News & Views

How would you know if you suffer from Insomnia?

By Zach Pearl, PhD Staff


Insomnia is defined as a difficulty related to sleeping: sleeplessness, wakefulness and restlessness.

People with insomnia tend to have difficulty falling asleep (onset), staying asleep (maintenance), and/or a very early wake up in the morning. Insomnia can be either short-term (i.e.  Transient) or long-term (i.e. chronic), impacting deeply people’s lives.

People with insomnia may feel unhappy with their sleep and usually experience one or more of the following symptoms: extreme fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, lack of social enjoyment, mood disturbances (irritability, depression, anxiety, etc.), reduced vigilance and decreased performance at work or school.

Here are a few considerations that will help you assess whether your sleep difficulties are considered insomnia:

Does it take you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep?

Tossing and turning, mulling over the day’s events or planning tomorrow’s diary are likely to take some of your time when falling asleep, however, most people will fall asleep within 30 minutes. If it takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep and it happen as often as three nights a week for three months or longer, this could be a sign of insomnia.

Do you wake up several times during the night?

Most healthy people do not wake up at all during the night. However, people who suffer from insomnia may sleep very lightly (waking up from fly hovering around) or have multiple awakenings without the ability to return to sleep quickly. Some people may also suffer from unpleasant dreams that may cause them to awake suddenly. Others, especially the elderly, suffer from Nocturia (=excessive urination at night) and this should be attended to separately as it impairs sleep. If you wake up multiple times during the night and cannot go back to sleep, you may want to discuss your sleep pattern with your doctor.

How is you next day?

Your answer to the question “how did you sleep last night” can indicate your sleep quality. Lack of sleep quality is associated with increased health risk in addition to impaired daytime functioning. If you wake up feeling groggy or tired or if you feel as if you haven’t slept the entire night although you have spent enough time sleeping in bed, this could be a sign of insomnia.

How is your concentration or memory?

Sleep produces brain waves that help with memory consolidation. These brain waves help move memories from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, where long-term memories are stored. Having difficulty remembering things could be a sign of insomnia.

When avoiding caffeine doesn’t help your sleep

Sipping excess caffeine inhibits the secretion of chemicals (i.e., acetylcholine) required for sleep drive within the body and creates wakefulness.
If you are having trouble falling asleep, doing a caffeine analysis and mapping out your caffeine intake and what time you are finally asleep may be your first step. It’s possible that the caffeine is still in your blood stream and working as a stimulant. If you eliminate the caffeine and still can’t fall asleep, you might be looking at more of a disorder than a routine sleep problem.

So…If you do suffer from insomnia, there are many non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatment options. Please refer to your doctor in order to treat your insomnia and to improve your next day functioning.


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