Insomnia Habitual Sleeplessness

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This article was edited and updated on December 23, 2021.

Insomnia Defined

We all have nights when we don't sleep well, but one night without sleep does not mean you have insomnia. 2

Insomnia means "habitual sleeplessness" or an inability to sleep. It is characterized by difficulty falling and/or staying asleep.

The most common symptoms of insomnia are:

Types of Insomnia

First, insomnia can be categorized by how long it lasts:

Second, insomnia can also be categorized by its causes:

Causes of Insomnia

The causes of insomnia are many and varied — they are often unique to each individual.

As a general rule, causes of acute insomnia can be any combination of the following:

In many of these cases, insomnia will go away when the situation is resolved. If not attended to, however, it can turn into chronic insomnia which is often caused by:

Side Effects of Insomnia

We tend to think that loss of sleep is not harmful to our health. Although we may feel tired the next day, we think the effects won't last long. That is true — if we only lose a night or two of sleep.

However, it is believed that chronic insomnia may cause any or all of these conditions:

In addition, chronic insomnia may lead to serious diseases such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Insomnia Treatment

Acute insomnia, since it is usually short-lived, may not require treatment. Although you may lose a night's sleep now and then, it is usually not a problem. Mild insomnia often can be prevented or cured by practicing good sleep habits (see list below).

Chronic insomnia, however, is much more difficult to treat, yet it needs to be treated to prevent other problems. Many people seek sleeping pills, either by prescription or over-the-counter, but a word of caution comes with those two options.

If you want to consider a prescription sleeping pill, remember that long-term use of sleeping pills is to be avoided if at all possible.

Using over-the-counter sleeping pills for insomnia can also be problematic because they may have undesired side effects and tend to lose their effectiveness over time.

Treatment for chronic insomnia requires long-term considerations. Some possibilities are:

You can research these different types of treatments and find one that might work for you.

Good Sleep Habits: Hints for those with Short-Term Insomnia

Here are some suggestions to help you deal with short-term (acute) insomnia:

Research and Other Sleep Disorders

Researchers believe that your brain has a sleep cycle and a wake cycle — when one is turned on, the other is hopefully turned off. Obviously, there can be a problem with either part of this cycle and researchers now believe that it is very important to first understand what might be causing your sleep difficulties.

There are many possible chemical interactions in the brain that could interfere with sleep, and this may explain why some people seem to be biologically prone to insomnia and struggle with sleep for many years without any identifiable cause — even when they follow healthy sleep advice.

As well, there may also be underlying sleep disorders. For example:

If you suffer from severe insomnia or other sleep disorders, you need help and assistance in determining the causes and how to cope with it. See your family doctor and discuss your options.

Other articles that might be of interest:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. ↩︎

  2. Thanks to the WebMD website on insomnia for much of the information for this article. ↩︎