Navigate Up

Pediatric Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Z

Print This Page

Insomnia - overview

Insomnia is trouble falling asleep, staying asleep through the night, or waking up too early in the morning.

Episodes of insomnia may come and go or be long-lasting.

The quality of your sleep is as important as how much sleep you get.

Alternative Names

Sleep disorder - insomnia; Sleep issues; Difficulty falling asleep

Causes

Sleep habits we learned as children may affect our sleep behaviors as adults. Poor sleep or lifestyle habits that may cause insomnia or make it worse include:

  • Going to bed at different times each night
  • Daytime napping
  • Poor sleeping environment, such as too much noise or light
  • Spending too much time in bed while awake
  • Working evenings or night shifts
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Using the television, computer, or a mobile device in bed

The use of some medications and drugs may also affect sleep, including:

  • Alcohol or other drugs
  • Heavy smoking
  • Too much caffeine throughout the day or drinking caffeine late in the day
  • Getting used to certain types of sleep medicines
  • Some cold medicines and diet pills
  • Other over-the-counter or prescription medicines, herbs, or supplements

Physical, social, and mental health issues can affect sleep patterns, including:

  • Bipolar disorder .
  • Overactive thyroid gland.
  • Waking up at night to use the bathroom.
  • Feeling sad or depressed. (Often, insomnia is the symptom that causes people with depression to seek medical help.)
  • Physical pain or discomfort.
  • Stress and anxiety, whether it is short-term or long-term. For some people, the stress caused by insomnia makes it even harder to fall asleep.

With age, sleep patterns tend to change. Many people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep, and that they wake up more often.

Click to download

Symptoms

The most common complaints or symptoms in people with insomnia are:

  • Trouble falling asleep on most nights
  • Feeling tired during the day or falling asleep during the day
  • Not feeling refreshed when you wake up
  • Waking up several times during sleep

People who have insomnia are sometimes consumed by the thought of getting enough sleep. But the more they try to sleep, the more frustrated and upset they get, and the harder sleep becomes.

Lack of restful sleep can:

  • Make you tired and unfocused, so it is hard to do daily activities.
  • Put you at risk for auto accidents. If you are driving and feel sleepy, pull over and take a break.

Exams and tests

Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your current medications, drug use, and medical history. Usually, these are the only methods needed to diagnose insomnia.

Treatment

Not getting 8 hours of sleep every night does not mean your health is at risk. Different people have different sleep needs. Some people do fine on 6 hours of sleep a night. Others only do well if they get 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night.

Treatment often begins by reviewing any drugs or medical conditions that may be causing or worsen insomnia, such as:

  • Enlarged prostate gland, causing men to wake up at night
  • Pain or discomfort from arthritis or nerve disorders

You should also think about lifestyle and sleep habits that may affect your sleep. This is called sleep hygiene. Making some changes in your sleep habits may improve or solve your insomnia.

Using medicine to treat insomnia can sometimes be useful. But there can be risks. It may help to see a psychiatrist or another mental health provider to test for mood or anxiety disorders that can cause insomnia.

  • They may use talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, to help you gain control over anxiety or depression.
  • A psychiatrist may also prescribe antidepressants or another medicine to help you sleep and to address any mood or anxiety disorders you might have.

Outlook (prognosis)

Most people are able to sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene.

When to contact a medical professional

Call your doctor if insomnia has become a problem.

References

Morgenthaler T, Kramer M, Alessi C, Friedman L, Boehlecke B, Brown T, et al. Practice parameters for the psychological and behavioral treatment of insomnia: an update. An American Academy of Sleep Medicine report. Sleep. 2006;29:1415-1419.

Morin CM, Benca R. Chronic Insomnia. The Lancet. 2012 March24; vol. 379 (9821):1129-1141.

Vitiello MV, Rybarczyk B, Von Korff M, Stepanski EJ. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia improves sleep and decreases pain in older adults with co-morbid insomnia and osteoarthritis. J Clin Sleep Med. 2009 Aug 15;5:355-362.

Wickwire EM, Collop NA. Insomnia and sleep-related breathing disorders. Chest. 2010;137:1449-1463.

Updated: 5/11/2014

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com