Insomnia is a common sleep disorder. If you have insomnia, you may lie awake for a long time and have trouble falling asleep or feel like you haven't slept at all. Insomnia tends to increase as women and men age.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder. If you have insomnia, you may:
Lack of or poor quality sleep causes other symptoms that can affect daytime function. You may feel very sleepy and have low energy throughout the day. You may have trouble thinking clearly or staying focused. Or, you might feel depressed or irritable.
Insomnia is defined as short and poor quality sleep that affects your functioning during the day. Although the amount of sleep a person needs varies, most people need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night to feel refreshed.
Insomnia can be mild to severe and varies in how often it occurs and how long it lasts. Acute insomnia is a short-term sleep problem that is generally related to a stressful or traumatic life event and lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Acute insomnia might happen from time to time. With chronic insomnia, sleep problems occur at least 3 nights a week for more than a month.
There are 2 types of insomnia:
Some people with primary or secondary insomnia form habits to deal with the lack of sleep, such as worrying about sleep or going to bed too early. These habits can make insomnia worse or last longer.
Women are more likely to have insomnia than men. One reason is that hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle and menopause can affect sleep. During perimenopause, women may have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Hot flashes and night sweats often can disturb sleep.
During pregnancy, hormonal, physical, and emotional changes can disturb sleep. Pregnant women, especially in the third trimester, may wake up frequently due to discomfort, leg cramps, or needing to use the bathroom.
Some medical conditions that can cause secondary insomnia also are more common in women than men. These include depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, and some sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome.
Talk to your doctor if you are having problems falling or staying asleep, especially if lack of sleep is affecting your daily activities. Keep a sleep diary for 2 weeks before you see your doctor. Note the time of day you fall asleep and wake up, changes in your daily sleep routine, your bedtime routine, and how you feel during the day.
Your doctor may do a physical exam and take medical and sleep histories. He or she may also want to talk to your bed partner about how much and how well you are sleeping. In some cases, you may be referred to a specialist or a sleep center for special tests.
If insomnia is caused by a short-term change in the sleep/wake schedule, as with jet lag, your sleep schedule may return to normal on its own. Making lifestyle changes to help you sleep better can also help. If your insomnia makes it hard for you to function during the day, talk to your doctor.
Treatment for chronic insomnia begins by:
Other treatments are:
Research shows that CBT is an effective and lasting treatment of insomnia. CBT helps you change thoughts and actions that get in the way of sleep. This type of therapy is also used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
CBT consists of one or more approaches. These are:
In some cases, insomnia is treated with medicine:
Some dietary supplements claim to help people sleep. Some are “natural” products like melatonin (mel-uh-TOH-nuhn). Others are food supplements such as valerian (an herb) teas or extracts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements as it does medicine. It is unclear if these products are safe or if they actually work.
Talk to your doctor about sleep problems before using an OTC sleep aid. You may have a medical issue that needs to be treated. Also, the insomnia may be better treated in other ways.If you decide to use a sleep medicine, experts advise you to:
For more information about insomnia, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the additional reviews by:
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Page last updated: June 12, 2017.
Content last reviewed: July 16, 2012.