Do I have insomnia?

Your sleeping habits have a direct effect on both your physical and mental health. It’s just as important to get regular sleep as it is to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Unfortunately, sleeping disorders are very common, and they make it hard to function in daily life. 

If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone! The CDC reports that 1 in 3 adults in America don’t get enough sleep regularly. According to the American Sleep Association, nearly 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder. 

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with around 30% of adults reporting short-term issues and 10% reporting chronic insomnia. 

Many experts agree that most adults need around seven to eight hours of sleep every night. When you’re unable to fall and stay asleep due to insomnia, that could have serious consequences for your health. 

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a type of sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Two ways to categorize insomnia are:

  • Sleep-onset insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep 
  • Sleep maintenance insomnia: Difficulty staying asleep, or waking up too early and struggling to fall back to sleep

Insomnia can be short-term (acute) or chronic. Many adults experience short-term insomnia, which is a brief episode of difficulty falling asleep. This generally lasts for less than three months.

Chronic insomnia is experienced over the long term. If you have chronic insomnia, you likely have a pattern of having trouble falling or staying asleep for at least three nights per week for three or more months.

Insomnia symptoms

Common symptoms of insomnia include:

  • difficulty or inability to fall asleep at night
  • waking up in the middle of the night
  • waking up too early and being unable to fall back asleep
  • feeling tired or fatigued even after sleep
  • feeling tired or fatigued during the day
  • difficulty with memory or focusing on tasks
  • depression, anxiety, or irritability

If you have insomnia and it’s interfering with your ability to function in your day-to-day life, it may be time to visit your doctor. 

What causes insomnia?

There are many different factors that can contribute to developing insomnia. Lifestyle factors in particular can be a direct cause of insomnia. Technology doesn’t help. Around 88% of American adults reportedly lose sleep because of binge-watching television.

Common causes of insomnia include:

  • mental health conditions like depression or anxiety
  • going through a stressful or traumatic event, like divorce or death of a loved one
  • poor sleep and lifestyle habits
  • consuming caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or other stimulants close to bedtime
  • eating or exercising too late in the evening
  • napping for more than 30 minutes during the day
  • scrolling through social media, watching TV,  or otherwise using technology late at night. “Blue light” from screens makes it difficult to fall asleep.
  • medications with side effects that affect sleep

Is insomnia genetic?

Studies have shown that insomnia can be genetically inherited. However, you can be genetically predisposed to insomnia and develop no symptoms at all.

You can still treat insomnia even if you’re genetically predisposed to it. The treatment is the same regardless of your risk of inheriting it.

Mental health & insomnia

Mood disorders can have a huge effect on your sleeping patterns, and vice versa. Insomnia may be a symptom of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and others.

It’s estimated that around 40% of people who have insomnia also have a mental health condition. 

Depression and insomnia

Insomnia is a common symptom of depression. About 80% of people who have major depression also suffer from insomnia and daytime fatigue.

A lack of sleep may not cause depression, but it can certainly make depression symptoms worse. If you’ve been experiencing insomnia for a long time, it could be a clue that you may have depression.

Anxiety and insomnia

Insomnia is also commonly associated with anxiety disorders. Around 36% of people with insomnia also have diagnosed anxiety disorders. Chronic stress and anxiety can keep you up late at night and cause poor sleep patterns.

If you have anxiety, you may find it difficult to sleep because you ruminate over things that make you anxious. Alternatively, you can become anxious because you’re unable to fall asleep, which keeps you up later. 

ADHD and insomnia

About 66.8% of people diagnosed with ADHD also experience insomnia. If you have ADHD, it can skew your internal clock, making it difficult for you to fall and stay asleep naturally. Even if you do get sleep, you may not find it particularly restful.

Getting treated for ADHD often means prescribing stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, which have side effects that can directly cause insomnia. If you take stimulants too late in the day, they can make it very difficult for you to fall and stay asleep.

How to treat insomnia

If lifestyle habits are contributing to your insomnia, making some adjustments may help you sleep better. You can also work with your doctor to develop an insomnia treatment plan that works for you.

Here are some sleep habit tips that can help with insomnia:

  • Go to bed at a consistent time every night and follow a consistent sleep schedule. It may be helpful to keep a sleep diary to track when you go to sleep and when you wake up. You and your clinician can use this information to see how well you’re doing.
  • Don’t take long naps during the day. A 20-minute nap should be enough to refresh you. Anything over 30 minutes can throw off your circadian rhythm.
  • Limit or avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or any other stimulants, especially from the midday on.
  • Exercise regularly anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Designate your bedroom as a sanctuary and only use your bed for sleep or sex. Keep it quiet and dark at night to avoid disturbances. Similarly, stop using devices like your cell phone, laptop, or TV at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Eat a healthy diet and wait at least three hours after you’ve eaten to go to bed.

Talking to your doctor or psychiatrist can also help you determine whether your insomnia is caused by side effects from your medication. They may change your medication or prescribe you sleep aids to help with your insomnia. Depending on their diagnosis, they may also recommend that you see a sleep specialist to get further treatment. 

If you have insomnia because you’re going through or went through a stressful or traumatic event, speak with your therapist and mental health team if you have one. With their help, you can process what you’re going through, which will hopefully help you with your insomnia.

Sleep is an incredibly important part of keeping up your mental and physical health. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, Cerebral can help! Our clinicians and mental health professionals can work with you to develop an insomnia treatment plan that is tailored to your needs.

Medically reviewed by: David Mou, MD, MBA

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  • If you are in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
    Call 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line:
    Text Home to 741-741
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