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Insomnia is a disorder characterized by an inability to sleep or to remain asleep for a reasonable period. People who suffer from insomnia typically complain of being unable to rest for more than a few minutes at a time.

There are many organic causes of insomnia but most commonly it is caused by fear, stress, anxiety, medications, herbs or caffeine. An overactive mind or physical pain may also be the cause. Most experts claim that finding the underlying cause of insomnia means curing it. It is important to point out that sleep problems seem to run in families; approximately 35% of people with insomnia have a positive family history.


Research has confirmed that approximately one third of American adults report that they have sleep problems. Nearly a half of the people with insomnia consider the difficulty to be serious. Not only does insomnia cause daytime drowsiness, it may impair quality of life in many other aspects.

Types of insomnia

There are different kinds of insomnia:

Sleep Onset Insomnia
It is a disorder in which the major sleep episode is delayed in relation to the desired clock time that results in difficulty in awakening at the desired time.

Idiopathic Insomnia
This is a serious form of insomnia which is characterized by a lifelong inability to obtain adequate sleep. Most experts believe that it could be caused by an abnormality of the neurological control of the sleep-wake system. 

Psycho-physiological Insomnia
Physical symptoms of anxiety are often accompanied with insomnia and associated decreased functioning during wakefulness.

Childhood Insomnia
This is primarily a childhood disorder that is characterized by the inadequate enforcement of sleeping by a parent with resultant refusal to go to bed at the appropriate time.

Food Allergy Insomnia
This represents a disorder of initiating and maintaining sleep due to an allergic response to food allergens. 

Environmental Sleep Disorder
This disorder is caused by a disturbing environmental factor. 

Transient Insomnia
This represents a sleep disturbance temporally related to acute stress, conflict or environmental change.

Periodic Insomnia
This type of insomnia consists of a chronic steady pattern consisting of 1-2 hour daily delays in sleep onset.

Altitude Insomnia
This is an acute type of insomnia usually accompanied by headaches, loss of appetite, and fatigue, that occurs following ascent to high altitudes.

Hypnotic-Dependency Insomnia
This type of insomnia associated with tolerance to or withdrawal from hypnotic medications.

Stimulant-Dependent Sleep Disorder
This disorder is characterized by a reduction of sleepiness or suppression of sleep by central stimulants and resultant alterations in wakefulness following drug abstinence.

Alcohol-Dependent Insomnia
Characterized by the assisted initiation of sleep onset by the sustained ingestion of alcohol that is used for its hypnotic effect.

Chronic insomnia

Chronic insomnia is more complex and often results from a combination of factors, including underlying physical or mental disorders. Many experts are saying that chronic insomnia is a symptom of a deeper problem, not a disorder itself. One of the most common causes of chronic insomnia is depression. Other underlying causes include

  • arthritis
  • kidney disease
  • heart failure
  • asthma
  • restless legs syndrome
  • Parkinson's disease
  • hyperthyroidism
  • sleep apnea
  • the misuse of caffeine, alcohol, or other substances
  • disrupted sleep/wake cycles as may occur with night-shift work
  • chronic stress

Diagnosis of insomnia

Insomnia may be difficult to diagnose because of its subjective nature.

Patients history
In most cases, a doctor may ask a patient some questions about his or her sleep patterns, such as how long do the symptoms last and whether they occur every night, do you snore, how well you function during the day, whether you take any medications and whether you have other health disorders could also be very important. 

Night monitoring
A patient might need to spend a night at a sleep disorders center, where a team of people monitors and records a variety of body activities during the night, including brain waves, breathing, heartbeat, eye movements and body movements.

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