Insomnia is a common sleep problem in which you have trouble falling or staying asleep. This sleep disorder and its symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on how often it occurs and for how long.
Insomnia can be a chronic (ongoing) or acute (short-term) sleep problem. Chronic insomnia means having symptoms at least three nights a week for more than a month. Acute insomnia lasts for less time.
Some people who have insomnia may have trouble falling asleep. Other people may fall asleep easily but wake up too soon. Others may have trouble with both falling asleep and staying asleep.
As a result, insomnia may cause you to get too little sleep or have poor-quality sleep. You may not feel refreshed when you wake up.
There are two types of insomnia. The most common type is called secondary or comorbid insomnia. This type of insomnia is a symptom or side effect of some other problem.
More than 8 out of 10 people who have insomnia are believed to have secondary insomnia. Certain medical conditions, medicines, sleep disorders, and substances can cause secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia often resolves or improves without treatment if you can stop its cause—especially if you can correct the problem soon after it starts. For example, if caffeine is causing your insomnia, stopping or limiting your intake of the substance may cause your sleep problems to go away.
In contrast, primary insomnia isn't due to a medical problem, medicines, or other substances. It is its own disorder. A number of life changes can trigger primary insomnia, including long-lasting stress and emotional upset.
Insomnia can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and a lack of energy. It also can make you feel anxious, depressed, or irritable. You may have trouble focusing on tasks, paying attention, learning, and remembering. This can prevent you from doing your best at work or school. Insomnia also can cause other serious problems. For example, you may feel drowsy while driving, which could lead to an accident.
Lifestyle changes, which include better sleep habits, often help relieve acute insomnia. For chronic insomnia, your doctor may recommend a type of counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy or medicines.
It is important to learn about sleep disorders and symptoms if you suspect you or a family member have problems sleeping. Read more about causes, symptoms, and treatments for insomnia.