What Are The Symptoms of Insomnia — How Do I Know If I Have Insomnia?

Anyone can experience insomnia from time to time. In fact, according to the Sleep Medicine Center, almost 60 million people in the U.S.¹ experience insomnia.

If you're asking yourself, "how do I know if I have insomnia?" you first need to know what insomnia is (there's more than one type), the different symptoms, causes, and when to see a doctor.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a very common sleep disorder that can make it difficult for you to fall or stay asleep. It can also lead you to wake up during your sleep and prevent falling back to sleep. You might feel unrefreshed and tired upon waking up as well. It can affect your mood and energy level, work performance, health, and quality of life.

Insomnia can last for one night, a couple of nights, or become a chronic problem. In fact, there is more than just one type of insomnia.

You could have:

  • Acute insomnia that can last a day, a couple of days, or weeks

  • Chronic insomnia that can last a month or longer

  • Onset insomnia where it's difficult for you to fall asleep

  • Comorbid insomnia that's linked with another disorder

  • Maintenance insomnia where you can't stay asleep

According to some research, comorbid insomnia makes up 85% to 90% of chronic insomnia.²

You can also experience an increase in insomnia as you age. In some cases, insomnia will go away after certain lifestyle factors, like work or family stress, are resolved. For more severe cases of insomnia, your sleep quality will improve once you address the underlying cause.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

Insomnia can cause both physical and emotional symptoms. If you're experiencing insomnia, you may:

  • Be unable to fall asleep at night or lie awake for a long time.

  • Sleep for only brief periods. You might wake up throughout the night or be awake for most of it.

  • Experience poor quality sleep, feel unrested or sleepy during the day. You might have difficulty focusing on tasks.

  • Feel irritable, depressed, or anxious.

  • Wake up too early before it's time to get up in the morning and not be able to go back to sleep.

  • Have issues with memory or concentration.

What types of complications could occur with insomnia?

In the short term, insomnia could make it difficult for you to think clearly or concentrate. You might feel sad, irritable, have headaches, or feel unrested. Insomnia also increases your risk of having an auto accident, falling, or missing work.

Additionally, chronic insomnia can impact the way your heart, brain, and other body parts work. It could increase your risk of health issues³ or make existing health issues worse. These health issues may include:

  • Heart problems like heart failure, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease.

  • Breathing issues like asthma.

  • Pain. Individuals with insomnia and chronic pain might become more aware of their pain and more distressed.

  • Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Insomnia could also make it hard for you to stay compliant to treatment for a substance abuse disorder.

  • Metabolism problems. Insomnia could change your levels of hormones responsible for controlling hunger and the way you break your food down. This could increase your risk of obesity and being overweight, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

  • Pregnancy complications like giving birth preterm, experiencing more pain during labor, requiring a cesarean (C-section), and having a baby with low birth weight.

  • Immune system problems could make it more difficult for your body to fight infections or cause inflammation in your body.

What are the causes of insomnia?

A lot of things can potentially contribute to you developing insomnia, including psychological, physiological, and environmental factors. These include:

  • Unhealthy sleep and lifestyle habits

  • Life stressors, including relationships, job, financial difficulties

  • Chronic diseases like cancer

  • Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues

  • Gastrointestinal disorders like heartburn

  • Chronic pain due to fibromyalgia, arthritis, or other conditions

  • Neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's 

  • Medications and other substances

  • Other sleep problems like restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea

  • Hormone fluctuations due to menopause, menstruation, thyroid disease, or other problems

Who is at risk of developing insomnia?

You might have a greater risk of insomnia³ due to genetics, family history, age, occupation, environment, worry about sleep or stress, or your lifestyle.

Age

You can experience insomnia at any age, but your likelihood of experiencing it increases as you get older.

Genetics and family history

Your genes might increase your chances of experiencing insomnia, as insomnia can sometimes be familial. Your genes might also impact whether you're a light or deep sleeper.

Occupation or environment

Certain things can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, including:

  • Light or noise during the night

  • Night or shift work

  • Traveling often to different time zones

  • Uncomfortably low or high temperatures

Lifestyle

Certain lifestyle habits could increase your risk of insomnia, including:

  • Regular and long daytime naps

  • Frequently changing your regular routine or following an irregular sleep schedule

  • Using nicotine, caffeine, illegal drugs, or alcohol

  • Not getting enough physical activity in the daytime

Stress

Worrying or stressing about work, school, your sleep, money, relationships, or the death of a loved one can increase your risk of insomnia.

When should you see a doctor?

While it's common to experience insomnia every once in a while, if your lack of sleep negatively impacts your life, you'll want to set up an appointment for a visit to your doctor.

They'll ask about your symptoms and give you a thorough physical exam as part of the diagnostic process. They'll also ask about any medicine you're taking and your overall medical history to see if you have an underlying cause of your insomnia (in which case they'll treat that condition first.)

Speak with your doctor about any potential follow-up visits you should schedule. Between visits, let your doctor know if you experience any worsening or new symptoms or if any medication you're taking has side effects. They may prescribe you a different treatment or medication.

Your doctor might have you write in a sleep diary to help you track your sleep and determine the quality of sleep you're getting both during and following treatment.

Even if your insomnia improves, you might still need to maintain a regular daily schedule and possibly continue taking your medication regularly.

The lowdown

If you've been diagnosed with insomnia, it's important to make healthy sleep and lifestyle changes and follow your treatment plan. Some individuals with insomnia experience better sleep after changing their daytime and nighttime behaviors. If changes like these don't seem to help, medication, therapy, or treatment could help improve insomnia.

  1. Insomnia | Sleep Medicine Center

  2. "Comorbid" Insomnia (2011)

  3. Insomnia | NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute



Join our email list

Want all the latest clinical trial and HealthMatch news in your inbox? We thought you might! Sign up below.