Insomnia Causes, Symptoms and Treatment – Having A Difficult Time Sleeping?

Do you have a difficult time going to sleep at night?Insomnia causes symptoms and treatment.

How many times have you woken up throughout the night or day?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder can affect how your perform throughout the day and you may also be worried about how little sleep you are getting.

If you answer yes to the first two questions. Then there is a chance that you are suffering from insomnia.

You could potentially have insomnia if you experience one or more of these three sleep disturbances on a regular basis:

  1. Struggle going to sleep.
  2. Struggle staying asleep.
  3. Waking up earlier than expected.

In addition to having disrupted sleep, insomnia is a sleep disorder that has been known to lead to other daytime symptoms such as having a difficult time concentrating on tasks, irritable moods, and feelings of daytime sleepiness.  

In this post, you will learn more about insomnia in addition to the causes, symptoms and treatment options. In addition, there are methods the are self help methods that are available.

Here are some interesting facts about insomnia:

Library of books.

  • The treatments for insomnia can either be behavioral or medical.
  • Some causes of insomnia include factors such as medications, the level of hormones in the body and your psychological state.
  • Insomnia can also be caused by other secondary factors such as the lifestyle that you are leading and other illnesses.
  • There are approximately 60 million people in the United States that are affected by insomnia.
  • The causes of insomnia can vary.

Table of Contents

  1. Is Insomnia Common?
  2. The Different Types Of Insomnia.
  3. Causes.
  4. Symptoms.
  5. Diagnosis and Treatment.
  6. Self Help Methods.
  7. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Prior To Sleeping Pills.
  8. Medical Treatments.
  9. Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Is Insomnia Common?

Sleep researchers know that insomnia is a common sleep disorder in medical practice.

The Amercian Academy of Sleep Medicine states that between 30 to 35% of adults have some form of insomnia. Yet, only 10% of adults have chronic insomnia.

According to the National Public Radio there are approximately 60 million Americans that suffer from being sleep deprived.

There are certain factors that place people in a higher risk for developing insomnia such as:

  1. Physical or mental health conditions.
  2. Feeling a lot of stress.
  3. Irregularities in your normal schedule such as jet lag and shift work.
  4. If you are an older adult.
  5. Women have a higher chance than men to have insomnia when certain factors are taken into account such as menstrual cycles, menopause, and pregnancies.

The Different Types of Insomnia

There are two different main types of insomnia. The difference between the two types is the frequency of the experience and the duration of the issue.

Short Term Insomnia

Sleep disruptions and daytime symptoms usually do not last more than three months. The duration can range from a few nights to a few weeks to three months.

According to WebMD, many people suffer from short term insomnia from time to time because of factors such as stress or traveling. Short term insomnia is usually a problem when it lasts longer than expected and how it affects your performance on a daily basis.

Keep in mind that there are exceptions to the time frame stated above. There are people who experience insomnia for a few weeks at a time and that can last for several years. An example is that even if they did not reach the three-month mark every time, it can still be chronic insomnia.

Chronic Insomnia

  1. Sleep is disrupted and daytime symptoms occur for at least three months.
  2. Happens a minimum of three times a week.

Interesting Fact

The method of how insomnia have been classified have been altered in recent times.

There will be times when you will see insomnia described as “primary” and “secondary”. Insomnia was separated into these two main types for several years and some medical professional and organizations still have these classifications.

Yet, the newest edition of the “International Classification of Sleep Disorders 3rd Edition (ICSD-3)” made the necessary changes to the method of how insomnia is classified. The ICSD-3 is one of the top manuals used by sleep experts to diagnose the many sleep disorders that are present.

These alterations mean that the revised types are now “short term insomnia” and “chronic insomnia”. These terms are more widely now. An important aspect to remember is that insomnia can be caused by or can be related to a different condition. Although, if a different condition is present it will help you out greatly if you take care of insomnia on its own.

Take depression for example, taking care of both depression and insomnia simultaneously will help both conditions improve for the better.

Learn more about International Classification of Sleep Disorders here


In addition to having difficulty sleeping at night, there are also daytime symptoms that follow as well.

The symptoms of insomnia are abundant, however each person will not experience the same symptoms as the next person.

This is a short list of symptoms for short term and chronic insomnia:

  1. Feeling anxiety about sleep.
  2. Feeling worried or concern about your sleep issues.
  3. Prone to accidents or making mistakes more than usual.
  4. Behavioral issues such as aggression, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness.
  5. Low energy levels.
  6. Decreased motivation for activities.
  7. Lower performance in work, school, and other daily activities.
  8. Having a difficult time pay attention, concentrating and retaining information.
  9. Decrease in positive mood.
  10. Feeling irritable.
  11. Gastrointestinal issues.
  12. Feeling fatigue or unsettled.
  13. Having a sleepy feeling throughout the day.

Tired banner.

If you are feeling anxiety and need some advice on how to unwind at night you should read this article.

Night Time Routine For Adults – 10 Methods To Unwind At Night

Important Note

The International Classification of Sleep Disorders 3rd Edition makes a valid point that insomnia is not always an appropriate diagnosis.

Certain conditions such as acute pain and grief can cause the same issues as shown in insomnia. However, a diagnosis might not be necessary if the sleep problem is not causing you any stress.


The prospect of how some have insomnia and others do not have been greatly debated over the years.

This debate will continue to go on for many years.

Some interesting research has discovered seven genes that are common in people with insomnia. The notion of “it is all in your mind” is one that can be debated upon.

However, in many cases of short term insomnia. There is the possibility to identify what first caused your insomnia.

The primary causes of insomnia can include:

  1. Bad sleep habits also referred to “sleep hygiene”. Factors such as not getting exercise, watching television before going to sleep, using electronic devices close to your scheduled bedtime, having an inconsistent sleep schedule, and eating fatty, spicy, or fried foods close to bedtime can all contribute towards insomnia.
  2. Factors of your sleeping environment – such as being too hot or cold, a noisy person living with you, too much light entering your bedroom and a snoring person who has other health conditions or sleep disorders can disrupt your sleep.
  3. Shift work with varying times and jet lag.
  4. Any use of substances – alcohol can cause nocturnal awakenings, consuming any form of caffeine can make it difficult to go to sleep. Other substances such as ecstasy and cocaine can disrupt normal sleeping patterns and make it a challenge going to sleep at night.
  5. Medications – over the counter and prescription medications have the potential to cause sleep issues. An example of this are medications that are used to treat sexual dysfunction, high blood pressure, asthma, allergies, ADHD, pain killers that have caffeine in them, and antidepressants.
  6. Medical Conditions – after being diagnosed or have an illness that is starting. Adults who are up there in age have a higher chance to have medical conditions as their cause due to taking more medications and having other health conditions as well.
  7. Feeling pain or discomfort when in bed.
  8. Mental Health Issues – Anxiety and depression correspond with insomnia.
  9. Having other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea which causes difficulty breathing and can wake you up in the middle of the night. Restless Leg Syndrome causes your legs to move around and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  10. Traumatic experiences – such as the death of person who was close to you, accidents, job loss, divorces, and other traumatic experiences that you have experienced in the past or in recent times.
  11. Stress from life such as concerns over matters of finances, education, work, health, and family situations. All of these factors can keep awake at night as you overthink one or many of these aspects that cause your mind unnecessary strain.

There are instances where people find that once cause is no longer present, they will have a much easier time going to sleep.

Yet, the statement above is not 100% definite because insomnia can be present and stay even after the issue has been taken care of.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The right time to seek medical assistance

The majority of medical organizations recommended that you first attempt to remedy the sleep issue yourself. If the issue becomes ongoing, then that is the right time to seek out assistance from a sleep expert or a medical doctor.

A great example is that the National Sleep Foundation recommends:

“You should seek help if your insomnia has become a pattern, or if you often feel fatigued or unrefreshed during the day and it interferes with your daily life. Many people have brief periods of difficulty sleeping (for example, a few days after starting a new job), but if insomnia lasts longer or has become a regular occurrence, you should ask for help”.

The American Academy of Sleep recommends:

“If you have had insomnia for fewer than three months, you may have short term insomnia. Try to follow good sleep hygiene, and if the problem does not go away in three months, then talk to a sleep physician”.

Self Help Methods

There are methods out there that can help you successfully improve your sleep without any medical assistance. The two methods are:

Make an attempt to work through any factors that you know that might cause insomnia

  1. Work through and solve anything issue that causes you to feel anxiety or stress.
  2. Examine any medication, substances, and remedies that you are currently taking. This can be a potential cause.
  3. Seek out the proper medical professional if you have any mental or physical condition.

Stress and anxiety banner.

Alter your sleep habits

There are many strategies and points of advice on how to improve your sleep. These are important points of advice to keep in mind:

  1. Maintain a cool, dark, and quiet bedroom.
  2. Do not eat any fatty, fried, or greasy foods before going to bed.
  3. Use the last hour of the day to unwind and relax.
  4. Do not use any electronic devices one hour before going to bed.
  5. Exercise on a consistent basis.
  6. Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  7. Stay on a consistent sleep schedule.

Learn more about healthy sleep habits.

What A Medical Professional Might Do For You

A medical professional will work through the cause of your sleep problem and they will help you search for the correct treatment.

In some instances, they will refer you to a sleep specialist center so that you can conduct what is known as a “sleep study”. They can also run some tests if they believe that you might have other health conditions.

They will also give you advice about changing your current sleep habits, provide you with resources that you can use to help yourself, and advise you that this is the first step that you need to take. If all of that does not help, then they will have suggestions for future treatments.

Future treatments can include psychotherapy for conditions such as anxiety and depression. There is another form of therapy that is known as “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia” (CBT-I).


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Insomnia Prior To Sleeping Pills

The Mayoclinic states an important point about sleeping pills.

They recommended that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia should be the first line of treatment instead of medication.

“Sleep Medications can be an effective short-term treatment – for example, they can provide immediate relief during a period of high stress or grief. Some newer sleeping medications have been approved for longer use. But they may not be the best long-term insomnia treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral therapy for insomnia may be a good treatment choice if you have long-term sleep problems, you’re worried about becoming dependent on sleep medications, or if medications aren’t effective or cause bothersome side effects.

Unlike pills, CBT-I addresses the underlying causes of insomnia rather than just relieving symptoms. But it takes time – and effort to make it work. In some cases, a combination of sleep medication and CBT-I maybe the best approach.”

The move away from using medication is becoming more mainstream with other countries accepting this practice.

CBT-I works because it is a fusion of practical treatments that include:

  1. Sleep hygiene (eliminating bad habits, replacing bad habits with good habits)
  2. Stimulus control (conditioning your bedroom with sleep)
  3. Relaxation training (mindfulness and relaxation techniques)
  4. Sleep restriction (being in bed for the correct amount of time)
  5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (helping you think about the way you view sleep)

These practical treatments can be performed on the phone, online, one on one group sessions, and there are even self-help books on this topic.

However, the most effective way is believed to be with professional guidance.

Medical Treatments

The majority of doctors will only prescribe sleeping pills if other treatments failed to work and your insomnia is in a bad condition. At this point, the NHS recommends that they are likely to prescribe sleeping pills for a few days or a few weeks only.

In our world today, there are many different types of over the counter sleep aids and prescription medications that are available. However, there are side effects if the sleep aids are taken for longer than recommended.

Those sleep aids and prescription medication include:

  • Over the counter sleep aids that contain herbal ingredients that are found in nature, melatonin, and anti-histamines.
  • Anti-Depressants that include trazodone, mirtazapane, and amitriptyline.
  • Prescription medication such as zolpidem, zaleplon, and eszopiclone.

Colorful medication.

The important thing you need to do is to consult your doctor when taking any sleeping pills and only use them for a short duration of time.

This article written by the Mayoclinic goes into more detail about the types of prescription sleep pills, their side effects, and any safety concerns.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

If taking sleep aids and prescription medications are not for you. Fortunately, there are herbal remedies for insomnia that are available online and in physical locations. The effectiveness of each ingredient varies from one to another.

There is scientific research that back up the sedative effects in valerian root. This root is a common ingredient in a lot of teas that help promote sleep and is contained in many sleep aids that are available today.

The other ingredients which are thought by some to aid in relaxation and sleep are:

  1. Lemon Balm.
  2. Chamomile.
  3. Hops.
  4. Lavender.
  5. Peppermint.

Prior to trying a remedy that contains these ingredients, you should consult a medical professional first. I recommend that you go see your doctor as well if you taking any other types of medication at the same time. Keep an eye out for respectable brands and also look for those with one primary ingredient rather than a mixture of many ingredients.

Peppermint leaves in a teapot.

In addition, there are other techniques that help promote relaxation and sleep that include:

  1. Acupuncture.
  2. Tai Chi.
  3. Yoga.
  4. Mindfulness and Meditation (This is one that I highly recommend especially in our fast paced modern lifestyle).

Final Thoughts

Everything from bad sleep habits to stress can cause insomnia. Feeling anxiety about going to sleep should not stop you from getting a good night’s sleep. There are many different ways to treat insomnia and with some effort you can remedy this issue and end daytime sleepiness. What was your experience with insomnia?

Please feel free to share your story in the comments section below.

4 Comments on “Insomnia Causes, Symptoms and Treatment – Having A Difficult Time Sleeping?”

  1. Hello Julia,

    Yes, struggling with waking up at night when you having a lot of thoughts in the mind is very common. I have had this very same issue as well so I can relate. That is interesting that you listen to podcasts, talks and stories in bed. Who says that adults cannot have bedtime stories as well? Hahaha

    That is a great option that I should consider in the future. If listening to this type of media helps you relax enough to help you go to sleep, then I encourage the behavior. The trick with using electronics to help you go to sleep is to not constantly look at the screen of your device, which from your comment sounds like you do not. The light that is emitted from most if not all electronic devices lowers your melatonin production and makes it more difficult for your brain and body to relax enough to fall asleep. 

    If you are struggling with an overactive mind at night, you should take a look at my article about relaxation techniques for sleep.

    5 Relaxation Techniques For Sleep: Quieting Your Overactive Mind

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  2. Hello Danny,

    Not using any electronics during the first hour of the day is an excellent rule to follow. It is a positive thing to have that rule set in place. Most people produce their peak amount of cortisol early in the morning. This is a hormone that your body produces to help you wake up and it gives you the energy you need to get going through the day. Your brain needs time to process all of the cortisol that is being produced. I suspect that using electronics in the morning somehow blocks the cortisol that is being produced and causes most people to feel sluggish instead of feeling energized and ready to go.

    You are on the right track. Using electronics when you wake up first thing in the morning overstimulates the mind because these devices are very distracting. This causes most if not all people to divert their attention away from what they were originally doing. By eliminating this action, you will achieve much more mental clarity.

    Yes, I do personally set aside the last hour of everyday to not use anything electronics. This has helped me feel much more relaxed. Using electronics at night can waste a lot of time and can causes many people to lose out on their sleep time. I also do my best to avoid using my phone first thing when I wake up as well. 

     It is one of the best sleep habits that you can form because the blue light from emitted from these devices can throw off your brain’s melatonin production.

    If you want more good healthy sleep habits, please check out my page about sleep hygiene in the sleep advice category. 

    Best regards,
    Kenny Tang

  3. Hi, this is a very detailed article.

    I have struggled with waking up in the night usually when I have things on my mind. I suspect this is fairly normal.

    My present means of dealing with this is to listen to podcasts, talks or stories in bed. This is a bit like a child having a bedtime story. I really like doing this and I generally fall asleep very quickly. Usually within about 5 minutes. My device turns itself off after a set number of minutes. I do the same if I wake up in the night.

    I can imagine people thinking that this is not a good idea, but I really enjoy it.

    All the best,

  4. Great guide! This had some really useful info in it. I know that I need to apply the information myself. I am halfway there on a few of them. For example, you mention not using electronic devices an hour before you go to bed. I currently have that rule for when I wake up. I do not look at anything electronic for the first hour I am awake. That has really helped my head feel clearer. This helps me start the day properly. I imagine doing the same thing on a night would be really useful too. I definitely need to get into the habit of doing that. Do you personally do this too?

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