Insomnia - Definition, Causes, & More | GoHealth Urgent Care

Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Those who suffer from insomnia have a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early and can’t get back to sleep. Without a full night’s rest, most people end up feeling perpetually tired. Lacking adequate sleep can affect every aspect of your life, including your mood, energy level, work performance, and quality of life. In some cases, adjusting daily habits may be all that is needed to get back to sleeping 6-8 hours a night. However, you may need some help from a healthcare provider to investigate what it is that’s keeping you up at night.  

What Causes Insomnia?

There are a number of reasons why someone may experience insomnia, including stress, medications, and anxiety. Insomnia could be the primary issue or it may be a symptom of another condition. You may experience short-term (acute) insomnia, or it can last a long time (chronic) insomnia. 

Common causes for insomnia include:

  • Stress: Constantly worrying about work, school, or other life events can cause your mind to race and keep you up at night. 
  • Traveling from one time zone to another or working late can disrupt your sleep cycle and interfere with your body’s circadian rhythms. 
  • Having an irregular sleep schedule, sleeping in an uncomfortable environment, or staring at a digital screen right before bed can affect your sleep cycle. 
  • Eating a large meal before bed can lead to physical discomfort or heartburn, which may keep you up at night. 
  • Anxiety disorders can make it difficult for you to fall asleep or cause disruptions throughout the night. Depression and other mental health disorders may lead to insomnia as well.  
  • Medications: Antidepressants and medications for asthma or blood pressure can interrupt sleep. Over-the-counter medications containing caffeine can also interfere.
  • Chronic pain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, asthma, and gastroesophageal reflux disease are often associated with insomnia. 
  • Other sleep-related disorders: Disorders like sleep apnea, which stops your breathing, can cause you to wake up periodically throughout the night. 
  • Stimulants such as nicotine, coffee, tea, or caffeinated soda in the evening can prevent you from falling asleep. Alcohol often disrupts your sleep cycle and prevents you from reaching deeper stages of sleep. 

What are the Symptoms of Insomnia?

From your job to your interactions with others, not getting enough sleep can affect every aspect of your life. Common symptoms of insomnia, include:

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Difficulty focusing or trouble concentrating
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Difficulty falling asleep 
  • Constantly waking up throughout the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Irritability, depression, or anxiety
  • Continuously worrying about sleep

How Long Does Insomnia Last?

Insomnia can last for varying amounts of time, depending on the type. Acute insomnia is short-term and can last between one night to a few weeks. Chronic insomnia is long-term and can occur at least three nights a week for three months or more. Insomnia can also come and go, depending on your habits and other factors. 

How to Treat Insomnia?

Treatment for insomnia will vary. In most cases, acute insomnia will resolve on its own without any special treatment. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe sleeping pills for a short period of time to help you fall asleep. For chronic insomnia, you’ll need to treat the conditions that are interrupting your sleep cycle. You may also benefit from behavioral therapy. This can help you learn which habits need to be adjusted to achieve a full night’s rest. 

How to Treat Insomnia Naturally Without Medication?

For those suffering from short-term insomnia, natural remedies without medication can help regulate sleep. Take control of your sleeping patterns with these tricks for a better night's sleep:

  • Sticking to a regular sleep routine: Having the same bedtime and wake-up time can help regulate your sleep patterns. 
  • Exercising regularly: Doing at least 30 minutes of exercise daily can help lower cortisol, the stress-causing hormone, and allow you to get a better night’s sleep.
  • Getting natural light exposure: Exposing yourself to natural light during the day can help wake your brain up and regulate sleep rhythms. 
  • Practicing meditation and mindful breathing: Meditating and taking deep breaths before bed can help relax the mind and brain. 
  • Turning off phone notifications: Turn off anything that may interrupt your sleep, including lights, noise, and phones. 

How to Prevent Insomnia?

To help prevent insomnia, you should avoid:

  • Drinking caffeine afternoon 
  • Consuming large amounts of alcohol and nicotine
  • Eating large meals right before bedtime
  • Staring at digital screens right before bed as they emit blue light that can make it difficult to fall asleep
  • Napping during the day, so your body can become accustomed to being awake during the day and asleep at night

When Should You See a Healthcare Provider for Insomnia?

You should consult your healthcare provider if:

  • You’re taking a new medication that is interrupting your sleep cycle
  • Symptoms of insomnia continue past four weeks or interfere with your ability to function regularly 
  • You have heartburn that keeps you up at night
  • You wake up gasping for breath and are concerned about sleep apnea
  • You’re experiencing physical pain that is interrupting your sleep 
  • You’re experiencing depression or anxiety

In Summary

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that affects adolescents, adults, and the elderly. Common symptoms include trouble falling asleep and waking up throughout the night. Acute insomnia is short-term and is typically caused by a stressful event and may only last a few nights. Chronic insomnia can last three months or longer and often coincides with another health condition. A GoHealth Urgent Care provider can help recommend the right treatment for your insomnia, so you can get a good night’s rest. 

We’re Here to Help

At GoHealth Urgent Care, we’re here seven days a week to help care for you. Your local GoHealth Urgent Care center can help diagnose and treat your insomnia.