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What Is Insomnia

A commonly used word among people nowadays is “insomnia.” Statistics show that people in the world are not getting enough sleep these days. This can lead to many dangerous health risks in the future.

Read on to find out what is insomnia? Its causes and effects? It’s risk factors, treatment, and recent developments in the field.

Defining Insomnia

A person is said to be suffering from “insomnia” when he/she finds it difficult to either sleep or stay asleep regularly. It is not measured by the hours of sleep a person gets but by the satisfaction of the sleep.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder affecting millions of people worldwide. A person with insomnia suffers from lethargy, mood swings, sleepiness during the day, feeling stressed mentally and physically.

Insomnia can be defined either as a symptom or a sign. Only a few years ago, insomnia was considered as a sleep disorder associated with an underlying health condition such as asthma, cancer, arthritis, depression (Secondary insomnia).

However, the recent fifth edition publication of DSM5( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), removed the distinction between primary insomnia( only insomnia) and secondary insomnia. Now, insomnia is regarded as a disorder in itself.

According to the Sleep Health Foundation, around 1 in 3 people suffer from mild insomnia. Studies show that about 30% of American adults suffer from symptoms of insomnia.

What are the types of Insomnia?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia can be of five different types.

  • Acute Insomnia

This is short term insomnia and is often caused by an immediate life event such as a change in job, travel, loss of someone close, etc. Acute insomnia can last for a few nights to a few weeks.

  • Chronic Insomnia

This is a long term and more serious type of insomnia. There can be many causes of chronic insomnia. A person with difficulty of sleeping for at least three nights in a week for three consecutive months or longer is said to be suffering from chronic insomnia.

  • Comorbid Insomnia

This type of insomnia typically occurs because of another health condition. Such as, a person suffering from arthritis or depression may find it difficult to sleep at night.

  • Onset Insomnia

This type of insomnia occurs when a person finds it difficult to sleep at the beginning of the night.

  • Maintenance Insomnia

Maintenance insomnia occurs when a person cannot fall back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. This type of insomnia is becoming increasingly common these days.

A recent breakthrough in the study of insomnia revealed that there are 5 subtypes of insomnia. According to Tessa Blanken, a scientist in the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience, insomnia actually represents five different disorders and not just one disorder.

The paper published in The Lancet Psychiatry classified the 5 subtypes depends on:

  • Brain activity
  • Risk for depression
  • Personality traits
  • Response to treatment.

Causes of Insomnia

It is important not only to know “what is insomnia,” but also its causes, for an early self-diagnosis.

There are different causes of insomnia from psychological to physical factors. Some of the common causes are:

  • Hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy or menstruation.
  • Psychological factors, such as anxiety disorders, bipolarity, depression, or others.
  • Medical conditions such as arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal issues, asthma, tumors, etc.
  • Different kinds of sleep-related problems such as breathing issues, restless leg syndrome, etc.
  • Side effects of some medicines.
  • Change in circadian rhythms, such as a change in job, jet lag, extreme weather conditions.
  • Continuous use of phones or tablets just before sleeping. This cause is on the rise among the younger generation.

Consequences of Insomnia

Thorough research on “what is insomnia” has led to the exposure of the many grave consequences of insomnia. Insomnia has shown to have caused severe degradation/ impairments in the quality of an individual’s life.

Insomnia can cause severe mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, and so on in the long run.

Insomnia can also cause high societal and economic burden through poor productivity at work and high healthcare expenditures. The loss of productivity due to insomnia costs approximately $63 billion dollars in a year to the US economy.

Insomniacs are also 2.5 to 4.5 times more prone to motor vehicle accidents than other normal individuals.

Research studies suggest that approximately 70% of people with insomnia experience symptoms even after a year later and half of them can have insomnia up to three years.


Diagnosis of insomnia is done after studying the medical and sleep history of the individual.

Your doctor may ask you about the medications you are under or any other health conditions you may have, your drinking habits, etc. He will also ask about your regular sleep patterns.

Doctors usually suggest a sleep study that will analyze the activity of your heart rate, eye movements, blood pressure, etc.


It is important first to understand the cause of insomnia. Research more on what is insomnia and its causes in order to know your problem. In the case of acute insomnia, you can treat yourself by making certain lifestyle changes.

However, in serious conditions like chronic insomnia, individuals undergo a type of counseling known as Cognitive- Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

The National Institute of Health (USA) states that only two options- CBT and approved hypnotic drugs have enough evidence to be used as treatment options for insomnia.

CBT is the most preferred treatment since it does not involve any side-effects as compared to treatment involving drugs. CBT only uses behavioral and psychological methods for treatment.


Since insomnia disorder is on the rise, every individual should know what is insomnia, what causes it, and how it is treated. Depression and insomnia are very closely related, and diagnosis of one can lead to the other being the symptom.

Society is changing; people are working longer hours in the pursuit of more money or job satisfaction. All these lifestyle changes are leading to people sleeping much lesser than before. More research and studies need to be carried by considering insomnia as a single disorder.

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