Idiopathic insomnia (A guide)

Idiopathic insomnia

In this guide, we will analyze why many people have difficulty falling asleep and how this situation can affect their health.

Idiopathic insomnia

Sleep is one of the basic needs established in the Maslow pyramid.

After a tiring day, where a person has performed various activities and exerted a certain force with its body, it seeks rest.

At bedtime, the person may be frustrated and get to the point of getting irritated if it sees that it cannot fall asleep.

The person lies in bed, begins to spin around looking for a way to sleep and sees that this does not give any results.

The next day wakes up tired and knows that it has a day of work ahead of, making it unable to perform in the usual way since the body did not receive its daily dose of rest.

When a person has trouble falling asleep and without any apparent cause, we are talking about idiopathic insomnia.

Idiopathic insomnia is a rare sleep disorder.

People who have idiopathic insomnia have trouble falling asleep and there is no cause for this to happen.

The person with this type of sleep disorder has no characteristics of other sleep disorders, medical problems, substance or drug abuse, underlying behaviour problems that could interfere with sleep.

That is, the person does not have any characteristic of any other cause that could cause problems with sleep.

A person with idiopathic insomnia may feel frustrated by not understanding why they have such problems.

It gets to the point of getting tired when it sees that it has several medical exams and cannot find the solution to its idiopathic insomnia.

The person with this type of disorder faces a battle to sleep, even if its body is tired it is difficult for the person to fall asleep.

The person with idiopathic insomnia looks for various options to try to solve the causes for which it cannot sleep.

The person has no idea why they have this problem and when they go to the doctor and see that the medical tests performed do not show any results related to idiopathic insomnia, leading to increased levels of frustration.

The person with this sleep disorder lives with it and with not being aware of the damage that can cause his physical and mental health in the long term.

While it is true that there is no apparent cause for which a person has idiopathic insomnia, the existence of neuroanatomical, neurophysiological or neurochemical dysfunctions, or of lesions in the systems related to the sleep-wake cycle, is suspected.

It is expressed that idiopathic insomnia may be due to the hyperactivity of the waking system or the hypoactivity of the sleep system, although it seems that the common final pathway of this disorder is an excessive excitation of the waking system.

Idiopathic insomnia (A guide)

Consequences of idiopathic insomnia

Sleep is a fundamental part, necessary for the proper functioning of the human body, and when the body does not receive the dose it needs, it can alter its functioning.

Among the consequences of this health disorder are:

  • Feeling tired, lack of energy or fatigue
  • Increased possibility of developing anxiety disorders, depression and stress
  • Increased probability of having a traffic or work accident
  • Lower quality of life
  • Neurocognitive impairment. The person may experience memory loss, attention and learning disorders.
Idiopathic insomnia (A guide)

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterized by a person’s difficulty in falling asleep.

The person wakes up frequently during the night or usually wakes up much earlier in the morning.

People who have insomnia complain that they have a desire to sleep during the day, that is, drowsiness.

The causes for which a person can suffer from insomnia are multifactorial, such as:

  • Stress: Various situations of daily living can generate stress such as problems at work, school, health, family or finances, are some of the reasons why a person can generate stress.
  • Excessive eating at night: A person who ingests before sleeping large amounts of food may have trouble sleeping because it can cause physical discomfort to the person when lying down.
  • Bad sleeping habits: Among the most recurring bad habits are sleeping at irregular times, using electronic devices such as cell phones or computers minutes before sleeping, taking work to bed or watching television.
  • Mental health disorders: Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression can alter a person’s sleep. These diseases make the person feel disoriented, aimlessly and worry about any situation, causing them not to rest in the right way.
  • Physical diseases: some conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hyperthyroidism and Parkinson’s disease are some related to insomnia.
  • Medications: Some medications that the person is taking due to another health condition may have side effects within which is sleep disturbance and in several cases, the person ignores these effects.
  • Stimulating drinks: Drinks such as coffee, tea and drinks with cola can interfere with the person at the time of falling asleep if they are ingested a few moments before bedtime. Alcohol, although it can help you fall asleep, prevents the person from reaching the deepest stages of sleep, so he could wake up in the middle of the night.

When insomnia is not treated, it can negatively affect a person’s quality of life.

This may have problems to perform their daily activities such as work or study because in the morning and afternoon the person will be in a bad mood and with high levels of drowsiness.

The person with insomnia tends to develop anxiety and depression or substance abuse, increases the risk and severity of long-term diseases or conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

For a person to prevent insomnia, it is necessary to take some measures such as:

  • Eliminate drinks that alter the nervous system a few hours before bedtime such as coffee, tea or drinks with cola.
  • Perform exercise so that the body feels a little tired and helps the person to fall asleep faster.
  • Eat lightly before bedtime.
  • Have a schedule for sleeping and waking up
  • Not to drink alcohol, even if this is a nervous system depressant, the person can wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Meditating before bed helps the person clear the mind and can fall asleep faster.
  • Not to worry at bedtime with things that happened during the day.

What to do in the case of idiopathic insomnia?

In the case of idiopathic insomnia, the process to eliminate it may take longer than some other type of insomnia.

As exact causes are unknown, the person will undergo various studies and clinical analysis by a doctor to verify the exact root of the problem.

While investigating the reason why the person suffers from idiopathic insomnia, the person will carry out the same treatment that a person with insomnia carries out, to reduce the symptoms of this anxiety disorder.

For a person to be diagnosed with idiopathic insomnia, the health professional carries out polysomnography.

In polysomnography, there are poorly defined cycles, multiple awakenings, decreased efficiency, increased superficial sleep and rem sleep at the expense of a decrease in deep sleep and a decrease in the density of the sleep spindles.

After this exam, the techniques to reduce the problems caused by the disorder are carried out.

To treat idiopathic insomnia, the person must prepare a kind of ritual that will help condition the mind and understand that it is time to sleep.

Before sleeping it is recommended that the person avoids the use of technological devices such as cell phones or computers, as these can alter sleep.

The person should not use the bed as a workspace, merely for sleeping.

Before sleeping, preparing the room with relaxing music, which can help the person to sleep.

Performing meditation techniques before bedtime can help the person relax, clear the mind of any stressful situation or cause discomfort.

Certain medications are prescribed to help the person with idiopathic insomnia sleep.

Sleeping pills containing melatonin help induce sleep.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that has various functions in the body and especially in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle.

Idiopathic insomnia (A guide)

FAQs about idiopathic insomnia

Can a person have idiopathic insomnia all their life?

Insomnia when untreated can appear throughout life, negatively altering the physical and mental health of the person.

What are the symptoms of idiopathic insomnia?

Physical fatigue during the day, fatigue, muscle aches, among the elderly are at greater risk of falling, high blood pressure, poor immune system function and increased risk of diabetes are some of the symptoms of idiopathic insomnia.

Can idiopathic insomnia be dangerous?

Long-term insomnia can cause serious health problems.

The person with this type of sleep disorder has a lower life expectancy and is more likely to develop diseases that seriously affect their health such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart failure.

Is idiopathic insomnia considered a mental disorder?

Idiopathic insomnia is not considered a mental disorder, but it is a symptom of other mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Can a person develop a dependence on the medication for idiopathic insomnia?

According to various clinical trials, there has been no evidence that the person develops dependence or withdrawal symptoms when taking medications such as Circadin or Melatonin to treat idiopathic insomnia.


Idiopathic insomnia, like any other sleep disorder, negatively affects the physical and mental health of the person.

It is difficult for the person with this type of disorder to find a cause for which it develops since idiopathic insomnia does not develop due to other primary diseases.

While it is true that the process to arrive at a diagnosis that because a person suffers from this disorder is long, it should not be a reason for not continuing to try various techniques used for other cases of insomnia.

Relaxation techniques, avoidance of certain drinks that can alter sleep and have a set time to sleep and wake up, are some of the actions that a person can perform to reduce the effects of idiopathic insomnia.

Idiopathic insomnia (A guide)

Recommended links

  1. All About Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders: Everything You Need To Know About Getting A Restful Nights Sleep
  2. How to Sleep Well 
  3. Overcoming Insomnia and Sleep Problems: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques 
  4. The Effortless Sleep Method: The Incredible New Cure for Insomnia and Chronic Sleep Problems 

Videos Recommended 

  1. Insomnia insight #45: Idiopathic insomnia 


Daniela Paez is a Clinical Psychologist with an MSc. In Clinical Neuropsychology from Bangor University. She has vast experience in working with children with disabilities, adolescents and their families, in extreme conditions of poverty and vulnerability. Additionally, she owns a private practice where she provides neuropsychological evaluation for children and adults, and treatment for mood disorders, anxiety, couple therapy, among other conditions.