Having trouble sleeping and want to know why?

We asked the National Institutes of Health for answers to basic questions.

We know: All About Insomnia

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep. It can mean trouble falling asleep, waking up early and not being able to fall back to sleep, or frequently waking up during the night.

How common is insomnia?

Most people experience trouble sleeping at one time or another. But about 10 percent of people have chronic sleeplessness that can lead to daytime fatigue, losing the ability to concentrate, irritability, disorientation and reduced energy.

How much sleep do I need?

Most people need 8 hours. But it varies. Some people feel fine with as little as four hours, and others require ten hours to feel refreshed and alert. As we age, we can require less sleep. People over 60 often require only 6 hours of sleep, for example.

What causes insomnia?

Insomnia can be caused by things such as stress, depression, changes in time (traveling) or work schedules, anxiety, worry, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and chronic pain from health problems like arthritis.

What about using pills to help me sleep?

If you feel your insomnia is bad enough to warrant taking a pill, talk to your doctor first. Pills may not be a good idea, particularly if taken for any length of time.

Over the counter

Sedatives, which can make you drowsy and fall asleep, are not a long-term solution for insomnia. The main ingredient in most over-the-counter sleep medications is antihistamines. It is not a good idea to take antihistamines for any length of time, and too much use can lead to memory loss.


Prescription drugs can be dangerous. They not only induce an non-natural form of sleep, but they can become addictive, have side effects and result in difficult withdrawal and a return of insomnia.

Some antidepressants can be helpful if depression is the cause of the insomnia. And drugs call benzodiazepines appear to make falling asleep easier and can be less addictive. But they react differently with different people and should only be taken in consultation with your doctor. If you experience any side effects, let your physician know immediately.

What can I do to avoid to help get over insomnia?

Here are some simple tips:

  • Get up and go to bed at the same time each day, including weekends, to help train your body to sleep in a routine pattern.
  • If you can't fall asleep in half an hour, get up, move around, then sit quietly for about half an hour. Then try to sleep again. Repeat this pattern until you fall asleep.
  • Reduce the stress level in your daily life.
  • Get more exercise during the day (but not just before going to bed).
  • Get more exposure to bright light during the day.
  • Learn techniques for controlling your bedtime 'thinking' if you tend to worry or are anxious. Finding ways to settle your mind and relax can help.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, and don't let yourself fall asleep during the day.
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine and other drugs, which can affect your sleep.
  • Try eating a snack before bed time.
  • Therapy may help to reduce anxious thoughts and worry that can lead to insomnia.

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