What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is characterized by problems in initiating sleep, staying asleep and/or by waking early in the morning and being unable to get back to sleep.

People with insomnia may often experience tiredness or sleepiness in the daytime as a result, and may have associated difficulties with inattention, irritability and trouble concentrating.  Often, over time the symptoms begin to interfere with productivity at work, relationships, and mood.

In terms of diagnosing insomnia, psychologists gain a medical history and assess several factors.  We know that people who suffer from insomnia often:

  • describe feeling unhappy with the quality or quantity of their sleep
  • indicate it causes significant distress or impairment in functioning
  • report it occurs at least three times a week and is present for at least three months
  • describe that the problem occurs despite enough opportunities to sleep
  • and indicate that the insomnia is not attributable to substance use, medication or an underlying medical condition

Helpful Treatments

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) has been shown through research to be the most effective long term treatment for insomnia.  CBT-I has been studied rigorously and estimated to be effective for 70-80% of insomnia sufferers, and more effective than medication in preventing a relapse.  It is now considered a front-line treatment for insomnia.

CBT-I includes a number of different skills such as monitoring sleep, psycho-education about sleep/insomnia, cognitive restructuring techniques, sleep restriction, stimulus control, and sleep hygiene. Insomnia often co-occurs with symptoms of anxiety and depression, and CBT treatments often include techniques/tools to address these problems in addition to the insomnia symptoms.