Insomnia is a sleep disorder that affects your ability to fall and stay asleep, but there are many options to ensure you’re well-rested.

Have you ever found yourself nodding off at work, even though you went to bed at a decent time? Or wide awake at 3 a.m.? Or maybe you’ve found it difficult to fall asleep and spent time staring at the ceiling instead?

If this is a recurring issue for you, it could be insomnia.

Insomnia is extremely common, so you’re not alone. It’s the most common sleep disorder in the United States, affecting 1 out of 3 U.S. adults.

There are plenty of reasons your sleep can be disrupted — from pain to stress to substance use. There are also several ways you can manage and improve your sleep quality.

Insomnia is a common sleep-wake disorder that involves difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, regardless of your opportunities to get decent rest.

In other words, even though you theoretically get the chance to get enough rest, you just can’t fall asleep or you’re waking up throughout the night.

There are different types of insomnia, each with specific diagnostic criteria:

  • Episodic insomnia occurs when symptoms last at least 1 month but fewer than 3 months.
  • Persistent insomnia is chronic insomnia that lasts for 3 months or more.
  • Recurrent insomnia is when you have repeated episodes over the course of a year that last 1–3 months each time.

While the outcomes of not getting enough rest can vary from person to person, there are a few key symptoms of insomnia that many people report, including:

  • finding it difficult to fall or stay asleep
  • not feeling refreshed when you wake up, even though it seems like you slept long enough (aka nonrestorative sleep)

These things happen at least 3 nights per week for at least 3 months, even though you’ve had enough opportunity for sleep.

Facing barriers to proper sleep, along with the potential fatigue the following day, can lead to significant issues in your daily life. This includes relationships, employment, and the ability to function in typical activities like operating a vehicle.

There are quite a few possible causes of insomnia. This condition is considered more common in certain populations, including people who:

  • have preexisting chronic conditions or pain
  • live with mental health conditions, particularly depression
  • have substance use disorder
  • have diabetes
  • are pregnant
  • are older
  • take certain medications, including some antidepressants, allergy meds, heart and blood pressure drugs, or stimulants
  • consume a lot of stimulating substances, such as caffeine

There are a few ways that a healthcare professional may diagnose insomnia or a different condition.

Laboratory workup

Blood tests can help your doctor determine and understand any potential medical conditions you might have by assessing factors like kidney and thyroid function.

Questionnaires

Self-evaluations or questionnaires can be a good way to keep track of any sleep disturbances. A common scale for this type of assessment is the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

Sleep diary or log

Keeping track of your sleep habits through a diary or log is another tool to self-evaluate your sleep.

Your doctor may recommend keeping daily logs for 2 to 4 weeks, including notes on:

  • your nightly sleep and wake cycle
  • naps throughout the day
  • daily intake of alcohol and caffeine
  • bedtime routines

Actigraphy

Actigraphy is a technique used to assess your activity and rest over several days to weeks.

An actigraph is a noninvasive, FDA-approved device typically worn like a watch on your wrist, or sometimes on your ankle. It measures activity through light and movement.

Your doctor may ask you to wear this device to get an objective measurement of your sleep schedule.

Sleep study

Sleep studies aren’t often used to confirm an insomnia diagnosis. Instead, doctors recommend a sleep study to evaluate you for obstructive sleep apnea if it’s suspected in connection with your insomnia symptoms.

A sleep study can either be a traditional in-lab study or done at home.

An in-lab sleep study is called polysomnography (PSG), which is performed in a healthcare setting where you sleep overnight in a lab.

During a PSG, several bodily functions are monitored, including:

  • brain waves
  • eye movements
  • limb movements
  • heart rhythm
  • breathing

A home sleep study takes place in your own home and bed. Compared with a PSG, monitoring elements are more limited. Still, both type of studies are appropriate to diagnose obstructive sleep apnea.

While the underlying cause for insomnia can vary from person to person, there are several options for treating and reducing the effects of this condition.

Therapy

If your insomnia is related to other mental health conditions, therapy may be suggested as a way to help you navigate your preexisting condition, and thus improve sleep.

A type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia (aka CBTi) is the firstline therapy that may improve sleep quality and lessen wakefulness.

Home remedies

There are many things you can do at home to address problematic sleep patterns.

Just a few include:

Medications and supplements

Prescription medication or over-the-counter supplements like melatonin, magnesium, or valerian are potential options for relieving sleep disturbances or poor sleep quality.

If you’re living with insomnia, having good sleep hygiene can make a big difference in your sleep quality. Sleep hygiene basically means having healthy sleep habits.

To make the most of your rest, try:

  • being mindful of your overall caffeine intake
  • avoiding naps throughout the day
  • separating “daytime” activities from sleep
  • using your bed only for sleep and sex
  • shutting off phones and other screens prior to getting in bed
  • avoiding reading or talking on the phone in bed
  • limiting late night meals
  • avoiding smoking close to bedtime
  • creating regularity with set sleep and wake times

If your insomnia is significantly affecting your quality of life and at-home changes are not helping, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional for an evaluation.

You and a doctor can create an individualized treatment plan that works for you. This may include medication, therapy, or both.

Oftentimes, both in-person and online options are available — meaning you can get the help you need in any way that fits your schedule.

Scientists are even working on CBT-based apps that may help people with sleep disturbances like insomnia, though research on their effectiveness is still lacking.

While insomnia is a common sleep condition that many people experience, there are a great amount of options available to bring you relief — from altering your sleep schedule and avoiding screens before bed to starting therapy.

If you have insomnia, you do not need to navigate it alone.

The importance of good and consistent sleep cannot be understated, and ensuring you get it can be beneficial to your health in so many ways.