Insomnia comes in many forms, but always involves difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep.

Most people have experienced some form of insomnia during their lives, and it’s estimated that 10% of people have some form of insomnia at any moment.

Overview—What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is present whenever there is difficulty going to sleep, remaining asleep, or returning to sleep after an episode of wakefulness. All three of the above problems may be present in insomnia—and all three can cause tiredness during the day.

What Causes Insomnia?

Sometimes there is no clear cause for insomnia, and it’s referred to as primary insomnia. Otherwise there are a wide range of causes including:

  • Medication and drugs (e.g. caffeine, nicotine, blood pressure medication)
  • Stress in personal or work life
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain from injury or illness
  • Death of friends or family
  • Other sleep disorders – particularly sleep apnoea in women

Who Gets Insomnia?

People with poor health and older people are more at risk of insomnia. Additionally, women are twice as likely to suffer insomnia as men—this may be related to higher rates of anxiety and depression and may also relate to hormonal changes. People working odd hours such as shift workers are also more likely to have insomnia.

How Does Insomnia Affect People?

Insomnia has broad and pronounced effects. Sufferers experience difficulty focusing and impaired memory, impaired concentration, emotional swings and depressed mood, as well as tiredness and sleepiness during days.

How is Insomnia Treated?

Insomnia is treated differently depending on its cause. Improving poor sleep habits can be a frontline treatment. If sleep habits are not an issue, then cognitive-behavioural therapy has been proven as effective in the medium and long term—more effective than medication.

Medication can be effective in the short-term to support a good night’s sleep—however its effectiveness declines as usage increases, and medication can be dangerously habit-forming. If stress, depression and anxiety are determined to be causes, improving these conditions can help with insomnia. These conditions are themselves best treated by specialists.

Often a sleep study is required to be sure that the underlying causes of insomnia are understood, and to rule out sleep apnoea which can masquerade as insomnia, particularly in women.