VA Palo Alto Health Care System
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is the difficulty to fall or stay asleep, resulting in daytime symptoms.
In insomnia, the sleep disturbance occurs despite adequate time and opportunity for sleep. Lack of sleep due to limited time for sleep is not considered insomnia.
Daytime symptoms associated with insomnia may include:
- Poor attention, poor concentration of memory impairment
- Not doing well in social situations, or not doing well at work or school
- Reduced energy or motivation
- Increase rates of errors or accidents
- High concern about sleep
How is insomnia classified?
Insomnia is usually characterized based on the duration of symptoms as either acute or chronic.
Acute insomnia is usually brief, less than three months in duration, and commonly occurs because of an event in your life. (For example, if you cannot sleep after receiving bad news or cannot sleep the night before a big examination.) Almost everybody has experienced this type of sleep disruption. Acute insomnia will commonly resolve without any specific treatment.
Chronic insomnia is where the sleep disruption has been present at least three days a week for at least three months. Chronic insomnia may have many causes. Medical health problems, psychiatric disorders, unhealthy sleep habits and medications may all lead to long-term patterns of insomnia. People with chronic insomnia will usually benefit from some form of treatment to help them return to healthy sleep. Treatment for chronic insomnia includes attention to the behavioral and psychological components that lead to unhealthy sleep habits and feelings for frustration with sleep that are common in insomnia.
Why do I have insomnia?
You are not alone in having insomnia. It is estimated that as many as one-in-three adults complain of difficulty sleeping and one-in-ten will have symptoms associated with daytime impairment.
Insomnia tends to be more common as we age, in women, in persons under stress and in people with certain medical or psychiatric problems such as depression.
How can I help myself if I have insomnia?
Some tips to help you fall asleep and sleep through the night:
- Give yourself thirty minutes to wind down before sleep. Commonly people will read a book under a dim lamp.
- Avoid bright lights for the hour or so before going to sleep. This not only includes bright lights in your home but also electronic devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. Light is an alerting signal for the brain and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
- If you cannot fall asleep after approximately 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a relaxing activity until you are tired. Lying in bed can associate the bed with being awake. You want your bed place to bring about peaceful thoughts and thoughts of sleep. A common relaxing activity is reading a book or listening to quiet music.
- Make sure your sleep environment is quiet, dark and cool throughout the night. Consider earplugs or a fan to block out sounds. Consider dark shades to block out light from street lamps or the early morning sun.
- Try to keep the same schedule for sleep and wake up times every day, including weekends.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon or evening. Caffeine can disrupt sleep for many hours.
- Avoid alcohol at night before going to sleep. Although alcohol may make you fall asleep faster initially, it tends to disrupt sleep later in the sleep period.
- Exercise on a regular basis but not too close to bed time.