Insomnia: what it is, types, causes, remedies and health consequences

Insomnia: what it is, types, causes, remedies and health consequences

Insomnia is difficulty sleeping long enough at night to feel good during the day. In fact, insomnia can hamper your daily activities and result in drowsiness, concentration problems, irritability, depression, etc. However, some people naturally sleep poorly and do not suffer the harmful consequences, so they do not suffer from insomnia.

According to some studies, there are 12 million Italians, mostly women, who sleep little and badly, the most frequent disorder being insomnia. However, a good night’s rest is essential, and every interruption creates and signals discomfort or a physical problem at the same time.

Insomnia is not a disease but a symptom, a bit like a fever. Before treating it, it is important to understand the causes. Among the physical and environmental factors that have a great influence on sleep, there is brightness and noise, and also abundant evening meals and at the wrong times.

Furthermore, psychological factors, such as stress or problems, also play an important role. In 50% of cases they would be the cause of insomnia.

Insomnia is a persistent disorder but not necessarily constant over time for symptoms and entities. In fact, there are different types of insomnia from initial insomnia (where you struggle to fall asleep) to terminal insomnia where you don’t sleep for more than a month. But also, for example, during pregnancy you can suffer from insomnia.

However, before starting pharmacological treatments, talk to your doctor, to try to change some lifestyle habits and evaluate with him the right therapy for your case and the use of natural remedies as well.

Insomnia: what is it?

Insomnia is a term often used to more generically define a sleep disorder, it is characterized by difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep, with repercussions, not to be overlooked, on the individual’s quality of life.

Sleeping little and badly can cause chronic tiredness, irritability, decreased concentration and attention.

One of the most important aspects of insomnia is that, more often than not, it is not a pathology in itself, but rather a symptom of a vast range of psychic and physical disorders and it is on these that therapeutic interventions must be concentrated. Intervening on the causes that cause this sleep disorder automatically means solving the insomnia itself.

Mental fatigue, tiredness and depressive states should not be confused with those situations that occur as excess sleep, i.e. real falls asleep during the day.

Why sleep is important

For rest to be of physical and mental benefit, 7-8 hours a night are sufficient for the majority of people. But even for sleep, we are not all the same, there are “long dorms” who need 10 hours and “short dorms” who need 5-6 hours to feel good and not feel drowsy or tired during the day.

Sleep is an apparently passive process in which 4 phases are distinguished:

  • Non-rem, is the phase of falling asleep, the muscles relax, lasts 4-5 minutes.
  • Light sleep, prepares us to enter deep sleep, lasts 10-15 minutes.
  • Deep sleep, the brain is in a “stand-by” phase, consumes less energy, lasts 40-50 minutes.
  • Rem, characterized by intense brain activity, under the lids the eyes move rapidly. It is the dream phase, it lasts 4-5 minutes, then it goes back to phase two and deep sleep.

These phases can be repeated up to 5 times per night.

Different types of insomnia

An international classification speaks of different types of insomnia:

  • Initial: You have trouble falling asleep when you’re in bed.
  • Intermediate or intermittent: You fall asleep when you go to bed, but wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Interrupted rest causes a sense of exhaustion the next morning.
  • Terminal or morning: you wake up when it is still dark outside so much that you want to start the day right away, it is called the “sleeper lark” because it is already sleepy at 20-21 and at 5 it is awake and feels rested because it has had enough sleep.
  • Transient: it is related to situations of acute stress, for example, intercontinental travel, hospital admissions, etc. It usually lasts a few days.
  • Chronic or long-term insomnia: it is the one that lasts more than 3 weeks and requires a diagnostic evaluation by a specialist because it can be the tip of the iceberg of an underlying pathology, sometimes even psychiatric, which must be treated.
  • Acute: Inability to sleep for less than a month.

Insomnia: causes

Determining the causes of insomnia is an essential first step in solving the problem. Indeed, the treatment if you suffer from sleep apnea or depression will be different. Find out the physical and psychological causes.

When do we talk about insomnia itself? Only when the subject sleeps little at night, despite adopting the required standards of hygiene, and suffers from lack of sleep during the day. The causes of insomnia are very diverse, ranging from:

  • Stress and Anxiety: Worries, daily stress, anxiety and emotional problems, and therefore excessive nervous activation, can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Poor sleep habits: Irregular eating habits, irregular sleep schedules, excessive caffeine or nicotine consumption, alcohol abuse, failure to adhere to a regular sleep routine, and excessive use of electronic devices before bed can disturb sleep.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions such as chronic pain, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux, heart disease, breathing problems, psychiatric disorders (depression, anxiety, mood disorders), or sleep disorders such as chronic insomnia can interfere with sleep.
  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, menopause, or other times of hormonal change can affect sleep.
  • Medications: Some medications can affect sleep, such as antidepressants, blood pressure medications, asthma medications, or medications for treating neurological disorders.
  • Unfavorable Sleeping Environment: A noisy, hot, cold, bright, or uncomfortable environment can hinder sleep.
  • Jet lag or time zone changes: Frequent traveling across time zones can disturb the body’s sleep-wake rhythm.
  • Parasomnia, in which the most frequent form is sleepwalking typical of children aged 6 to 12 years. However, the mechanism is unclear but this disorder can persist for many years. It generally disappears spontaneously and then, in some cases, reappears in adulthood coinciding with periods of severe stress and emotional tension.

The causes of insomnia, however, can be different depending on the type of insomnia. For example, if you have initial insomnia, it’s usually an anxiety disorder that prevents you from relaxing your mind until you reach rest. Instead, if you suffer from intermittent insomnia, the cause may be due to external factors such as: partner’s snoring, traffic noise, room not dark enough, or very cold or hot, which disturb sleep.

Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, is a disorder with a strong impact on daily life and is treated with specific drugs under the supervision of a specialist.

Sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome or OSAS (Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome) is an interruption of breathing during sleep. The subject snores clearly from the first stages of sleep and there is a moment in which he stops breathing for at least 10 seconds, never exceeding 3 minutes. If the problem persists, contact a Sleep Disorders Center, where, with some tests, it will be ascertained if you suffer from sleep apnea.

Learn about the symptoms and causes of sleep apnea.

Psychological and physical causes

Among the different causes of insomnia there are some related to specific conditions or diseases both psychological and physical. Here are the main ones.

Mental rumination

Mental rumination is having a fixed thought in the mind that recurs, that is, a circular thought that invades the mind and makes you think of nothing else. It comes from a strong desire, which cannot be postponed, to find the solution to a problem. At the origin, there seems to be a neurophysiological mechanism, in particular a reduced activity of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, but studies are not yet able to give certain answers.


Depression is a mood disorder characterized by despondency, sadness, and a listless, indecisive attitude. The depression does not only affect the psychological sphere, but is also associated with a lowering of the physical tone (organic wasting).

In addition, those suffering from depression also complain: loss of concentration, lack of drive and energy, insomnia, and lose all interest in their surroundings.

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are a sudden feeling of uneasiness that manifests itself to varying degrees. These manifestations of intolerable anxiety are associated with neurovegetative physical symptoms and are manifested by:

  • Negative thoughts.
  • Sudden and uncontrollable anxiety attacks.
  • Fear of losing control over one’s thoughts and actions.
  • Tachycardia.
  • Sweating.

Eating disorders

Insomnia can also be present in eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. In bulimia, the subject often has difficulty falling asleep but also waking up while those who are anorexic have difficulty falling asleep and frequent nocturnal awakenings which decrease as they…