Overview and Facts of Insomnia

Sleep Disorder

Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint. It occurs when you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep even though you had the opportunity to get a full night of sleep. The causes, symptoms, and severity of insomnia vary from person to person. Insomnia may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep throughout the night
  • Waking up too early in the morning

Insomnia involves both sleep disturbance and daytime symptoms. The effects of insomnia can impact nearly every aspect of your life. Studies show that insomnia negatively affects work performance, impairs decision-making and can damage relationships. In most cases, people with insomnia report a worse overall quality of life.

Everyone has the occasional night of poor sleep. In many cases, this is due to staying up too late or waking up too early. This does not mean you have insomnia, it means you didn’t get enough sleep.

As many as 30 to 35 percents of adults complain of insomnia. It is more common in groups such as older adults, women, people under stress and people with certain medical and mental health problems such as depression.

There are two types of insomnia based on the regularity and duration of the sleep disturbance and daytime symptoms:

Short-term insomnia: This type of brief insomnia lasts for up to three months. It occurs in 15 to 20 percent of people.

Chronic insomnia: This type of insomnia occurs at least three times per week and lasts for at least three months. About 10 percent of people have chronic insomnia.

A board-certified sleep medicine physician diagnoses chronic insomnia. The sleep team at an accredited sleep center can provide ongoing care.


Most adults need 7 or more hours of sleep per night and are unable to function well after less than 6 hours of nightly sleep. But a small percentage of adults are short sleepers. They regularly feel alert and refreshed after sleeping less than 6 hours per night. Short sleepers function normally during the day despite their short sleep duration.

The limited sleep duration occurs naturally for a short sleeper. It is not a forced attempt to restrict or avoid sleep. This low amount of sleep is stable from night to night. It is also the same on weekends and holidays.

A pattern of short sleep often begins in childhood or as a young adult. It tends to continue throughout the years. This pattern of short sleep may cause others to be concerned. Family members or friends may think that something is wrong. But short sleepers do not need more sleep.

Many people in the U.S. sleep less than 6 hours per night. But most of them are not short sleepers. They are simply restricting their sleep so that they get less sleep than they need. As a result, they suffer from insufficient sleep syndrome. They take naps during the day or sleep longer on weekends and holidays. In contrast, short sleepers don’t need to try to “catch up” on sleep.

Short sleeping also is different from insomnia. People with insomnia have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. The overall quality of their sleep may be poor. In contrast, short sleepers have no complaints about sleep problems. The quality of their sleep also tends to be good.

Research continues to explore the genetics of sleep duration. Studies suggest that short sleepers may have a gene mutation that enables them to function well on less than 6 hours of nightly sleep.

Sleep Disorder

Child insomnia occurs when children don’t go to bed on time unless a parent or guardian enforces a bedtime. If the children are made to go to bed on time, then they tend to fall asleep at a normal hour. If they are not given strict bedtimes, then they may linger awake for hours at night.

This disorder occurs in children. Adults may also have varying bedtimes and poor sleep schedules. But they have other types of sleep disorders, not child insomnia.

Children with insomnia may:

  • Have no problem falling asleep with an enforced bedtime
  • Stay awake as long as possible without an enforced bedtime
  • Be allowed to get repeated drinks of water or wander the house at bedtime

Assess the habits of all parents or guardians who help put the child to bed. The child often pushes the adult to allow this sleep pattern to occur. The adult normally has no idea how it all began.

First, consider starting a strict bedtime with the child. The adult should not allow the child to “bargain” for drinks or stories after the formal bedtime is reached. The child should basically go to bed and stay there until morning. By simply enforcing a bedtime, this disorder should stop on its own. There should not be a need to see a sleep specialist. The adult has to overcome the crafty tactics of a small child who is trying not to go to bed.

If you discuss this problem with a doctor, bring a completed sleep diary. Keep track of the times that the child goes to bed and wakes up for two weeks. You should also chart the times when the child wakes up during the night. List any ways the child tries to stay awake at bedtime. Include how the adult reacts to these actions. For example, the doctor needs to know if the adult lets the child get up 10 times for a glass of water every night. This will help the doctor to recognize and treat child insomnia.

No tests should be needed to detect child insomnia. The child’s history of going to sleep and waking is normally enough to pinpoint this disorder. An actigraph could be used in extreme cases. This is a wristwatch that records when people are awake and asleep. But this is rarely needed to find this disorder.

Child insomnia is best treated by having the adult set firm limits. If bedtime is 8 p.m., then the child should be in bed by 8 p.m. There should be no reason for the child to get out of bed over and over again. You can take away things the child enjoys or create an awards system as an incentive. A more strictly enforced bedtime can be achieved with good success. This will produce an improved sleep pattern and will benefit the child.

Children should fall asleep in their cribs or beds without being rocked to sleep. If a child must be rocked to sleep, then the child will not learn how to go to sleep without the parent’s help. It is normal for a child to wake up during the night. Adults even wake up for a few minutes several times per night. Helping a child learn to fall asleep in bed benefits both the child and the adult.

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