individuals commonly self-medicate their insomnia with alcohol)

3. Physical disorder related: This occurs when the individual suffers from a physical condition that is primarily responsible for his/her difficulty obtaining a successful night’s sleep. This is particularly common amongst the elderly community, which has significantly higher rates of insomnia. Here is a list of common physical disorders associated with insomnia:

  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Central Sleep Apnea
  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
  • Pain related disorders
  • Any major hormone shifts
  • Neurological disorders
  • Hyperthyroidism

While the DSM-IV requires that individuals experience sleeplessness and difficulty sleeping for at least one month in order to be diagnosed with insomnia, other sources consider individuals with insomnia for one month or more as having chronic insomnia.
Individuals experiencing insomnia for less than a week have transient insomnia, and those experiencing insomnia for more than a week but less than a month have acute insomnia. Transient insomnia is likely to resolve itself, while individuals with chronic insomnia would likely benefit from the care of a doctor.
Symptoms of insomnia:

  • Waking up too early
  • Waking up throughout the night
  • Not falling asleep easily (taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep more than 3 times per week)
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Inattention
  • Tension headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Anxiety about sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Decreased motor skills
  • Car accidents


A variety of treatments are available to aid improved sleep for insomniacs. These treatments can be paired with one another. For example, someone can be using prescription medications but still use aromatherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Ideally the treatment would include both pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions.

Methods used to treat insomnia include:
1. Sleep Hygiene teaches ideal habits that promote sleep. This may include stimulus control therapy, in which an individual does not spend time in his or her bed for activities such as reading, watching television, or hanging out.

2. Relaxation techniques relieve stress and anxiety that may be preventing sleep. Insomniacs often develop anxieties around sleep and bedtime.

3. Cognitive Behavior Therapy focuses on changing attitudes and thinking about sleep and can be learned in group or individual therapeutic settings.

4. Meditation soothes the mind in preparation for a good night’s rest.

Prescription medications facilitate sleep. Common sleep medications include Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, and Rozerem. For individuals suffering from psychiatric disorders as well, many antipsychotics or antidepressants also produce sleepiness, including Trazodone, Remeron, and Seroquel. While these medications may effectively allow individuals to fall asleep, they often come with side effects, such as allergic reactions, sleep walking, drowsiness during the day, and sleep eating. Some sleeping medications may be habit forming.

Herbal therapies include valerian, chamomile, and lavender. Many people find that aromatherapy or teas with these herbs benefits their sleep routines.

Depressing fact: Fatal Familial Insomnia is a very rare degenerative genetic disease in which individuals experience increasing insomnia until they are not sleeping at all. People suffering from FFI begin suffering panic attacks and hallucinations until they experience extreme weight loss, become mute, and die. There is no cure.

If you are suffering from insomnia, and it negatively affects your life adding stress and preventing you from actuating your full potential then talk to your doctor. Remember that a combination of pharmacological and therapeutic techniques is considered the most beneficial treatment for insomnia.

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