What Is Insomnia? And What Can I Do if I Can't Sleep?

Over 50 million people suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders. Are you one of them?

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Aug 26, 2022 UPDATED
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How do I know if I have insomnia?

What is the main cause of insomnia?

How can I stop my insomnia?

Is it possible to cure insomnia?

If you're asking these questions, we empathize with your plight. Insomnia is incredibly frustrating and unsettling. What's more, the result of insomnia—loss of sleep—can contribute to or exacerbate mental health issues.

Sleep deprivation can cause headaches, dizziness, sluggish reflexes, slow concentration and irritability among other issues.

The negative effects of sleep deprivation can last much longer than a drowsy day after a poor night’s sleep—and they can be truly life-threatening. 

Long-term effects of sleep deprivation include:

  • Higher risk of strokes or heart disease

  • Higher risks of asthma attacks

  • Higher risk of mental illnesses like depression

  • Severe mood swings

A form of therapy called CBT-I has been proven to help people with insomnia to get measurable increases in sleep.

The Monarch Directory by SimplePractice can help you find a therapist who specializes in CBT to discuss whether CBT-I might stop your insomnia or at least reduce it.

see all therapists near me

Signs and symptoms of insomnia

Has lack of sleep become so normalized that we’ve grown to accept it as a part of human life? And what’s the difference between insomnia and just one rough night of sleep?

Maybe you're waking up at 3a.m. every night for no reason at all. Maybe you have a hard time falling asleep in the first place. Symptoms of insomnia include:

A Monarch by SimplePractice infographic that lists nine symptoms of insomnia.

Who does insomnia affect?

Insomnia's estimated to affect around 30% of American adults.

While insomnia can affect anyone, research suggests that women are about twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men.

Hormones are responsible for some of this divide, but there are other more sociological factors at play, too. 

For one thing, women are more likely to bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities in a family, which comes with a unique set of stressors, and this anxiety can easily negatively impact sleep.

Women are also more likely to have mood disorders than men, and that can leave a person vulnerable to disturbed sleep.   

What causes insomnia?

Insomnia is most often triggered by everyday stress and anxiety, but it can also result from chronic emotional issues like major depression or PTSD. 

It can also result from medical conditions such as pregnancy, as well as certain chronic illnesses. 

Some causes of insomnia are simply structural variables that are out of our control, like a change in work schedules.

Some common causes of insomnia are:

  • Trauma 

  • Sleep-related disorders

  • PTSD

  • Frequently changing work schedules

  • Poor sleep hygiene habits

  • Frequent travel

  • Poor eating habits

  • Prescription or over-the-counter medications

  • Medical conditions

  • Caffeine

  • Nicotine

  • Alcohol

  • Being over the age of 60

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Lack of exercise, low physical activity

  • Gender and hormones

Worrying about not sleeping as you toss and turn in the dark is not actually a solution, and can actually exacerbate insomnia symptoms. 

Insomnia treatments

Depending on the type of insomnia you have, a clinical and holistic approach can be pursued through a combination of prescribed medication, therapy, and organic daily routines. 

Behavioral or holistic remedies include:

Some clinical options include:

How to get help with insomnia

Therapists who specialize in CBT-I help clients with sleep issues and insomnia to get measurable sleep improvement.

Particularly if you’re struggling with insomnia, CBT-I is one of the most effective treatments to help you get back on track—and back to sleeping through the night. 

The Monarch Directory by SimplePractice can help you find a therapist who specializes in CBT to discuss whether CBT-I might help you resolve sleep disturbances.

see all therapists near me

You can browse therapists who accept your insurance, and book a telehealth video counseling session, an in-person therapy session, or a free 15-minute initial consultation.

You can quickly and easily view their calendars and book a therapy session to prioritize improving your sleep. 

As Arianna Huffington advises in her book, The Sleep Revolution: it’s probably time to “renew your estranged relationship with sleep.” 

Everyone deserves to be well-rested, and seeking treatment for insomnia is a crucial part of sustaining our physical and mental well being, and life longevity.

READ NEXT: Tips for Developing a Good Sleep Hygiene Routine

Need to find a mental health professional who can help support you in your struggles with insomnia and sleep? The Monarch Directory by SimplePractice can help you find therapists near you with availability and online booking.

Article originally published Mar 23, 2022. Updated Aug 26, 2022.

Bhaskar, S., Hemavathy, D., & Prasad, S. (2016). Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 5(4), 780. https://doi.org/10.4103/2249-4863.201153

CDC - Sleep Hygiene Tips - Sleep and Sleep Disorders. (2020). Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html

Insomnia - Symptoms and causes. (2016). Retrieved October 30, 2020, from Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167

Sateia, M. J. (2014). International Classification of Sleep Disorders-Third Edition. Chest, 146(5), 1387–1394. https://doi.org/10.1378/chest.14-0970

Sleep Deprivation. (2020, August 18). Retrieved November 2, 2020, from Department of Neurology website: https://www.columbianeurology.org/neurology/staywell/sleep-deprivation

What Are Sleep Disorders? (2015). Retrieved October 30, 2020, from Psychiatry.org website: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/sleep-disorders/what-are-sleep-disorders

‌Why Women Are Twice As Likely To Have Insomnia Than Men. (2016). Retrieved October 30, 2020, from Uofmhealth.org website: https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/3-reasons-women-are-more-likely-to-have-insomnia

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