Insomnia Disorder: Causes and Treatment

03 May, 2020
Insomnia disorder can be caused by several factors, both primary and secondary. Nowadays there are several effective measures to treat it.

Insomnia disorder is when you are unable to fall asleep or stay asleep. People who suffer from this disorder have low quality interrupted sleep, which interferes with their daily lives.

This disorder can show itself either through difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up early.

Depending on how long the problem lasts, it can be divided into:

  • Acute insomnia, if it lasts for less than 4 weeks
  • Subacute, if it lasts from 4 to 6 months
  • Chronic, if it lasts more than 6 months.

We talk about insomnia when a person can’t fall asleep or their sleep is restless, but do we really know exactly what sleep is?


What is it?

Sleep cycles.
While you’re asleep you experience several phases of more or less brain activity.

Sleep is a physiological state of your body regulated by your pineal gland, which is found at the base of the brain and produces melatonin. Both the creation and freeing of this substance increases at night and is reduced during the day.

These variations in the concentration of melatonin are responsible for controlling your circadian rhythm of sleep and wakefulness, which adapts to the solar schedule.

Throughout your life, sleep can vary both in quantity and quality, just like many other physiological processes in your body. The variation can depend on age, health, or on physiological changes, among others.

During your sleeping hours, brain activity changes and these changes are reflected in a varying pattern with different electrical waves that can be measured with an electroencephalogram. Additionally, during sleep you can distinguish between two well-differentiated activities.

  • Rapid or high-frequency activity: this is called REM sleep and is characterized by rapid movement of the eyes.
  • Slow activity: this is characterized by low-frequency waves on the electroencephalogram.

When a person sleeps, there are short awakenings that are normally accompanied by physical movements when they go from the slow activity phase to the fast activity phase and vice versa.

Discover: Changes in Sleep Patterns Can Predict Degenerative Disease

Insomnia disorder


Man with jet lag.
Habit changes can seriously affect your sleep, affecting your physical and mental performance.

Insomnia disorder can be caused by many things and these can be classified as primary causes and secondary causes depending on where they come from.

Primary causes

Primary causes are those that have to do with maintaining proper sleep hygiene or some psychological aspects. Among these causes we can mention physiological changes like aging and lifestyle changes, since constantly changing schedules can cause changes in your circadian rhythm.

Additionally, among primary causes we have the effects of certain medications, since there are some, like antihypertensives, anticholinergics, or hormones, among others, that can affect your sleep.

Secondary causes

Regarding secondary causes, these are causes that come from a condition in the patient or environmental factors. Among the diseases that can cause insomnia disorder are:

On the other hand, environmental factors can cause this disorder to develop, like extreme temperatures, schedule changes, or trips.


Woman with insomnia disorder in bed.
People with insomnia find it difficult to stay asleep on a regular schedule, or wake up often while sleeping.

The symptoms of insomnia disorder are easy to detect. This is because it’s the patient themselves who notices the difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

You will notice the lack of sleep all day. You’ll feel tired and weak. Additionally, in extreme cases you can feel slow when processing information, irritable, and you can start to feel depressed.

You might be interested in: Want to Sleep Better? Try Out These 7 Nighttime Habits

How do you treat insomnia disorder?

Before resorting to medicinal treatments, we recommend you follow a series of steps to improve your sleep hygiene:

  1. Create a sleep schedule
  2. Limit your sleep time to between 7.5 and 8 hours
  3. Don’t consume any substances that stimulate your nervous system
  4. Avoid taking a nap during the day
  5. Exercise, but not at the end of the day, since it gives you excess energy
  6. Avoid stimulating activities right before sleeping
  7. Bathe in body-temperature water before going to bed
  8. Have a regular eating schedule and avoid eating a lot of food right before bed
  9. Do relaxation exercises before going to sleep
  10. Keep your bedroom temperature comfortable

If you can’t cure your insomnia disorder with these measures, you should treat it with sleeping medicine. If this is the first time you’re suffering from insomnia, we recommend you take valerians or other innocuous relaxants. As always, you should consult with your doctor before starting any medication.


  • Sack, R. L., Auckley, D., Auger, R. R., Carskadon, M. A., Wright, K. P., Vitiello, M. V., & Zhdanova, I. V. (2007). Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders: Part I, Basic Principles, Shift Work and Jet Lag Disorders. Sleep, 30(11), 1460–1483.
  • Miró, E., Iañez, M. Á., & Cano-Lozano, M. C. (2002). Patrones de sueño y salud. Revista Internacional de Psicología Clínica y de La Salud, 2, 301–326. Retrieved from
  • Insomnio – Síntomas y causas – Mayo Clinic. (2016). Retrieved 14 April 2021, from