What is insomnia?


Insomnia in children: Overview

Insomnia is the inability to sleep well. Insomnia may make it hard for your child to get to sleep, stay asleep, or sleep as long as needed. This can make your child tired and grouchy during the day. It can also make your child forgetful, less effective at school, and unhappy.

Insomnia can be linked to many things. These include health problems, medicines, and your child's thoughts and behaviors that interfere with sleep.

Your doctor may work with you to find the cause of your child's insomnia. Your doctor can recommend steps you can take that may help your child sleep better.


Insomnia (also called insomnia disorder) means not being able to sleep well. Insomnia may make it hard for you to get to sleep, stay asleep, or sleep as long as you need to. It can affect your daily life. Short-term insomnia may last a few days or weeks. Chronic insomnia lasts 3 months or longer.

What happens when you have insomnia?

When you have insomnia, your sleep problems may come and go, or they may be ongoing. You may not sleep well for at least 3 nights per week.

  • Short-term insomnia can last for days to weeks. It may get better in less than a month.
  • Chronic insomnia is ongoing. It lasts at least 3 months.

Insomnia affects your quality of life. You have trouble doing your daily activities. You may feel grouchy, sleepy, or anxious and be unable to get things done during the daytime. You may find it hard to pay attention, focus on tasks, or remember to do things.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

People who have insomnia may:

  • Have trouble falling asleep. This can mean lying in bed for about 20 to 30 minutes, tossing and turning, waiting to fall asleep.
  • Become so focused on being able to fall asleep that the worry and attention interfere with being able to fall asleep.
  • Wake up too early in the morning.
  • Wake up and have trouble falling back to sleep.
  • Feel tired when they wake up.
  • Feel grouchy, sleepy, or anxious and be unable to get things done during the daytime.
  • Find it hard to pay attention, focus on tasks, or remember to do things.

How is insomnia treated?

Treatment for insomnia includes behavior and lifestyle changes. Treatment may include cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). You and your doctor can make a treatment plan that includes things you can try at home. Some people decide to take medicine for a while to help with sleep.

Managing insomnia with sleep restriction therapy

Sleep restriction therapy is a way of managing sleep problems so that you get better sleep over time. You start by limiting how long you spend in bed each night. Your goal will be to increase your sleep time gradually until you get enough sleep each night to feel rested.

You can work with a sleep specialist to find a schedule that works best for you. In general, here's how sleep restriction therapy works.

  • Figure out how much total sleep you get each night, on average. If it's not the same amount every night, try to determine your total sleep time on an average night. Keeping a sleep journal can help you know your sleep patterns and typical sleep times.
  • Set a schedule for bedtime and getting up. Plan to stay in your bed each night for only the amount of time that you typically sleep. For example, if you get about six total hours of sleep on average, then only spend 6 hours in your bed. Make your "lights out" time and the time you get up the same each night.
  • During the time you spend out of bed at night, find relaxing activities to do, such as reading or listening to music.
  • After following your new sleep schedule for one week, increase the amount of time you stay in bed.
  • Each week, gradually increase the time you spend in bed each night. This will help you start to increase your sleep time, as long as you're not spending too much time lying awake in bed. Your sleep specialist can help you figure out how long you should be sleeping compared with how long you're in bed each night. This is called your sleep efficiency.

How is insomnia diagnosed?

Your doctor will probably check your current health and ask about any health problems you've had and any medicines you take. Your doctor may ask if you've had a recent stressful event.

Your doctor will also ask about your sleep history and if your sleep problems are affecting your daily life. You may talk about how well you sleep, how long you sleep, your bedtime habits, and how you feel when you're awake. Your doctor may ask you to keep a sleep journal for a week or two. This journal is a record of your sleep patterns.

Sometimes a doctor will do a physical exam, blood tests and, in some cases, a sleep study to help find out if you have a health problem that may be causing the insomnia.

How are medicines used to treat insomnia?

In some cases, taking medicine for a while helps you get some rest. Doctors may recommend taking sleep medicines only now and then or only for a short time. They aren't the first choice for treating chronic insomnia. Medicines are used along with behavior and lifestyle changes that can help you over the long term.

Many sleep medicines cause side effects. These medicines also may not work as well when your body gets used to them. And they may cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop using them.

Sleep medicines include:

  • Prescription sleep medicines. There are different kinds. Examples include eszopiclone (Lunesta), suvorexant (Belsomra), and zolpidem (Ambien).
  • Prescription depression or anxiety medicines that have a calming or sedative effect. These can be used to help you sleep.
  • Over-the-counter medicines for sleep. They can provide short-term relief of sleeplessness. Examples include melatonin and Sleep-Eze.

How can you care for your child who has insomnia?

  • Your doctor can suggest things that you can try at home. They are based on your child's age and what might be causing the insomnia.
  • If your child is older, your doctor may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. This can include changing thoughts and behaviors that interfere with sleep.
  • If your doctor suggests it, try to have a bedtime routine to help your child get ready for bed and sleep.
  • Help your child get regular exercise.
  • If your doctor prescribes medicine, have your child take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if your child has any problems with a medicine.

Bedtime routine

  • Do not let your child have food or drinks with caffeine, such as soft drinks, iced tea, or chocolate, for 8 hours before bed.
  • Do not let your child eat a big meal close to bedtime. If your child is hungry, let them eat a light snack.
  • Do not let your child drink a lot of water close to bedtime, because the need to urinate may wake up your child during the night.
  • Do not let your child read, watch TV, or use electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets, in bed. Use the bed only for sleeping.
  • Make your house quiet and calm about an hour before your child's bedtime. Turn down the lights, turn off the TV, log off the computer, and turn down the volume on music. This can help your child relax after a busy day.
  • Have your child go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
  • Keep your child's bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. It may help to remove the TV, computer, and other electronic devices from your child's room.
  • Have your child sleep on a comfortable pillow and mattress.
  • If watching the clock makes your child anxious, turn it so your child can't see the time.
  • If your child worries when going to bed, have your child start a worry book. Well before bedtime, have your child write down their worries, and then set the book and concerns aside.

How can sleep problems affect you?

Not getting enough sleep can affect your energy and mood. Lack of sleep is linked with some chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, obesity, and depression. It also can lead to injuries and accidents.

How is complementary medicine used to treat insomnia?

Some people who have insomnia take dietary supplements to try to help them sleep better. Talk with your doctor before you try an herbal product or supplement. Your doctor can recommend how much to take and when to take it. Make sure your doctor knows all of the medicines, vitamins, herbal products, and supplements you take.

Melatonin is one example. It may help some people sleep better. It's a hormone produced by the brain. You can buy this as a supplement. It has also been used to treat jet lag and poor sleep from working the night shift. The long-term effects of taking melatonin are unknown. If you use it regularly, talk to your doctor.

What causes insomnia?

Insomnia is linked to many things. These include health problems, medicines, and stressful events. Your habits before bedtime may also affect how well you sleep.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep problem that affects your daily life. It can cause you to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. You may wake up during the night or wake up too early the next morning. These sleep problems may come and go, or they may be ongoing.

Insomnia: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your efforts to improve your sleep do not work.
  • Your insomnia gets worse.
  • You have been feeling down, depressed, or hopeless or have lost interest in things that you usually enjoy.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.