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Insomnia: Warning Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment

If you’ve ever tossed and turned trying to fall asleep at night, you know how frustrating sleeplessness can be. Even when you are exhausted, you wake up during the night and lie awake for hours; or, you wake way before your alarm and can’t fall back to sleep. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder affecting adults in the U.S. and makes it difficult to fall or stay asleep.

What Causes Insomnia?

The causes of insomnia depend on various factors. Insomnia can be acute, happening for a few days of the week for a short time, or chronic, lasting for months.


Stress can keep you up at night, causing your mind to race and leaving you unable to wind down enough to fall asleep or stay asleep. Stress about relationships, work, money, or a traumatic experience like losing a job or going through a divorce can cause insomnia.

Health Conditions

Symptoms of various health conditions can make it difficult to sleep. Arthritis pain, back pain, heart disease, diabetes, and even heartburn can all disrupt sleep cycles; sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome can also disrupt quality of sleep. Hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can cause short-term insomnia in women, while prostate issues often cause men to wake frequently at night to go to the bathroom.


Traveling to different time zones can interrupt your body’s natural sleep rhythms, causing what is known as jet lag. It can take a week or more to fully adjust to time changes, and for people who travel frequently for work, this can be difficult. Working night shifts or having irregular work schedules can also interrupt your natural sleep cycles and make it challenging to sleep.

Behavior/Sleep Habits

Frequently changing your bedtime, taking naps during the day, receiving too much stimulation before bed—all of these habits can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Watching TV or using your phone or computer right before bedtime can impair your ability to fall asleep. Lack of physical activity during the day or exercising too close to bedtime can also cause insomnia.

Anxiety And Depression

Anxiety and depression have strong links to insomnia. While insomnia can be a symptom of anxiety and depression, insomnia can also contribute to–or even cause–these disorders. Diagnosing and treating these conditions together is key to helping those who may have insomnia and anxiety or depression get better.

Understanding Insomnia

Insomnia can be caused by a variety of factors related to physical health, mental health, and lifestyle. The condition can be acute, meaning it occurs for a few days of the week for a short time, or chronic, meaning it lasts for months. Many people seek help from an insomnia psychiatrist in order to alleviate this exhausting and often debilitating condition. 

How Is Insomnia Diagnosed?

There are several ways to determine if a person has insomnia. It often starts with a physical exam by a doctor. The doctor will check for underlying medical problems that may be contributing to difficulty sleeping. A review of a person’s sleep habits may be conducted. This includes answering questions about their sleep-wake patterns. In addition, being asked to keep a sleep diary for a week or two. 
A licensed treatment counselor, such as an insomnia psychiatrist, can diagnose any mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or trauma, that may contribute to or cause insomnia. In some cases, a person may be asked to participate in a sleep study. This requires spending the night in a sleep center. Medical professionals will monitor a person’s breathing, heart rate, brain waves, and eye movements. This helps medical professionals fully understand a person’s sleep cycle.

How Is Insomnia Treated?

Medication treatment often provides relief for those suffering from insomnia. Over-the-counter sleep aid options do exist. However, they are not intended for regular, long-term use. Prescription sleeping pills, including popular ones like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata, can provide relief but also should be treated as a short-term option. 

With any kind of sleep aid, it’s best to consult a doctor before beginning to take them. Also, be aware of any side effects that may develop. The goal should be to treat the underlying causes of insomnia. In addition, remove the need for any type of sleep aid after a certain amount of time.

Treating mental health conditions that contribute to sleep disturbances can provide relief. Talk therapy that addresses issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health diagnoses can help lessen or eliminate the intensity and amount of insomnia symptoms. 

Living and Coping With Insomnia

While living with insomnia proves to be challenging at times, there are steps a person can take to help ease the symptoms. These steps include:

  • Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day
  • Not taking naps or limiting them to one brief nap per day
  • Getting regular exercise, but not right before bedtime
  • Stopping eating or drinking a couple of hours before bedtime
  • Limiting or eliminating caffeine and alcohol intake 
  • Creating an inviting bed by using comfortable bedding, using low or no lighting, and adjusting the room temperature so it isn’t too warm or cold
  • Cutting out all noise when you go to bed, other than a source for white noise, if that helps you fall asleep
  • Engaging in deep breathing techniques or meditation to help empty your mind of racing thoughts 

How to Know When to See a Psychiatrist for Insomnia Treatment

Short bouts of difficulty sleeping often self-correct. But, many people find the issue becomes so overwhelming that they need the help of an insomnia psychiatrist. If symptoms last longer than four weeks or interfere with a person’s ability to perform daytime activities, seeking medical help is a good idea. An insomnia psychiatrist can also help if an individual finds that their sleep disturbances contribute to or cause feelings of anxiety or depression. Being able to fall asleep quickly, stay asleep, and get enough hours in every night is part of enjoying optimal physical and emotional health. Contact us today to further discuss insomnia treatment. Our team will be glad to help.

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