What is Insomnia?

February 22, 2024 · John Gallagher

Understanding Insomnia: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

We all know how important a good night of sleep can be. It rejuvenates the body, supports mental health, and gives you the energy you’ll need each day. However, up to 33% of the American population doesn’t get the sleep they need each night. For some, inadequate sleep might come after a night of studying or social activity. But for others, that lack of sleep health is rooted in a sleep condition.

Insomnia, a prevalent sleep disorder, can disrupt your natural sleep cycle and have far-reaching effects on mental and physical health. Fortunately, there are ways you can proactively address insomnia and help preserve the 7-9 hours of nightly sleep you need.

What is Insomnia?

Imagine a night where sleep remains just out of reach, where the simple act of falling asleep becomes a daunting challenge. For many people, that’s exactly how insomnia feels. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes it more difficult to initiate or maintain sleep. This challenge can lead to frequent wake episodes, which don’t allow your body to fulfill full circadian rhythms. Even if you do fall asleep for hours at a time, you may not be able to consistently enter deep sleep — the particularly beneficial phase of sleep associated with immune system functionality, heart health, and muscle relaxation.

Insomnia isn’t merely the occasional sleepless night. Instead, it’s a persistent pattern of sleeplessness, and a lack of consistent rest, that can significantly impact your life. It likely affects one in three adults worldwide, and can lead to daytime irritation, fatigue, decreased productivity, and other issues.

What Causes Insomnia?

Insomnia can stem from a variety of factors, both biological and psychological. These factors include anxiety, poor sleep habits, medication, and substance use.

Here are a few specific, medically-attributed causes of insomnia:

  • Stress and anxiety: Daily worries, work-related stress, and other anxieties can create an overactive mind, making it difficult to switch off and fall asleep.
  • Poor sleep habits: Irregular sleep schedules, excessive napping during the day, and engaging in stimulating activities before bedtime can disrupt the body's sleep-wake cycle. Irregular work schedules can cause the same results.
  • Medical or sleep conditions: Underlying conditions such as chronic pain, respiratory problems, sleep apnea, gastrointestinal disorders, and hormonal imbalances can lead to sleep disruptions.
  • Mental health conditions: Disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD not only affect mental health; they can also interfere with your sleep patterns.
  • Medications: Certain medications, particularly those affecting the central nervous system, can lead to sleep disturbances.
  • Substance use habits: The consumption of caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol, especially close to bedtime, can hinder your ability to fall asleep. Many of these substances are stimulants, which increase brain activity during the same period of time when your body is trying to wind down for the evening.

Alongside lifestyle factors like your exercise habits and your diet, these factors can contribute to insomnia and lead to poor-quality sleep.

What are the Symptoms of Insomnia?

Recognizing possible insomnia is the first step in addressing it. Many people experience symptoms like frequent wake episodes, daytime fatigue, and cognitive issues alongside their insomnia.

Common symptoms of insomnia can include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep: Spending excessive time trying to initiate sleep. This is perhaps the most common insomnia symptom.
  • Frequent awakenings after falling asleep: Waking up multiple times during the night and struggling to resume sleep.
  • Early morning wake times: Waking up prematurely and being unable to go back to sleep.
  • Daytime fatigue: Experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness after a night of restless sleep. This can lead to impaired concentration, irritability, and reduced productivity.
  • Cognitive impairment: Insomnia can affect memory, focus, and decision-making abilities. This can lead you to stumble over your words, second-guess your decisions, and forget simple details.

Other symptoms of insomnia include errors that you wouldn’t otherwise make. For example, you might turn down the wrong street while driving. It can also lead to levels of irritation you wouldn’t normally experience. You might lose patience with yourself or others, simply because you didn't receive the sleep you need to properly recharge.

How Can I Manage Insomnia?

If you suspect that you have insomnia, your first step in managing it needs to be contacting a medical professional. Visit a clinician you trust to determine next steps and potential medical resolutions. Depending on your condition and level of insomnia, your provider might prescribe medication, recommend counseling, or help you implement a consistent sleep routine.

Here are a few more ways that you can better manage insomnia:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I): CBT-I is a structured program that addresses the thoughts and behaviors that can contribute to insomnia. It's highly effective in changing negative sleep patterns.
  • Sleep hygiene: Cultivating good sleep habits includes creating a comfortable sleep environment and avoiding electronics at least 60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Sleep journaling: Document your sleep patterns, and any other sleep-related observations, in a journal. Your sleep journal becomes a valuable reference point when consulting with sleep specialists or your clinician.
  • Relaxation techniques: Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help ease your mind and promote better sleep.
  • Use a sleep tracking app: sleep tracking applications on your phone provide great insight into your sleep behaviors.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise can improve sleep quality. Make sure to conclude your exercise behaviors before the evening, as rigorous pre-sleep activities can keep you awake.
  • Medication: In certain cases, healthcare professionals may prescribe sleep aids to help you better manage insomnia. However, these should only be used under medical supervision due to the risk of dependency.
  • Participate in a sleep study: Your provider might also suggest that you participate in a sleep study. Sleep studies are typically conducted overnight, and can help you understand how your brain activity, sleep position, and other factors are contributing to your current sleep patterns.

Insomnia is a common, complex sleep disorder — but it doesn’t need to impede your quality of life. Once you understand what causes your insomnia, you can take productive steps to manage it. This allows you to reclaim your independence and live the type of life you want. If your insomnia persists or grows worse over time, make sure to visit a specialist trained in diagnosing and treating sleep conditions.

At Mattress Warehouse, we work hard to help everyone — regardless of your sleep patterns or conditions — achieve the rest they deserve. If you’re experiencing symptoms of insomnia, it becomes even more important to surround yourself with high-quality sleep materials. Beyond the right pillows and blankets, that means finding the right mattress for your sleep needs.

And everyone has different sleep needs.

Your height, weight, body type, sleep position, and other factors mean you might need a specific type of mattress. Many sleepers toss and turn simply because their mattress doesn’t offer the right neck support, sleep angle, or level of pressure. That’s exactly why we developed our patented bedMATCH sleep diagnostic program.

Our bedMATCH program takes the guesswork out of a good night’s sleep. The five-minute process has you lay down on a diagnostic mattress while our system analyzes 18 different statistical figures and takes thousands of scientific measurements. We’ll then pair you with mattress options that best match your individual needs. And we’ll find options in every price range.

Take the bedMATCH sleep quiz online or visit your local Mattress Warehouse to elevate your sleep potential today.