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Insomnia

Insomnia is a common problem — approximately half of American adults report experiencing insomnia at some time. It affects both men and women, although females and elderly are typically affected the most. The condition is classified into three groups depending on the length that it lasts:

  • Transient insomnia is defined as lasting for a few nights
  • Intermittent insomnia is periodic episodes of insomnia
  • Chronic insomnia occurs on most nights and lasts a month or more

Although insomnia is not considered a serious medical problem, lack of sleep can seriously impact your quality of life. It can make you feel tired, depressed and irritable, as well as impair your concentration.

Although it differs for each person, most adults need about seven to nine hours of sleep to feel completely rested. And, despite common belief, the need for sleep does not decrease with age.

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Causes

Some of the most common causes of insomnia include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Other factors that also can cause insomnia include:

  • Drinking too much caffeine throughout the day
  • Drinking alcohol before bedtime
  • Excessive napping during the day
  • Changes in your surroundings and sleep schedule
  • Noise
  • Jet lag
  • Certain medications
  • Pain from medical problems, such as arthritis
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Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Experiencing restless sleep, in which you wake frequently throughout the night and then have trouble falling back asleep
  • Waking too early in the morning
  • Feeling tired and unrefreshed upon waking in the morning

If you think you are experiencing insomnia, your doctor will start by asking you about your medical history as well as your sleep history. Your doctor will ask you and your bed partner, if he or she is present, certain questions to determine your sleep habits. This may include questions about the following:

  • When you go to bed and wake up
  • The amount of caffeine and alcohol you drink
  • How long you've had insomnia
  • Whether you are experiencing any stress or anxiety that may be affecting your sleep
  • If you snore
  • Any medical problems that may be interrupting your sleep

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The first step in treatment for insomnia involves diagnosing and treating any underlying medical or psychological problems that may be contributing to your insomnia. The key to treating insomnia is to determine what is causing it and then eliminating those factors from your life. Often once the causes, such as jet lag or stress, are dealt with, insomnia goes away on its own.

However, there are some cases when other treatment is required. In addition to identifying the causes of insomnia and then trying to eliminate or reduce them, treatment may include the following.

Sleeping Pills

Typically, sleeping pills are prescribed at a low dose and for a short duration of time. They are not recommended for long-term use and should be taken under the close supervision of your doctor.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Pulmonology

Sleep Disorders Center
2330 Post St., Suite 420
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 885-7886
Fax: (415) 885-3650
Appointment information