Insomnia is defined as a persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation, or quality, in spite of adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep. It results in daytime consequences. There are two main categories of insomnia: sleep-initiation insomnia and sleep-maintenance insomnia.

Sleep-initiation insomnia is a difficulty falling asleep at the beginning of the night. It is usually triggered by a stressful event, such as a death in the family or a hard test at school. Typically, it should resolve when the trigger is no longer present, but in some people the insomnia becomes a chronic problem. With sleep-initiation insomnia, it is always important to make sure that other sleep disorders like restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea are adequately treated, as they can worsen or lead to insomnia.

Sleep-maintenance insomnia occurs when a person has difficulty falling asleep after waking up in the middle of the night. The most important point about sleep-maintenance insomnia is that there is often an underlying physiologic problem of sleep (like sleep apnea) that is leading to the awakenings in the first place. If this problem is not adequately addressed, then it can be very difficult to treat sleep-maintenance insomnia.

Who Gets Insomnia?

Anyone can get insomnia. Most people experience it at least once in their lives. It is estimated that approximately 10% of the general population have chronic insomnia. Insomnia is considered a problem when it has not resolved in a reasonable period of time.

How Is Insomnia Treated?

The key to treating insomnia is to treat the underlying cause. This may include treating such things as mood disorders or other sleep disorders, for example. The treatment of insomnia with medications has become a multibillion-dollar industry, but the best long-term treatment for insomnia is behavioral. Behavioral treatments can include developing good sleep habits, stress reduction, relaxation techniques, and individual or group cognitive-behavioral therapy.