Insomnia, or sleeplessness, is a sleep disorder in which there is an inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep as long as desired or experience poor sleep quality, where stage 3 (or delta) sleep, which has restorative properties, is not reached. Such sleep disturbances can cause significant distress and may cause problems in social, occupational, educational and other areas of the sufferer’s life.
Insomnia has a variety of causes. Use of psychoactive drugs (including caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and medications) are regularly the cause of insomnia. Hormone shifts; stress, anxiety and other mental disorders; shift work and jet lag; poor sleep hygiene (noise, heat, poor bedding, light) and painful conditions like arthritis, can also keep people awake, or contribute to a bad night’s sleep. Keen athletes may also suffer from exercise-induced insomnia in the form of prolonged sleep onset latency.
In the UK it is estimated that a third of all adults have episodes of insomnia. It tends to be more common in women and more likely to occur with age.
Insomnia is common in the elderly and is associated with chronic disease, but use of hypnotics increases the incidence of falls.