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Insomnia is when people cannot sleep. A person with this problem is called an insomniac. Insomnia can mean a problem with getting to sleep or a problem with staying asleep. Insomnia is a and not a disease or illness.[1]

Different kinds of insomnia

There are at least three different types of insomnia:

  1. Transient Insomnia: this lasts from one night to a few weeks.
  2. Acute Insomnia: lasts from a few weeks to about six months.
  3. Chronic Insomnia: lasts for years at a time.


There are many causes of insomnia. Some of them are:

  • As people get older, their sleep patterns change. They will sleep shorter periods of time, but more often. Younger people usually sleep longer. This is normal.
  • Some insomnias are caused by stimulant drugs, such as amphetamine, cocaine and nicotine. Coffee stimulates the body, and people tend to drink quite a lot of it when they are at work. If they drink too much of it, they will have problems falling asleep in the evening. (The same is true for tea, colas, or any other drink with caffeine in it.)
  • Some people worry a lot. Their worries during the day will bother them at night. They might have nightmares, or they wake up sweating.
  • Some substances, like alcohol can have a bad effect. It can be very hard to sleep after drinking a lot of alcohol. The world may spin and there can be an urge to vomit as soon the person closes their eyes. Drugs can also have this effect, even some "sleeping" pills.
  • A very rare disease called fatal familial insomnia prevents some people from falling asleep. In this disease, a person can no longer sleep and after a while will die from being so tired. It is caused by a protein similar to the one that causes mad cow disease which is a very bad disease that comes from eating infected meat.
  • People with disorders of their circadian rhythms often have trouble sleeping at normal times.


There are drugs available that can help treat the different kinds of insomnia. There are also certain herbs that can help, in some cases. A third way that seems to help is a therapy that aims at changing the behaviour of those affected.


  1. Hirshkowitz, Max (2004). "Chapter 10, Neuropsychiatric Aspects of Sleep and Sleep Disorders (pp 315-340)". In Stuart C. Yudofsky and Robert E. Hales, editors (Google Books preview includes entire chapter 10). Essentials of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences (4 ed.). Arlington, Virginia, USA: American Psychiatric Publishing. ISBN 9781585620050 . Retrieved 2009-12-06. "...insomnia is a symptom. It is neither a disease nor a specific condition. (from p. 322)"