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About Insomnia

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is when you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, or you wake up too early. It can happen for short periods of time and then go away. But for some people insomnia is an ongoing (chronic) problem. Insomnia can make it hard to function during the day. It can cause problems at work or school, and with relationships. It can cause concentration and mood problems. But insomnia can be treated to help you get back to a healthier sleep cycle.                  

Causes of insomnia

You may have insomnia for a few nights in a row from time to time. This is called acute insomnia. Or your sleep trouble may be ongoing for a longer period of time. This is called chronic insomnia.

Acute insomnia can be caused by things such as:

  • Stress

  • Jet lag

  • Short-term illness or pain

  • Medicines for colds, allergies, or mental health concerns

  • Hormonal changes due to menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause

  • Major life changes (death, loss of job, moving, divorce)

Chronic insomnia can be caused by the same factors as acute insomnia. However, chronic insomnia is often maintained by behavior, lifestyle, and other factors such as: 

  • Lying in bed awake, trying too hard to sleep

  • Sleeping later than usual in the morning

  • Taking naps during the day

  • Ongoing stress

  • Watching TV or using electronic devices in bed   

  • Shift work that changes your sleep hours

  • Caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol use too close to bedtime

  • Thoughts and beliefs such as “I’ll never get to sleep”

Chronic insomnia can happen at the same time as other health problems such as:

  • Ongoing illness or pain

  • Stimulant medicines for the treatment of medical and mental health conditions

  • Depression or anxiety

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • A sleep disorder such as apnea or restless legs syndrome

Symptoms of insomnia

The symptoms of insomnia can include:

  • Trouble falling asleep

  • Waking in the night

  • Trouble getting back to sleep

  • Waking up too early in the morning

  • Not feeling refreshed by sleep

  • Daytime tiredness

  • Low energy

  • Mood problems (irritability, depression)

  • Trouble concentrating

Diagnosing insomnia

Your healthcare provider will ask about your sleep pattern and your daily routine. Tell them how you feel during the day. They will ask about your medical history. Tell them about all your symptoms and any other health problems. Tell the healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements you take.

Your healthcare provider may ask that you do:

  • A sleep diary (for a week or more). A sleep diary helps you track information about your sleep. This includes information such as your bedtimes and wake times and how rested you feel.

  • A sleep study. This is a painless test done in a hospital or clinic overnight. It uses wires and electrodes attached to your body while you sleep. These measure brain waves and other signals from your body during sleep. This helps to diagnose medical sleep disorders but is not necessary for an insomnia diagnosis.

Treating insomnia

Acute insomnia often goes away on its own. In some cases, medicine can also be used. Talk with your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of sleep medicines.

Chronic insomnia is best treated with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). This is a type of therapy to help change thoughts and habits about sleep. It is shown to work well in treating insomnia. There are several CBT-I tools. Some can help you make lifestyle changes. Others can help you relax or change your thoughts. All of the tools work together to support your body’s natural sleep system.

For more information

If you are a Veteran and you have insomnia, contact your VA healthcare provider about CBT-I or check out some of the below resources.


Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 9/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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