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What is Insomnia?

Insomnia, the most common sleeping problem in the United States, is defined as a difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or returning to sleep. It can be triggered by physical, mental, or lifestyle problems. Medical conditions that may contribute to insomnia include allergies, reflux, and pain disorders. Insomnia can also be caused by anxiety or depression.

Insomnia can be short term or chronic, meaning it happens at least three nights a week for three months or longer. Chronic insomnia is less common and is often the side effect of another problem, according to the National Institutes of Health.

While insomnia may be extremely disruptive to your life, it is also highly treatable and your team at UTHealth Neurosciences will work diligently to create a personalized plan to help get you sleeping well again.

Causes of Insomnia

Stress, life events, or lifestyle habits that interfere with sleep can cause insomnia. A recent trauma, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, can make sleeping difficult. Anxiety and other mental health issues, including depression, contribute to sleeping problems. A travel or work schedule that disrupts your body’s internal clock can also lead to insomnia.

Illnesses and medications can also cause insomnia. High blood pressure medicine and birth control are among a long list of prescriptions that can lead to trouble sleeping. Be sure to alert your doctor of any medications you are taking.

The hormonal changes that accompany menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause put women at a higher risk of insomnia. Aging can also contribute to insomnia, as sleep cycles change and older adults become more susceptible to sleep interruptions.

Signs of Insomnia

Roughly 40 million Americans experience insomnia each year. The most common symptoms are difficulty falling asleep at night, waking up during the night, waking up too early, and not feeling rested in the morning. People with insomnia will likely be tired during the day, and may also be irritable, depressed, or anxious. They might have trouble concentrating and be more accident prone.


You should see a doctor if sleep difficulties are disrupting your well-being. While there is no definitive test to diagnose insomnia, your physician will work to determine the underlying cause by conducting a medical history and physical examination.

You might be asked to keep a sleep journal and to complete a sleepiness scale questionnaire to assess how likely you are to fall asleep during different activities. A nocturnal polysomnogram, or sleep study, may be conducted overnight to record brain activity, breathing, and movement.


Treatment options include behavioral therapy, lifestyle changes, and medications. Good sleep habits, including a consistent routine, are critical to quality sleep. To promote sound sleep, patients are also encouraged to stay active, avoid naps, limit caffeine, and create soothing bedtime rituals. Relaxation techniques, such as a warm bath, yoga and meditation, might be helpful. Limiting TV and other electronics before bedtime can also help. Experts encourage patients to get out of bed if they are unable to fall asleep after more than 20 minutes.

Cognitive behavioral therapies designed for people with insomnia may also be considered. This would help patients talk through their situation in hopes of confronting any thoughts, feelings, or behaviors keeping them awake.

Sleeping medications, antidepressants, antihistamines, melatonin and ramelteon also might be discussed as part of your treatment plan.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Neurosciences

At UTHealth Neurosciences, a team of sleep disorder specialists works together to determine the care each patient needs, discussing treatment options as a group. The goal of this approach is to save our patients time and money and to allow our specialists to share each other’s insights, leading to better treatment decision-making and outcomes.

Sleep Disorders

Contact Us

At UTHealth Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.