Insomnia: what it is, causes, treatment, remedies and what to do


What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. It is an extremely common disorder that affects 1 in 5 people and can be resolved with the proper treatment.

The ritual is the same as always: getting ready for bed, turning off the lights and lying in bed. Always works. But in the last few days, sleep just doesn’t come. It is the dreaded insomnia, a condition that affects thousands of people around the world, and which may or may not be related to more serious problems.

Insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. In many cases, it can also be difficult when a person tries to go back to sleep after being awakened by an external event. Its causes are related to bad habits, such as the use of electronic devices and stimulating foods just before bed, psychiatric disorders and even illnesses.

It can be found in the ICD-10 by the codes F51.0 (Non-organic insomnia) and G47.0 (Sleep maintenance onset disorders).

Types of insomnia

Despite the stereotype of the person who cannot sleep at all, there are types of insomnia that are classified according to the duration and cause:

Classification according to duration

When it comes to duration or frequency, insomnia can be:

  • Transient: Lasts only a few days and can last up to 3 weeks;
  • Chronic: Also called long-term, chronic insomnia is one that lasts more than 3 weeks;
  • Intermittent: It is the type of short-term insomnia that occurs from time to time. Between these times, there are periods of regular and invigorating sleep.

Classification according to cause

Because it has a wide range of possible causes, insomnia is classified into:

  • HISAGI: When there is no disease causing insomnia – it happens on its own;
  • Secondary: When insomnia is a symptom of a medical condition, mental disorder or side effect of a drug.

Causes of insomnia

Knowing what causes insomnia is the first step in getting rid of it. The problem is that there are a multitude of possible causes for the problem, some of which can be easily resolved while others, unfortunately, need a more complex treatment. Understand:


The concept of stress is any type of external event that alters the state of balance of the organism. In the case of insomnia, mental stress is one of the main villains.

Problems at home, at work, dull situations that cause exhaustion, are all factors that contribute to an increased level of stress that, in turn, can prevent a good night’s sleep to recover from all of this.

In general, insomnia caused by stress is short, as periods of intense stress do not usually last long. Unless, of course, there is some mental disorder involved. But we’ll talk more about that later. For now, just know that mental stress can be the cause of your sleeping problems and that, fortunately, simple changes in routine habits can help with the problem.

Inadequate environment and habits

The environment where you sleep is of utmost importance so that you can have a good night’s sleep. Uncomfortable, noisy and bright places make it very difficult to fall asleep.

Light disrupts the production of melatonin, a substance known as the sleep hormone, and the presence of other stimuli draws attention from the brain, preventing it from resting. Therefore, habits such as using electronic devices right before bed can be one of the causes of the difficulty in falling asleep.


People who are always traveling and suffer from jet lag or those who work in shifts and have no set time to go to sleep and wake up every day are strong candidates for insomnia.

Mental disorders

When it comes to chronic insomnia, the cause may be a mental disorder. This may be due to the stress that these conditions bring, as well as dysfunctions in brain chemistry, which greatly influences sleep patterns.

In the case of depression , for example, a neurotransmitter called serotonin may be missing. Among other functions, this neurotransmitter is responsible for regulating sleep and mood.

It is also worth remembering that lack of sleep can alter some structures in the brain and, thus, help in the development of mood disorders such as depression. Thus, a vicious cycle can very well be dealt with.

Other conditions associated with insomnia are anxiety , post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia , bipolar disorder , obsessive-compulsive disorder, hyperactivity, etc.

Medical conditions

Not infrequently, insomnia can be caused by physiological diseases. Some of them are:

Neurological disorders

These are diseases that affect the central nervous system (CNS). The main causes of insomnia in these cases are traumatic brain injuries, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and, rarely, the so-called fatal family insomnia.

Hormonal disorders

Hyperthyroidism , menopause , PMS and Cushing’s syndrome are all examples of hormonal disorders that can make sleep difficult.

Breathing problems

Breathing is extremely important even when the rest of the body appears to be doing nothing. Conditions such as sleep apnea , asthma and COPD end up making sleep difficult.

Restless legs syndrome

This syndrome is characterized by a compulsion to move the legs. It precludes entry into deeper stages of sleep due to the lack of immobilization of the body.

Chronic pains

Those who live with this know: falling asleep in pain is extremely difficult, especially when there is no way to solve them.

Gastrointestinal problems

Gastroesophageal reflux and constipation are two conditions that can alter sleep.

Medicines and substances

Some medications and substances may be related to difficulty falling asleep. In general, they are stimulants of the central nervous system, but withdrawal from depressant substances can also cause insomnia.

Antidepressants, caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, methamphetamines and cocaine are drugs that, when used, stimulate the CNS. Abstinence from alcohol, nicotine, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, opioids and anticonvulsants can make sleep difficult.

Who suffers from insomnia?

There are some groups at risk for insomnia, although it can appear in anyone, for any reason. Are they:

  • Travelers: People who travel a lot and change time zones often tend to suffer much more from jet lag;
  • Women: For some reason, women are more affected by insomnia than men;
  • Shift workers: Due to the lack of a fixed time to sleep and wake up, shift workers may have trouble falling asleep;
  • Elderly: The best age suffers a lot with insomnia, both for medical and psychological causes;
  • Pregnant or menopausal women: The large fluctuation of hormones in these phases can be the cause of insomnia in some women;
  • Drug users: People who use stimulant drugs may have trouble sleeping while using, whereas people who usually use depressant drugs suffer from insomnia when they are abstinent;
  • People with mental disorders: Mental disorders can cause insomnia, just as insomnia can help to develop a mental disorder.

Infantile insomnia

Although insomnia in adults is well known, few people know that babies and children can suffer from the disorder as well. But calm down! It is not always serious. Understand how childhood insomnia occurs:

In babies

Many mothers know that old story about the baby who wakes up and cries all night. This can happen, of course, a few times a week. The problem is when it happens every day, and for no apparent reason.

It is worth remembering that, sometimes, it is normal for babies to have problems with sleep. For starters, they don’t even know the right time to sleep and often have trouble falling asleep alone. Hunger and colic also play an important role at bedtime.

However, when the baby wakes up many times during the night, cries and is unable to go back to sleep, it may be a sign that something is wrong.

Often, the problem can be related to the place of sleep: uncomfortable cradle, excessive stimuli and very agitated games before bed, among others.

Learning the bedtime itself can be a problem, especially if the family does not have fixed hours, which should start to be implemented as early as the third month of life.

Always using artifices such as toys, bottle, among others, to help the baby sleep is also not a good idea, as it ends up creating unconscious associations between these things and the time to fall asleep. Thus, he ends up never learning to start sleep alone.

Another factor that can influence the baby’s sleep patterns is the mother’s emotional state: when they are very stressed or anxious, babies “feel” it and are distressed as well.

Unfortunately, there are cases where insomnia is related to disease. Some may not be as severe, such as otitis , but others can have a lot of consequences, such as asthma and congenital malformations.

In children

Sleeping is extremely important for children to be able to grow healthily, since it is during the sleep period that growth hormone is released into the child’s body.

The main cause of insomnia in children, as well as in babies, is the inappropriate environment and restlessness right before bed, in addition to the lack of fixed schedules.

Another point is the afternoon nap, very important for children, as they need more sleep time than adults. However, this nap should not be taken after 4 pm, to avoid interfering with the night’s sleep.

As with babies, sleeping with the help of other devices is not recommended. So no television or lap to sleep. For children older than a year, however, you can use stuffed animals at bedtime.

Fatal Familial Insomnia (IFF)

Imagine that, one day, your body goes into a panic. You start to sweat a lot, your pupils become smaller, you suffer from colds, and you gradually lose sleep. This is the beginning of Fatal Family Insomnia, a rapidly progressing neurological disease that leads to death.

Caused by a genetic mutation that affects a brain protein called a prion, IFF is characterized by the destruction of parts of the thalamus, the part of the brain responsible for various automatic body events: regulation of body temperature, heartbeat, release of hormones, among others. .

Little by little, the patient begins to show symptoms such as panic attacks and hallucinations, in addition to losing more and more sleep. After about 9 months, the individual goes into a kind of “awake coma”, until he reaches his death.

Fortunately, this is an extremely rare disease that affects only a few families, mostly in Europe. There is really no prospect of a cure yet, but researchers are looking for treatment in Milan, Italy.

Symptoms of insomnia

Although it can be a symptom in itself, insomnia brings other signs that can help in the diagnosis and recognition of the problem. Are they:

  • Difficulty falling asleep;
  • Waking up frequently during the night;
  • Having trouble falling asleep when you wake up suddenly;
  • Waking up earlier than expected;
  • Feeling tired even after a long night of sleep;
  • Fatigue and drowsiness during the day;
  • Irritability, anxiety and bad feelings;
  • Difficulty in maintaining concentration;
  • Memory problems;
  • Impaired motor coordination;
  • Headaches;
  • Difficulties to socialize;
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, constipation, nausea, etc.);
  • Concerns about sleep.

These are just some of the symptoms that can result from the lack of sleep caused by insomnia. It is worth remembering, however, that each organism behaves differently and that you may have symptoms other than these, or you may not have any other symptoms besides the difficulty to sleep.

Insomnia: what to do?

Insomnia is often not related to a more serious problem, so some people may try to resolve it at home. Some tips for this are:

  • Have fixed times to lie down and wake up;
  • Do relaxing activities before bed, such as taking a warm bath or listening to quiet music;
  • Use curtains, blackouts , eye masks and ear protectors to prevent external stimuli such as lights and sounds from disturbing your sleep;
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, certain medications and exercise a few hours before going to sleep;
  • Another thing to avoid is the use of electronic device screens just before going to sleep. That is, no cell phone, tablets, computers, Netflix …
  • Avoid taking naps during the day, as they can disturb your sleep at night;
  • Before you go to bed, make a list of your worries and what you can do for them – this way, your brain will not be ruminating on ideas while you try to sleep.

Avoid using over-the-counter medications before bed, as they often do not treat the problem and can have very serious side effects. If you really need some help with sleeping, always consult a doctor before taking any medication.

When should I see a doctor?

We know that it is normal to have insomnia one night or another, especially when experiencing periods of stress. So, when do you know the right time to seek help?

It’s simple: if you have any suspicion that there is something wrong with your sleep, go to the doctor. Spending a night or two in the dark is not always so bad, but after 3 weeks of living this nightmare awake, it is difficult to think that everything is fine, especially if there were changes in sleep habits that did not work.

In addition, it is not uncommon for a lack of sleep to influence your routine. Too much sleep during the day, irritability and problems with concentration are very clear signs that it is time to see a specialist.

The medical specialties that can help you with this problem are the general practitioner , neurologist and psychiatrist .

How is insomnia diagnosed?

There are several ways to assess insomnia symptoms, but there is no specific test for this. Therefore, it is very likely that your doctor will ask several questions related to your habits and order a battery of tests to be sure of the cause of insomnia.

It is worth remembering that, in order to have a diagnosis of primary insomnia, one must cancel out the possibilities of being anything else: medical conditions, bad habits, mental disorders, among others.

Sleep diary

Probably one of the simplest ways to recognize insomnia, the sleep diary is a small notebook in which you should report your hours of going to sleep and waking up, the amount of sleep you felt during the day, in addition to describing what you did just before go to bed.

With this simple method, it is easy to identify whether anything related to your routine is to blame for the difficulty in sleeping. Thus, one can easily change bad habits and monitor the improvement of insomnia.


The doctor may ask you to complete a questionnaire about your health, medical history and sleep patterns. These are useful to find out if there is an underlying cause, with a disease, that may be influencing sleep.


In order to identify whether there is an adjacent disease not yet discovered, the doctor may order a blood test. Hormonal problems, such as thyroid dysfunction, can be easily detected by this type of test, and they can be the main cause of insomnia in some people.


In some cases, such as when none of the above has given a satisfactory answer, your doctor may ask you to spend an entire night in a sleep clinic, connected to devices that will monitor your sleep. This test is called a polysomnography, or “sleep study”.

To do this, you will sleep in a special bed equipped with various devices that will measure your brain frequencies ( electroencephalogram ) – to monitor the stages of sleep -, oxygen levels, body movements, in addition to the heartbeat and breathing.

Is insomnia curable?

Fortunately, insomnia can be cured . But for it to be achieved, it will depend on several factors, such as its causes and administered treatments.

Some people may experience insomnia for only a period of time, for specific reasons, while others may have to deal with crises for life. Each case is a case and should be assessed as such.

How to treat insomnia?

The treatment of insomnia will depend on its causes. There is no point in prescribing sleeping pills when the disease is caused by a medical condition, for example. Therefore, treatment will often be focused on a specific disease. At other times, treatment may be focused on improving sleep quality.

Change of habits

One of the first attempts when treating insomnia is to change habits. Avoiding eating and drinking before bed, reducing the consumption of stimulating (and even depressive) drugs during the day, among other conditions that hinder sleep, are the key points of this treatment.


When a side effect of a mental disorder, insomnia can be treated with psychotherapy. In fact, even people who do not suffer from a disorder can benefit from this treatment method, which helps to deal with problems such as existential crises and excessive worries.

People with many difficulties in forming and maintaining habits can be helped by Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, which seeks to work on the individual’s behaviors.


Reconditioning is a great technique to fight insomnia, as it seeks to make the person associate the bedtime and bedtime with sleep. That way, every time you go to bed at the same time, you will feel sleepy and you will not have much difficulty falling asleep.

This treatment, usually done with the help of a psychologist, consists of using the bed only to sleep and perform sexual activities. That is, no use of the bed to read, watch television, use the cell phone or any other type of activity!

When lying down and unable to sleep, you should get up again and do other activities – preferably relaxing – until sleep comes. Then, one can lie down again.

Over time, the body will associate the bed and bedtime with sleep, making it easier to go to sleep at the correct time every day.


Using relaxation techniques before bed, such as meditation or hypnosis, can be of help to sleep more easily. These techniques help to “silence” the mind, relax the muscles of the body and then fall asleep.

Sleep restriction

Avoiding sleeping at inopportune moments, such as afternoon naps, is important so that you can have a good restful sleep. To do this, one should refrain from sleeping at those times, even if the sleep is too much.

One technique for getting back to sleep well at night is to restrict sleep, too, during bedtime. To do this, you should restrict the night to just a few hours of sleep and gradually increase that time, until you can sleep through the night.

Natural treatment

There are some medicinal herbs with sedative properties that can help at bedtime. These can be taken in the form of tea or capsules, but it is worth remembering that they have side effects and that their use is not indicated without first talking to a doctor.

Some plants that can be used are:

  • Valerian;
  • Chamomile;
  • Passion fruit;
  • Lavender;
  • Coffee-coffee.

Insomnia medications

In some cases, doctors may prescribe medication for the treatment of primary insomnia. However, before anything else, other treatments should be tried, as sedatives generally have serious side effects and some can even be addictive.

Some medications are:

  • Flurazepam (Dalmadorm);
  • Diazepam (Valium);
  • Alprazolam (Frontal);
  • Bromazepam (Lexotan).

If the insomnia is caused by a medication, however, the doctor may only need to change the dose. It all depends on the way that each organism adapts.


NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained in this website is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.

Consequences and complications of insomnia

Lack of sleep can significantly affect the way the body works. In addition to daily tiredness , the patient with insomnia may have a greater chance of developing several diseases. Some of them are:

Type 2 diabetes

People with poor sleep quality are more likely to develop the disease when compared to people who sleep properly.

Cardiovascular diseases

Sleep quality is a major contributor in preventing diseases of the heart and circulatory system. When there is little sleep, the chances of developing hypertension and coronary artery disease are increased.

Traffic accidents and work

Due to daytime sleepiness and decreased motor reflexes, insomnia sufferers are more likely to be involved in accidents, both in traffic and at work.

Cognitive disorders

Sleep is the main responsible for the consolidation of several cognitive aspects, such as memory. For this reason, people who suffer from insomnia may have problems with memory and learning , in addition to suffering with low reasoning ability and impaired motor coordination .

Negative emotions and depression

Lack of sleep is a major risk factor for depression, as poor rest is related to changes in the structure of the brain that enhance negative emotions. As a result, people with insomnia tend to experience more sadness and anger than well-rested people.

These same structural changes and the greater frequency of negative feelings can lead to depression, a disease characterized by long periods of disabling sadness and apathy.

It is worth remembering that insomnia is more frequent in depressed people and that, therefore, a vicious circle can be established: depressed people suffer from insomnia, which in turn helps in the development of depression.

How to prevent insomnia?

The best way to prevent insomnia is to have a right time to sleep and wake up every day, even on weekends. In this way, the body adapts to these times and you start to feel sleep at the right time.

However, because insomnia can be caused by a number of adjacent conditions, prevention is not always feasible. In such cases, what can be done to prevent insomnia attacks is to treat these conditions.

Insomnia, although common and persistent in the lives of many people, often does not receive the necessary attention to prevent complications. It is not uncommon for people to seek help not because they are concerned about their health, but because they are irritated by the lack of sleep. Let’s try to change that!

Share this text with your friends and family so that more people know what to do when they have insomnia. If you have any questions, ask us and we will be happy to answer them!