Insomnia is a symptom, not a disease. It means being concerned with how much you sleep or how well you sleep. This may be caused by difficulties in either falling or staying asleep. Self-reported sleeping problems, dissatisfaction with sleep quality and daytime tiredness are the only defining characteristics of insomnia. It is an individual perception of sleep. Long-term chronic insomnia needs professional support from a sleep disorder clinic.
The concept of ‘a good sleep’ differs widely from person to person. While the average night’s sleep for an adult is around eight hours, some people only need five, while others like up to 10 hours or more. What seems like insomnia to one person might be considered a good sleep by another.
Over one third of people experience insomnia from time to time, but only around five per cent need treatment for the condition. Transient or short-term insomnia is typically caused by such things as stressful life events, jet lag, changes in sleeping environments, some acute medical illnesses and stimulant medications. Normal sleeping habits return once the acute event is over.
If a person has experienced sleeping difficulties for a month or more, this is called persistent or chronic insomnia. There are many causes of persistent insomnia.
These include: Secondary insomnia – due to a range of medical and psychiatric problems and the chronic use of drugs and alcohol.
Primary sleep disorders – include circadian rhythm disorders, central sleep apnoea-insomnia syndrome, inadequate sleep syndromes and periodic limb movement or restless legs syndromes.
Idiopathic insomnia – sleeplessness without a known cause, formerly called childhood onset insomnia.