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What is Insomnia?

writtenByWritten by: Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer is a contributing health writer who has been researching and writing health content with PlushCare for 3 years. She is passionate about bringing accessible healthcare and mental health services to people everywhere.

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January 21, 2021 Read Time - 5 minutes

What is Insomnia: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

If you have been struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep recently, you’re probably looking for answers. What is insomnia? How is it treated? Can you get insomnia treatment online?

Here’s what you need to know about insomnia, so you can hopefully start getting better sleep as soon as possible.

  • Browse our network of top therapist to find one that matches your needs.

  • Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

  • Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.

Talk to an Online Therapist PlushCare-App-Steps

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is any struggle with sleep, whether it’s having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early and not being able to fall asleep again.

Insomnia Symptoms

Symptoms of insomnia can include:

  • Waking up during the night
  • Struggling to fall asleep
  • Waking up too early
  • Daytime sleepiness or tiredness
  • Not feeling well-rested, even after a good night of sleep
  • Worrying about sleep
  • Increased accidents or errors
  • Depression, anxiety, or irritability
  • Trouble remembering, focusing on tasks, or paying attention

Insomnia Causes

The causes of insomnia are different depending on the type. There are two different types of insomnia, primary and secondary.

  • Primary insomnia is sleep trouble that isn’t related to any other health problems.
  • Secondary insomnia means the sleep issues are caused by something else, such as a health condition, medication, pain, or substance abuse.

Primary insomnia causes include:

  • Stress
  • Changes to the sleep schedule, such as jet lag, shift work, or bad sleep habits
  • Environmental factors like light, sound, or temperature

Causes of secondary insomnia include:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Certain medications, especially those for allergies, colds, asthma, depression, and high blood pressure
  • Mental health issues like anxiety or depression
  • Caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco use
  • Physical health issues, including hyperthyroidism
  • Other sleep disorders, like restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea

Insomnia Medication

There are several different types of medication that can help people sleep.

  • Over-the-counter medications containing antihistamines, like diphenhydramine (the main ingredient in Benadryl), can help make you drowsy. However, they aren’t intended for regular use and carry the risk of side effects.
  • Antidepressants and other non-controlled substances (such as trazodone and Rozerem) can be prescribed by online doctors and can be taken regularly to help you sleep without the risk of addiction.
  • Controlled substances like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata are the most powerful medications to help people sleep. However, they carry a high risk of addiction and misuse, so you must see a doctor in person to get a prescription.

Insomnia Prevention

Luckily, there are many things you can do to help increase your odds of a good night of sleep.

Some top tips for insomnia include:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends
  • See if insomnia is a side effect of any medication you take
  • Avoid large meals or drinks right before bed
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Avoid or limit naps
  • Don’t use nicotine, and limit or avoid caffeine or alcohol intake
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual
  • Keep all electronics out of your bedroom
  • Try to avoid looking at screens for at least an hour before bedtime

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Main Cause of Insomnia?

Insomnia has many potential causes. Some of the most common causes of insomnia include:

  • Stress
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Large meals right before bed
  • Jet lag, shift work, or other interruptions to a regular sleep cycle
  • Medications
  • Mental health disorders
  • Pain
  • Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
  • Medical conditions
  • Sleep-related disorders like sleep apnea

Can Insomnia Be Cured? How Can I Stop My Insomnia?

Many times, insomnia is acute (temporary) and goes away within a few months. Other times, depending on the cause, insomnia may be chronic and last for years. Either way, good sleep habits can help you get better sleep.

  • Get up and go to bed around the same time every day
  • Try meditation or deep breathing exercises to relax right before bed
  • Don’t eat or drink too much within a few hours of bedtime
  • Avoid or limit your use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, especially at night
  • Get plenty of exercise – but not too close to bedtime
  • Get plenty of light during the day, then avoid bright lights – especially blue light from phone, tablet, or computer screens – for a few hours before bedtime
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool, calm, quiet, dark, and ideal for good sleep

What Are the Effects of Lack of Sleep?

Lack of sleep caused by insomnia can have many negative effects. Some complications from insomnia can include:

  • Increased risk of mental health issues like anxiety and depression
  • Reduced performance at school or work
  • Increased risk and severity of certain health conditions
  • Slowed reaction time and increased risk of accidents
  • Weakened immune system
  • Weight gain
  • Browse our network of top therapist to find one that matches your needs.

  • Get private and secure emotional support weekly from your dedicated therapist.

  • Experience comprehensive care with unlimited access to your care team and primary care physician.

Talk to an Online Therapist PlushCare-App-Steps

Get Insomnia Treatment Online

If you can, the best way to treat insomnia is to address the underlying causes, such as medications, pain, stress, or mental health issues. If the cause of the insomnia is unknown or can’t be addressed, then medication, a type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia, or both therapy and medication may help.

If you’re looking for insomnia medication online, PlushCare may be able to help. Our doctors and therapists can help you create the right treatment plan for your insomnia and determine if medication is necessary.

Many common sleep medications are controlled substances and must be prescribed in person. For that reason, PlushCare cannot prescribe Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, or other controlled substances. However, the licensed doctors at PlushCare can prescribe trazodone, Rozerem, and other medications to help you sleep that aren’t classed as controlled substances.

To get started with online therapy, click here to schedule an appointment.

Read More About Insomnia


PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Mayo Clinic. Insomnia. Accessed on January 12, 2021. The Pathophysiology of Insomnia. Accessed on January 21, 2021.

Sleep Foundation. What Causes Insomnia? Accessed on January 12, 2021.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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