What is insomnia

Before going ahead, let’s remember one important thing. Everyone, even the very best sleepers, sleep badly from time to time. But when does the occasional bad night turn into chronic insomnia? Why does this happen and what exactly is insomnia?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA defines insomnia as:

Complaints of disturbed sleep in the presence of adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep. The disturbances may consist of one of more of three features: (1) difficulty in initiating sleep, (2) difficulty in maintaining sleep, (3) waking too early.

Many experts also talk about primary insomnia (people who are well but are having problems sleeping, insomnia has become chronic and sleep problems might be severe) and secondary insomnia (sleep problems may relate to psychiatric problem such as anxiety or depression or other disease or addiction to drugs/alcohol). It can sometimes be difficult for a doctor (and patient) to understand which came first – the sleep problem or the medical problems and/or psychological problems. Furthermore, some experts talk about acute insomnia (or transient/short term insomnia, lasting from few days to few weeks) or chronic insomnia (or long-term insomnia, lasting from few months to several months or even years).

Often scientists divide sleep disturbances into three or four main categories such as (1) insomnia, (2) excessive daytime sleepiness (narcolepsy), (3) Disruptive sleep-related events (parasomnias such as sleep walking, bruxism and night-terrors) and (4) a disorder of circadian rhythms (such as jet lag and shift work sleep disorders). Furthermore, medical and psychiactric conditions (such as depression, anxiety, drugs and/or alcohol abuse) may cause sleep disorders.

Sleep clinicians also add to their list of diagnostic criteria in a following way:

Diagnostic criteria for insomnia

The main problems often experienced: problems getting to sleep, problems staying asleep, waking too early, oversleeping (hypersomnia), non-restorative sleep.

How common is insomnia

Sensitive sleepers are not alone. In the UK alone one of the estimated 30% of the British population suffers from a sleep problem. How to sleep is the 6th most-searched term on Google. According to NHS, 50% of us suffer from Insomnia at some point, and more than 10 Million prescriptions for sleeping pills are given out each year in England costing the NHS £36 million per year. It’s estimated that around 10% of people suffer long-term insomnia both in England, US and Finland.

Sleep problems seem to run in families. About 35% of people with insomnia have a  family history of insomnia, with the mother being the most commonly affected  family member. Still, because so many factors are involved in insomnia, a  genetic component is difficult to define.

Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint among Americans. It can be either acute (lasting one to several nights) or chronic (lasting several months or even years). According to the National Center for Sleep Disorders research at the National Institutes of Health (US), about 30-40% of adults say they have some symptoms of insomnia within a given year, and about 10-15% of American adults say they have chronic insomnia. People who have trouble sleeping every night without exception for months or years are fairly rare. More often, people experience difficulty sleeping for a few nights, followed by a few nights of adequate sleep before the problem returns.

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