Insomnia Symptoms

By Wendy Innes. May 7th 2016

Many people have problems sleeping from time to time, but a lot of people are uncertain of if they have a serious problem or when they should see a sleep specialist. Here we’ll provide all the essential information that people need to understand insomnia.


Insomnia is a disorder that makes it hard for people to fall asleep or stay asleep or both. People with insomnia can have problems functioning in everyday life, because insomnia can cause slowness in cognitive functions.

The amount of sleep that a person needs can vary from person to person. Most experts agree that adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per night. While many people can suffer from insomnia from time to time, some have chronic insomnia which requires medical intervention.

Those who are most at risk for developing long term insomnia are women, over the age of 60, travel frequently, have a mental health disorder, under a lot of stress and work rotating or night shifts.

Causes And Risk Factors

There are a number of causes of insomnia and most of them are very common. They include;

  • Stress- Everyday stress can cause insomnia. Work issues, family concerns, and even a traumatic event like a death in the family can cause insomnia.
  • Anxiety- Just like stress, anxiety over a variety of issues can lead to insomnia. Those with anxiety disorders frequently have insomnia as well.
  • Depression- One of the symptoms of depression is insomnia. The chemical imbalance in the brain that causes depression can also cause problems with sleep. Insomnia can also be a symptom of other mental health problems as well.
  • Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol- Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can all cause insomnia. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants which are known to cause insomnia. Alcohol may initially help someone sleep, but it prevents someone from reaching the deeper stages of sleep and could cause them to wake prematurely.
  • Medication side affects- Many medications used to treat depression, high blood pressure, asthma, ADHD, and allergies can cause insomnia because they have a stimulant affect. Many over-the-counter medications can cause insomnia as well. Antihistamines and over-the-counter sleeping pills can initially cause drowsiness, but can cause increased urination thereby waking people up in the middle of the night and then people can have difficulties getting back to sleep.
  • Other medical conditions- Many medical conditions can cause sleeping problems. Those with breathing problems, digestive problems, heart problems, urinary problems, cancer, and those with arthritis or other painful musculoskeletal conditions can have problems sleeping. These people can often find relief from their insomnia by treating the medical problem.
  • Poor sleep habits- Those with poor sleep habits can have problems sleeping. For example those that watch television late or fall asleep with the television on, children who play video games late in the evening, or those who work on the computer late in the evening can have problems falling asleep because these activities stimulate the brain and can keep the brain from shutting down for sleep.
  • Change in schedule or environment- those who travel for work or do shift work can suffer from insomnia as well.  Trying to sleep in an unfamiliar environment, or when the environment is telling the body that it’s time to be awake can make sleeping difficult.
  • Eating late- a small snack before bed is fine, but those who eat large meals before bed may experience problems sleeping because when eating a large meal, the body has to digest that big meal and that can cause someone to be uncomfortable when they lie down and cause heartburn.
  • Aging- people seem to experience more insomnia as they age. There could be a number of reasons for this including increased use of medications, health problems and changes in daily activity.

Those with insomnia are at risk for developing a number of problems including;

  • Decreased performance at work and school
  • Higher risk of accidents due to slower reaction time
  • Psychiatric problems
  • Obesity
  • Poor overall health


The basic symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and waking in the morning not feeling rested. However there are other symptoms including;

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Ongoing sleep concerns

If someone experiences any of these symptoms they should talk to their doctor. Their doctor may order a sleep study to determine the nature of the problem and prescribe treatment.


Treatment for insomnia includes behavior modification and prescription medications. Behavior modifications can include a number of things including changing daily habits to be more conducive to sleep at night, light therapy and even a type of therapy that uses controlled sleep deprivation designed to get the body’s sleep pattern back on track.

There are a number of prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications designed to treat insomnia. Most prescription sleep medications are not designed to be used for more than two weeks. There are some that are designed to be used indefinitely, but they do have the potential to be habit forming.

As discussed earlier, over-the-counter sleep aids may be helpful initially or when used occasionally, but they can actually make insomnia worse over time.

Insomnia can be very draining, but it doesn’t have to be. By understanding the root cause, people can take control of their sleep and get back to normal in no time.


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