GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on April 1st, 2019


Insomnia is a disorder that affects sleep. Someone who suffers from insomnia struggles to maintain healthy sleep patterns. Their struggle will prevent them from getting adequate rest throughout the night. As a result, people with insomnia struggle to cope with everyday stressors in a healthy way.

Insomnia will affect everyone differently. Some people with insomnia will struggle to fall asleep. Others may struggle to stay asleep through the night. Insomnia causes issues with fatigue, regardless of how much an affected person sleeps through the night.

It causes a person to have low energy and emotional sensitivity. Many people with insomnia will suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of exhaustion.

Insomnia will affect many areas of a person’s life, including:

  • Mental health
  • Physical and medical health
  • Job performance
  • Academic performance
  • Self-esteem
  • Emotional stability
  • Relationships

People who suffer from insomnia often feel desperate to get a restful night’s sleep. Not being able to sleep well is frustrating, so it is not uncommon for a person with insomnia to behave irrationally.

When people do not get enough sleep their emotions are heightened. This emotional sensitivity will cause them to lash out at others, avoid sources of stress and fall behind on their responsibilities.

Symptoms of Insomnia

A person can experience symptoms of insomnia at any time, but the risk of experiencing insomnia increases with age. Symptoms of insomnia may be related to another mental health or medical condition. It can also exist due to a biological or stress-related issue.

Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Difficulty with falling asleep
  • Difficulty with staying asleep
  • Waking up periodically during the night
  • Having restless sleep
  • Waking up before dawn
  • Feeling fatigued throughout the day
  • Poor ability to manage stress
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty focusing

Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia is a common disorder that affects millions of Americans each day. Most people will experience insomnia at some point in their lives. How a person experiences insomnia depends on what has caused the insomnia.

There are three types of insomnia a person may experience:

  • Cyclic Insomnia. Affects a person sometimes, but not all the time.
  • Acute Insomnia. Only affects a person for a few weeks
  • Chronic Insomnia. Has a long-term affect on a person.

Each of these types of insomnia will be caused by a different reason.

The causes of a case of insomnia plays a major role in the treatment of insomnia. This is why it is important to identify the type of insomnia a person is experiencing and the cause of the condition.

Common causes of insomnia include:

Mental Health Issues. Some mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, sleep apnea and PTSD, will cause insomnia.

Poor Stress Management Skills. People who struggle with managing stress may experience insomnia. Triggers for stress may include:

  • Work or school
  • Social or relationship issues
  • Family stress
  • Adjustment to a new or changing environment
  • Adjustment to a life change
  • A change in the affected person’s daily schedule
  • Grief
  • Aging
  • Medical issues

Not knowing how to calm your mind before bed will significantly impact how you are affected by insomnia.

Substance Use. Substance use or alcoholism may cause insomnia by interrupting the sleep-wake patterns of the brain.

Internet or Screen Addiction. Being addicted to the Internet, smart phones, tablets and computers may cause insomnia. The constant stimulation of a screen prevents the brain from being able to rest properly. Spending too much time checking in with technology is a mistake for healthy sleep.

Video Game Addiction. People who suffer from video game addiction often suffer from insomnia. Video games are especially stimulating to the mind, and people who suffer from video game addiction often play for hours at a time.

Video game addiction causes a person to neglect other physical and mental health needs, which can be disruptive to a healthy sleep cycle. Prioritizing gaming over sleep causes insomnia. It prevents the development of healthy sleep hygiene.

Caffeine Addiction. Caffeine addiction will severely impact a person’s ability to get a restful night’s sleep. Caffeine addiction causes an overabundance of caffeine in the system. People who suffer from caffeine addiction often drink it throughout the day. This causes the brain and body to be constantly stimulated, making restful sleep impossible. Consuming too much caffeine (more than 1-2 cups per day, before 2 pm) will likely cause insomnia.

Diet and Exercise. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise are important for maintaining healthy sleep hygiene. Certain foods may cause insomnia and sleep issues. A lack of exercise prevents excess energy from being exhausted, which will also prevent proper sleep. Maintaining a diet for better sleep and regular exercise are important for preventing insomnia.

Medication. Certain medications may cause insomnia as a side effect.

Treatment for Insomnia

There are treatment options available to alleviate the symptoms of insomnia. Medication may or may not be recommended or prescribed by a physician. It may be used as an aid for therapy, but it is important to learn the skills needed in therapy to manage healthy sleep hygiene. Relying on medication alone is not sufficient for managing insomnia.

Treatment modalities that may be incorporated into therapy for insomnia include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be used to teach the affected person how to manage racing thoughts while trying to fall asleep.
  • Relaxation and Mindfulness Exercises. Mindfulness skills for insomnia teach the following skills for improving sleep:
    • Relaxation techniques
    • Sleep hygiene skills
    • Meditative practices
  • Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy. Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT) combines mindfulness techniques and cognitive skills for stress management. Combining these skills helps to alleviate symptoms of insomnia.

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