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Insomnia

young woman sleepingInsomnia is when you can not get enough sleep to feel rested.  Insomnia is more than just the number of hours you spend asleep; it is also the quality of your sleep that matters.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of insomnia may include:

  • Not able to fall asleep easily (taking longer than 30 minutes)
  • Waking many times during the night
  • Waking too early
  • Not feeling rested after 7-8 hours of sleep
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Feeing impaired or finding that the lack of restful sleep is interfering with your daily activities. Insomnia can be very frustrating--restful sleep is one of the most important human needs.

These symptoms can lead to problems functioning in your daily life, increase the risk of accidental injury, and reduce your overall health and quality of life.

Are there different types of insomnia?

Insomnia can be categorized broadly by how long it goes on:

  • Transient (short-term) insomnia lasts one night to several weeks. This can be caused by caused by excitement or stress.
  • Intermittent (on and off) insomnia occurs from time to time. This may be caused by on-going stress or a medical condition.
  • Chronic (ongoing) insomnia lasts three or more nights a week for more than a month

Chronic insomnia is usually either:

  • Primary, or not related to or caused by another health condition
  • Secondary, or related to another condition such as asthma, drugs, stress, a mental health condition, or poor sleep environment (i.e., noisy neighbors or a partner who snores)

What causes insomnia?

Insomnia can be caused by many factors:

  • Personal biology; some people are just more likely to develop insomnia. This can happen during different phases in life.
  • Stress may lead to or worsen insomnia
  • Learned insomnia can happen when you worry about your sleeping problem and link nighttime activities such as getting ready for bed with the stress of not being able to sleep. This can cause further sleeping problems.
  • Use of stimulants such as caffeine, or nicotine close to the time you try to fall asleep
  • Use of alcohol before sleep may make you wake a few hours after falling asleep
  • Not enough down time, like when you are over stimulated by working too hard
  • Keeping unusual work hours may lead changes in hormones that manage sleep
  • Lack of physical activity may lead to insomnia

Treatment

Treating chronic insomnia may include:

  • Treating a medical condition that may be causing insomnia
  • Reducing habits that may lead to insomnia
  • Medications, recommended by your health care provider
  • Other methods include relaxation therapy, sleep restriction therapy, and reconditioning

Self-care/prevention

If you think you may have insomnia, seek care from a health care professional. One thing you can do to help your health care provider is keep a sleep journal.

Keep a sleep journal, for at least a week. Each day write down:

  • When you fall asleep (how long did it take you)
  • How did you feel when you woke
  • How do you feel throughout the day
  • Did you consume caffeine (when and how much)
  • Did exercise during the day (when and what type)

This will help your health care provider give you the best care.

Other ways to improve your sleep include:

  • Try going to sleep at the same time each night--eventually, this will "reset" your sleep clock
  • Try waking up each morning at the same time even on weekends
  • Avoid napping after 3pm
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol in the late afternoon or evening
  • Exercise regularly—but don't exercise too hard too close to bedtime
  • Avoid eating dinner just before going to bed (at least 2-3 hours before), but a light snack may help promote sleep
  • Improve your sleeping environment (cool, dark and quiet is ideal)
  • Try using ear plugs or an eye mask to block distractions
  • If you are having trouble falling asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy and try again. Don't stay in bed trying to will yourself to bed--your body and brain could learn to associate being in bed with not falling asleep
  • Try making a to do list before trying to fall asleep
  • Develop a relaxing routine before sleep like a warm bath or reading for 20 minutes
  • Avoid using your bed for activities other than sex and sleep

When should I seek a health care provider?

If you cannot get to sleep after self-treating your insomnia using the methods described here, set up an appointment with a health care provider.

Additional resources

Schedule an appointment at Hall Health Center

If you are a UW-Seattle student or established Hall Health Center patient with questions, contact our Consulting Nurse service.

 

Authored by: Hall Health Center Health Promotion staff

Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Primary Care Clinic staff (KC), February 2014