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Insomnia is a complex sleep disorder that can impact your ability to fall or stay asleep. Most adults will experience acute (short-term) insomnia at some point in their lives, typically as a result of stress or trauma. Chronic (long-term) insomnia is a deeper issue often requiring medical intervention. Without treatment, insomnia can lead to other health complications or other chronic diseases.

Signs and Symptoms

Insomnia is primarily characterized by a struggle to fall or stay asleep. Other notable symptoms include:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Anxiety and worrying about sleeping
  • Difficulty socializing
  • Tension headaches
  • Poor coordination

Sleep deprivation can lead to a host of problems that interrupt daily life as well as your long-term health.

Testing and Treatment

Insomnia can occur for a range of reasons, and your doctor will need to understand your personal medical history, current medications and lifestyle habits to identify an underlying cause. In some cases, you may be sent in for a sleep study to rule out other sleep disorders. A polysomnogram, or sleep study, is a comprehensive test that transmits and records specific physical activities while you sleep, such as your heart rate, brain activity, eye movement and oxygen levels, through a series of electronic sensors placed on your legs, head and chest.

To improve sleep habits and treat insomnia, your doctor may recommend behavioral therapy, medication or a combination of both. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) can help you manage the anxious thoughts that keep you awake. This is often the first step in treating insomnia, and can often be as effective—or more—than traditional sleeping pills.

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