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Also called: Chronic Insomnia, Primary Insomnia, Transient Insomnia, Breathing Related Insomnia

- Summary
- About insomnia
- Risk factors and causes
- Signs and symptoms
- Diagnosis methods
- Treatment and prevention
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Steven A. King, M.D.


Insomnia is the inability to sleep for a reasonable amount of time to maintain adequate restfulness. It is the most common type of sleep disorder.

Insomnia is not defined by the total number of hours slept. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but some need only four or five.

About one in three American adults experience insomnia in a given year, according to the National Institutes of Health. About one in 10 American adults experience insomnia that is chronic or severe. Insomnia is more common among women (especially after menopause) and the elderly. About half of people over age 65 have frequent sleep problems.

Many conditions can cause insomnia, such as:

  • Lifestyle factors (e.g., drinking caffeine or alcohol before bedtime)
  • Psychiatric conditions (e.g., depression)
  • Other medical conditions (e.g., peptic ulcers)
  • Medications
  • Other sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea)

Symptoms of insomnia may include difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, daytime drowsiness or irritability.

Many people visit their physician with complaints of insomnia. A review of their medical history, a physical examination and details of medications and lifestyle may help pinpoint the cause. Patients should also be evaluated for psychiatric conditions. They may be asked to keep a sleep diary to document sleep patterns and behaviors. In some cases, patients may be referred to a sleep center where sleep is analyzed by sleep disorder professionals. This is usually done to rule out other sleep disorders.

Several approaches may be used to treat insomnia, depending on its cause. Lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise or elimination of alcohol or caffeine, may help the condition. Sedative medications may also be prescribed, although they are not a long-term solution. Some forms of therapy, such as relaxation therapy, may help some patients.

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Review Date: 07-31-2008

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