Symptoms and Signs of Insomnia

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 10/18/2022

Doctor's Notes on Insomnia

Insomnia, or sleeplessness, is difficulty falling or staying asleep, or both, or the perception of poor quality sleep. Insomnia may result in inadequate quantity or quality of sleep. Insomnia may be classified based on the duration of the problem. In general, symptoms lasting less than one week are classified as transient insomnia, symptoms that last between one to three weeks are classified as short-term insomnia, and symptoms lasting longer than three weeks are classified as chronic insomnia.

Symptoms of insomnia include

  • difficulty falling asleep,
  • waking up frequently during the night,
  • poor concentration and focus,
  • difficulty with memory,
  • impaired coordination,
  • irritability,
  • problems with social interaction, or
  • motor vehicle accidents because of fatigued, sleep-deprived drivers.

Insomnia may or may not cause daytime sleepiness. Many people with insomnia have difficulty falling asleep during daytime naps.

What Is the Treatment for Insomnia?

Treatments for insomnia may include sleep hygiene techniques, lifestyle changes, and medications. Talk to your doctor about the best combination of treatments for you. 

Home remedies for insomnia involve good sleep hygiene, which includes: 

  • Maintain a consistent sleep routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends
  • Use blackout curtains or sleep masks to reduce light
  • Keep the room cool: 65°F/18.3°C is considered ideal
  • Use ear plugs or use white noise to block outside noises
  • Sleep in comfortable loose-fitting clothes or sleep naked to help regulate body temperature
  • Stimulus control 
    • Don’t go to bed until you feel sleepy
    • Use the bed for only sleep and sex
    • Don’t watch TV or read in bed 
    • If you are awake more than 20 minutes after getting into bed, get out of bed and sit in a chair and do something boring such as puzzles or knitting (something that does not involve a screen) until you are sleepy
    • Avoid daytime napping 
  • Don’t stress if you can’t fall asleep right away

Lifestyle changes for insomnia include: 

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can keep you awake
  • Avoid exercise before bed
  • Remove the alarm clock
  • Use a weighted blanket
  • Wear socks to warm your feet 
  • Calm yourself before bedtime
  • Take a hot bath or shower
  • Listen to relaxing music 
  • Do breathing exercises
  • Meditation, yoga or guided imagery
  • Listen to Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)
  • Night time snacks that increase serotonin may help you sleep, such as:
  • Warm milk
  • Nut butter on toast
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole grain cereal with milk (avoid sugary cereals)
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Cottage cheese

For more severe cases of insomnia, other treatments include: 

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.