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What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a symptom, not a diagnosis or a disease, which means “difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep.” It may be due to a lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep. Insomnia is generally classified by its duration: symptoms lasting less than one week are classified as transient insomnia; between one to three weeks as short-term insomnia; and longer than three weeks as chronic insomnia.



  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Poor concentration and focusDifficulty with memory Impaired motor coordination Irritability and impaired social interaction


Diagnosis of insomnia begins with a good medical history. The physician will seek to identify any medical or psychological illness that may be contributing to the patient’s insomnia, as well as screen for drug and alcohol use. The patient may be asked about chronic snoring and recent weight gain, which may lead to the possibility of obstructive sleep apnea. In such cases, the doctor may request an overnight sleep test, or polysomnogram, though sleep studies are not part of the routine initial workup for insomnia. Patients may also be asked to keep a daily diary of their alertness.

Insomnia generally resolves itself when the underlying medical or psychiatric cause is removed. Treating the symptoms of insomnia without addressing the main cause is rarely successful. Most people seek medical attention when their insomnia becomes chronic. Therapies include both non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic treatments. Studies have shown that combining medical and non-medical treatments typically is more successful in treating insomnia than either one alone.

Treatment of Insomnia at Hopkins Children’s

Insomnia is diagnosed and treated by physicians and clinical staff at the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Sleep Center. For an evaluation at the sleep clinic at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, or for a sleep study at the sleep laboratory at the Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital, please call 410-955-2035.