Insomnia: Definition, Causes, and Treatment


It’s a condition that prevents people from initiating sleep or remain asleep. This sleep disorder affects all kind of persons regardless of age or sex.

Definition of Insomnia

Insomnia, also known as sleeplessness, is a persistent sleep disorder that is characterized by staying awake or not being able to drift off to sleep.

It not only makes it difficult to go off to sleep but also to stay asleep. This, in turn, often leaves one feeling tired, weary and exhausted even after getting adequate hours of sleep.

Sleeplessness dramatically affects one’s personal, professional as well as social life.

The improper sleep not only deprives you of the energy but also drains out your mood and ability to think correctly.

Although it is dubious to know the adequate hours of sleep needed by each person, studies suggest sleeping for seven to eight hours is necessary for an adult.

Some researchers consider insomnia as a result of sheer anxiety or habit; however, it may lead to some chronic ailments in future.

It is the most common sleep disorder in the general population. It consists of a reduction of the capacity to sleep, being able to manifest itself in diverse modes that give rise to different types of insomnia:

Sleep-onset insomnia: It’s also known as early insomnia, and it refers to the difficulty to get to sleep in less than 30 minutes.

Sleep-maintenance insomnia: Difficulty to remain asleep, producing nocturnal awakenings of more than 30 minutes of duration, or waking up without being able to get back to sleep.

Lack of sleep can negatively impact the life of the person who suffers it, causing a deterioration of the social and occupational aspects of their everyday life.

The number of hours of sleep required varies from one person to another.

Although the daily average is 7 hours and a half, there is a range that ranges from 4 (“little sleepers”) to 10 hours (“big sleepers”), considering these values within normality.

Depending on the time of evolution, insomnia may be: temporary (only a few days or weeks), or chronic (months or years).

Types of Insomnia

Insomnia can be categorized by intensity and duration into three groups: Acute and Chronic Insomnia.

Acute Insomnia:

It’s also known as short-term insomnia. The sleeplessness can last for about a couple of weeks. It comes and goes; a person can enjoy some nights of restful sleep even while suffering from this condition

Chronic Insomnia:

It’s also known as long-term insomnia, and it can last for a month or longer. The sleeplessness occurs at the very least three days per week

If we go by causes, we can categorize insomnia in Primary and Secondary Insomnia:

Primary Insomnia

Physical or environmental factors are not to blame for the disorder. Instead, we get sleeplessness caused by emotional distress, worry or anguish for situations out of our control.

This type of insomnia can also be subdivided into different types depending on the manifestation and origin of the problem:

  • Idiopathic insomnia: it originates in childhood and seems to be related to the incorrect learning of the habit of sleeping.
  • Poor repair of sleep: Laboratory studies do not corroborate the problems of rest that the patient perceives subjectively, finding himself tired and sleepy during the day.
  • Psychophysiological insomnia: Characterized by a high level of psychophysiological activation associated with the onset of sleep.

Secondary Insomnia

The sleeplessness caused by physical, mental or environmental factors; such as an illness, a side-effect from some medications, or hormonal imbalance.


While some familiar and straightforward signs follow insomnia, the intensity may differ from person to person. Such symptoms include:

  • Tired and fatigued
  • Exhausted
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritated and gets easily annoyed
  • Loss of concentration
  • Dullness

Causes of Sleeplessness

Medical Causes:

Metabolic and hormonal diseases, neurological, rheumatologic, digestive, cardiovascular and all those that can interrupt the dream by pain – fibromyalgia, headaches, etc. – or urological by the urgent need of urination – infections, prostate, renal. Also, consider pregnancy and menopause.

Psychiatric illnesses (anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, etc.) as well as other sleep diseases that contribute to less or worse sleep (restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea syndrome, parasomnias, etc.).

The causes of Insomnia may be one or in combination with other various factors making acute insomnia chronic.

Some of them are:

  • Lifestyle or habit of not sleeping early or at a scheduled time might end up making you insomniac.
  • Jobs that make you stay awake late or not let you drift off to a sound sleep.
  • Stress, anxiety or depression is considered as one of the primary reasons for insomnia.
  • Change in surroundings or environmental factors might also lead to sleeplessness.
  • Medications or any other health problems that might affect your sleep.

External causes:

Often involve environmental factors that negatively influence sleep (poor sleep habits, substance use, and abuse, shift work or frequent transoceanic trips, etc.)

Regardless of the cause that causes it, insomnia can be:

  • Transient: if it occurs during a short period of less than a month.
  • Chronic: If it lasts longer than one months. It can even last for years.

Occasionally, even if the person got treated for the initial cause of the problem, the sleeplessness may remain because the patient is immersed in a vicious circle from which he finds it difficult to leave by himself.

It is the circle in which anxiety about trying to sleep reduces the possibility of falling asleep, increasing apprehension and fear of bed.

It seems that some personality traits make people more vulnerable to entering this cycle.

For example, people with a tendency to worry, who often respond with more anxiety at the prospect of hardship, and display difficulties to see the positive side of things.

Some might be perfectionists and demanding persons; they feel the need to have everything under control and do not usually talk about their problems (internalizing negative emotions).

What can we do to cope with insomnia?

From what we have seen previously, to break this circle, it is essential to change the factors that are contributing to perpetuating insomnia.

That is to say; change the poor habits. Some persons keep lousy sleep habits in a weak attempt to alleviate negative feelings or keep their minds away from thoughts that center around worry and anxiety.

People will need to reduce the high emotional distress associated with these variables.

If the person who suffers sleeplessness wants to change these aspects, they can carry out the following guidelines to face insomnia:

These guidelines have been developed in clinics around the world and have proven effective in other patients suffering from insomnia.

Although not a miracle cure, this treatment will help you develop self-control skills and regain control over your sleep habits.

It will also provide you with a guide to handle the occasional sleep difficulties you may encounter even after completing this program.

The program requires time, patience and effort. To reach your goal of falling asleep soon and reducing the time you spend awake in the middle of the night, it is essential that you meet all the requirements. You can not choose only those that seem less complicated.

The benefits will become more evident with time and continued practice. The consistency with which you follow the instructions is the most critical factor in determining the results, which you may begin to notice after a few weeks of treatment.

Set a schedule

We establish an exact time to wake up and stick to it until it becomes a routine. This will help us to train our body to sleep a fixed amount of time consistently

Eliminate stimulants

Caffeine can negatively impact sleep habits. The effects of caffeine are long-lasting and might make it difficult for people to initiate sleep

Alcohol acts as both stimulant and sedative. At first, it has a sedative effect, but as soon as the alcohol leaves the system, the person wakes up and finds extremely difficult to go back to sleep

A doctor would help to identify which other substances and medications might be causing sleeplessness depending on the case

Limit naps

While napping can sometimes improve your health, those who suffer insomnia should try not to indulge in this habit while they train their bodies to associate nighttime with sleep time.


Exercising regularly overall improves our health. Having a work out session at least three hours before going to sleep can significantly help our sleep habits.

Avoid activities during bedtime

While laying on the bed, we must avoid continuing our daily work there. Such course of action would make us more alert, and prevent us from initiating sleep when we should.

Do not eat late

Consuming food or snacking at late hours would keep our system active and make more difficult for us to go to sleep. It is essential to have dinner early so we can start resting in the early part of the night.

Make your resting place comfortable

Some people don’t sleep well if they’re feeling too cold or too hot. Make sure to have a place with an ideal temperature, as well as a comfy bed.

Finish your business before going to sleep

To avoid the worrying about unfinished business keeping you awake, set a time before going to bed to carefully consider what’s left to be done for the day as well as what you can do tomorrow.

In this regard, even Jesucrist advised (during his “Sermon on the mount”) not to worry too much about tomorrow’s problems, and instead take on things one day at the time.

Reduce stress

Try to set a time to relax. Set your priorities straight; if your current lifestyle generates too much pressure, don’t be afraid to make some changes. Simplifying your life could significantly reduce the worry about debts and money

You can also find other ways to cope such as writing, spend time with people you care about, or find a healthy hobby.

Cognitive therapy

Change negative thoughts by focusing on the brighter side of things. This can potentially change our outlook on life, and overall improve our state of mind.

This kind of therapy can result in a restful sleep if done correctly.