Insomnia is defined as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It is very common and affects one in three American adults. Insomnia can occur in people of all ages, usually just for a night or two, but sometimes for weeks, months, or even years. Insomnia is most common among women and older adults.

Types of Insomnia

Transient Insomnia is the inability to sleep well for a period of a few nights, which lasts less than four weeks. This type of insomnia is usually brought on by excitement or stress. Children may experience it before the first day of school or a big test, while adults may sleep poorly before an important meeting or after an argument with a family member or friend. Exercising too close to bedtime can also be a cause for this type of insomnia.

Short-Term Insomnia is insomnia that lasts from four weeks to six months. Generally this type of insomnia is brought about by periods of ongoing stress, and when the stressful situation gets better, or the person adjusts to the stress, the sleep returns to normal.

Chronic Insomnia is poor sleep every night or most nights for more than six months. More than 20 million Americans suffer from this insomnia.

Causes of Insomnia

  • Psychological Factors such as vulnerability to insomnia and persistent stress can impact your ability to sleep well.
  • Lifestyle habits such as use of stimulants or alcohol during the day, following erratic hours or misusing sleeping pills may cause or worsen insomnia.
  • Environmental Factors such as noise and light may be keeping the body from getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Other physical or psychiatric illnesses.

What to Do

If you suffer from insomnia, there is help available. Your health care provider can help you identify the type of insomnia you have as well as help you find the cause. You can also try to follow good sleep habits, including following the guidelines below.

Sleeping Well Guidelines

  • Get up around the same time every day.
  • Go to bed only when sleepy.
  • Establish relaxing pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath, light bedtime snack, or 10 minutes of reading.
  • Exercise regularly. Confine vigorous exercise to early hours, at least six hours before bedtime, and do mild exercise at least four hours prior to bedtime.
  • Keep a regular schedule. Regular times for meals, medications, chores, and other activities help keep the inner clock running smoothly.
  • Avoid ingestion of caffeine within six hours of bedtime. Don’t drink alcohol, especially when sleepy. Even a small dose of alcohol can have a potent effect when combined with tiredness.
  • Avoid smoking close to bedtime.
  • If you must nap, try to nap at the same time every day; mid-afternoon is the best time for most people.
  • Avoid sleeping pills, or use them conservatively. Most doctors avoid prescribing sleeping pills for periods longer than three weeks.
  • Do not drink alcohol while taking sleeping pills.