Insomnia, the complaint of not sleeping well, is among the most frequent complaints in a primary care doctor’s office. At some point in our lives, each of us will experience some degree of insomnia. When trying to determine the cause, a detailed description of the sleep disruption can be helpful. Difficulty falling asleep is called sleep-onset insomnia. Difficulty staying asleep is termed sleep maintenance insomnia. Nonrestorative sleep is the term used to describe sleepiness despite an adequate amount of sleep.
Insomnia can be short-lived, lasting only one to two nights. This is called transient insomnia. Transient insomnia is usually due to a new life stressor or a change in our daily routine. Insomnia that lasts more than a few days but less than 1 month is called short-term insomnia. This is usually due to a bigger stressor, such as a short-term illness. Chronic insomnia can last months or years. Chronic insomnia is usually due to chronic medical or psychiatric illness or the use of medications. Some studies suggest that one in three Americans suffers from chronic insomnia.
Most emotional disorders can cause sleep disturbance. Chronic insomnia can be a symptom of depression, anxiety, dementia, or panic disorder. A number of medical problems can also cause insomnia. Cardiovascular disease, heartburn, asthma, and thyroid disease are among the most common. Drugs are also common causes of insomnia. Stimulants like caffeine can disturb sleep. Chronic use of sedatives can also create worsening insomnia. Last but not least, substance abuse can also cause sleep problems.
If you are experiencing a problem with your sleep, a visit to your primary care doctor’s office is highly recommended.