Insomnia is one of the most common and widespread of all disorders. Most of us would have experienced an episode of short term insomnia at some point. Mild cases of short term insomnia may not pose much of a problem, but frequent bouts of severe insomnia or chronic insomnia can be quite problematic. Short term insomnia is clinically referred to as acute insomnia, while episodes of insomnia that involve problems with sleep for at least three nights in a week, spanning a period of four weeks, would be classified as chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia can take a toll on your health and also your quality of life.

So What is Insomnia?

Insomnia refers to a sleep disorder that could involve an inability to go to sleep or to stay asleep. Lack of sleep or impaired and disturbed sleep can severely affect your ability to function normally through the day. Insomnia can therefore be quantitative or qualitative. Short term insomnia is a lot less serious as compared to chronic insomnia, but can last for more than a week. It usually resolves within three weeks however. Transient insomnia is the mildest insomnia disorder, with the symptoms just lasting for a week or less.

While insomnia may be classified as acute or chronic, it is also identified by the causes or underlying reasons for the condition. This could range from common causes like stress, the presence of some other sleep disorders, sleep hygiene, or the presence of some other underlying condition that causes sleep disturbance and insomnia as a symptom.

  • If the problem of impaired sleep is not caused as a direct result of some other health condition or disease, then it is termed as primary insomnia.
  • In cases where sleep is affected because of some other health condition thereby resulting in insomnia, it is termed as secondary insomnia, as it is the secondary condition. Treatment would need to address the underlying condition or primary condition, which could include various conditions like asthma, bronchitis, heartburn, arthritis, cancer, depression or certain medications or drugs.

Effects of Insomnia

The most noticeable effect of insomnia is the feeling of tiredness when you awake in the morning, despite adequate time for sleep. This not only saps your energy levels, but it also takes a toll on your state of mind and emotional well being. As a consequence your performance at work and other activities suffers, your health begins to suffer, and social relationships are also affected.

Incidence of Insomnia

Insomnia is so common that it is estimated that up to half our population may suffer from symptoms of insomnia, with up to ten percent affected by chronic insomnia. Over dependence on medications for insomnia may also be one of the causes of the problem as it increases dependence but does not address the underlying cause. Self treatment with over the counter drugs is therefore best avoided. Insomnia generally affects adults, becoming more common as you age. Insomnia can be treated quite effectively however, with both natural methods and medical treatment.

Symptoms of Insomnia

The diagnosis of insomnia is not necessarily as straight forward as you may think it to be. This is because there are various possible symptoms and warning signs of insomnia, many of which can overlap with other medical conditions. Here are some of the general symptoms of insomnia:

  • The problem typically begins with difficulty getting to sleep or with interrupted sleep. It often begins because of stress, but if this continues for an extended period you may tend to associate going to bed with an inability to sleep, and the problem could turn chronic.
  • Insomnia gradually begins to take a toll on your life, with various symptoms during the daytime. Most people seek help for the problem when confronted with these symptoms:
  1. Poor concentration and an inability to focus
  2. Memory loss or increased forgetfulness
  3. Feelings of disorientation or impaired coordination
  4. Mood swings and irritability that gradually affect social interaction
  5. Accidents while driving or operating machinery because of fatigue and sleep deprivation
  • Attempts to treat these symptoms yourself may often worsen the condition.
  • Nonprescription sleeping medications are the biggest threat as they create a dependence and this can turn even a case of acute insomnia into a chronic condition.
  • The consumption of alcohol or antihistamines to treat the problem may in fact worsen it.

In some cases however, individuals may not be affected with sleepiness and fatigue during the daytime and could in fact experience difficulty falling asleep even during daytime naps.

It would be a good idea to maintain a sleep diary to track your sleeping habits, sleep patterns, and any affects on your day.

Causes of Insomnia

There are various possible causes of insomnia and these could include psychological factors, Physical conditions, or temporary events and conditions.

Psychological Causes: Stress and anxiety are probably the most common causes of insomnia. High levels of stress at the work place or at home, with worry and feelings of insecurity and fear, with work or social relationships, can have a devastating effect on the quality of sleep and give rise to insomnia. Depression, which involves feelings of despair, loneliness and great sadness can also cause insomnia. Chronic depression is particularly serious and help should be sought immediately. Psychological causes like stress and anxiety can be addressed most easily, but the problem needs to be recognized early.

Physical Causes: Hormonal changes that may be brought on by menstruation, premenstrual syndrome, pregnancy or menopause can be common cause of insomnia in women. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep and a decrease in levels of this hormone can cause insomnia, but is generally a normal part of the aging process. The presence of medical conditions like asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, high blood pressure and Parkinson’s Disease can also result in insomnia. Disturbed sleep or poor quality of sleep resulting from pain and discomfort or because of other sleep disorders like sleep apnea may also result in insomnia. At times hereditary factors can also increase the risk of insomnia.

Temporary Causes: This could refer to any temporary event that interferes with sleep such as jet lag, working in shifts, certain medications, over consumption of caffeine and alcohol, changes in the environment, sudden trauma or stress.

Remedies for Insomnia

Home remedies for insomnia can be extremely helpful in dealing with insomnia, but they cannot always cure the condition. Treatment of insomnia depends on the cause, which is why it is important to seek medical attention, for a thorough diagnosis. In mild cases of insomnia or temporary insomnia you could attempt to use natural remedies for insomnia to treat the condition at home. Chronic insomnia should be investigated however. Most importantly, you should avoid any attempts at insomnia home treatment with over the counter medications and sleeping pills, as these do not work as cures for insomnia. They simply help to suppress the symptoms but do not resolve the condition and could instead create dependence and increase the severity of the problem. Here are some alternative treatments that could help address the problem:

  • Hypnotherapy: This approach is widely used today in the treatment of common psychological conditions like stress and anxiety and is also used for primary insomnia treatment. Most studies into hypnotherapy and its effect on sleep have so far been positive.
  • Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy is believed to help address insomnia in mild cases. This is because of the relaxing effect of aromatherapy.
  • Herbal Remedies: Treatment with herbal remedies like valerian has also been found to help in some cases, but herbal medications should never be taken without the consultation of your doctor.

Home treatment and alternative treatments for insomnia typically involve behavioral changes or modifications to sleep habits. Some such techniques include sleep restriction, changes to sleep environment and sleep hygiene.

Diet for Insomnia

Your dietary intake has little bearing on insomnia and there is no specific diet for insomnia patients. The foods you consume do however have an effect on your general health and it would help to follow a healthy, well balanced and nutritious diet. Healthy eating habits are just as important. Your diet may be a big consideration if the insomnia is caused as a result of some other underlying condition. For example, if insomnia is caused by heartburn or acidity you would accordingly need to make changes to your diet to treat the problem.

Suggestions for Insomnia

Here are some simple steps that you could take to improve the quality of sleep:

  • Do not over sleep, instead get out of bed once you feel rested.
  • Maintain a disciplined lifestyle with a regular sleep routine.
  • Do not consume any caffeinated beverages past noon.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol before going to bed.
  • Quit smoking or at lest avoid smoking in the evenings.
  • Make changes to your bedroom environment, to ensure maximum comfort. Make sure artificial cooling and heating is not too high or low.
  • Relax and get rid of any stress or anxiety before hitting the bed. Do whatever it takes – listen to light music, soak in a tub or get a massage.
  • Try and exercise every morning or at least go for walks or a swim.


  1. Becker PM. Chronic insomnia: outcome of hypnotherapeutic intervention in six cases. Am J Clin Hypnosis. 1993;36:98–105.
  2. Lee IS, Lee GJ. [Effects of lavender aromatherapy on insomnia and depression in women college students]. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2006 Feb;36(1):136-43. Korean. PubMed PMID: 16520572.

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