Idiopathic insomnia – What you need to know


It was called idiopathic insomnia to describe sleep problems that started in childhood and had no known cause. Sleep specialists do not consider it a medical disorder.

The International Classification of Sleep Disorders, used by doctors to diagnose sleep disorders, previously included idiopathic insomnia. However, the authors have removed the diagnosis from the manual’s third edition due to concerns that the diagnosis may not be valid.

Doctors consider these symptoms to be part of insomnia or chronic insomnia, a persistent inability to sleep for at least three months.

Please continue reading to learn about idiopathic insomnia, its symptoms, causes, and diagnosis.

What is idiopathic insomnia?

The diagnosis of childhood-onset insomnia was included in earlier editions of the ICSD. The problem was a long-term inability to sleep well, which began as a child.

Medical News Today asked Dr. Alex Dimitriu for his definition. He is board-certified in psychiatry, sleep medicine and founded Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.

“This is insomnia which is not caused by any specific cause such as Anxiety or alcohol, caffeine or Jet lag,” says Dr. Dimitriu. In addition, it is not related to other sleep disorders, substance abuse, or general medical conditions.

“The sleep disorder causes significant impairments in occupational, educational, social, behavioral, or other areas of function,” adds Dr. Dimitriu.

The ICSD III categorizes insomnia into three subtypes:

  • Acute insomnia disorders that last for a short time
  • Chronic insomnia disorders are those that stay for a long time.
  • Other insomnia disorders are types of insomnia that do not fit the acute or chronic criteria but are still clinically important.

Symptoms and treatment of idiopathic insomnia

These symptoms are similar to those of chronic insomnia disorder. These include:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Sleep disturbances, such as frequent waking and difficulty returning to sleep.
  • Wake up too early

To qualify as chronic insomnia, a person must have persistent symptoms for at least three nights per weekTrustedSource over more than three months. The symptoms must not be caused by anything else, including:

  • Substance abuse
  • medication side effects
  • Other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or Circadian rhythm Disorder

Doctors believed a person couldn’t have idiopathic sleeplessness if they had a mental condition like anxiety. This was called psychophysiological insomnia.

The newer definition does not include this requirement. Therefore, chronic insomnia can be present even if a coexisting mental disorder is not sufficient to explain the condition.


As there is no specific test to diagnose chronic or idiopathic sleep disorders, doctors must diagnose based on the patient’s symptoms. Tests may rule out other explanations. A sleep study, for example, could rule out sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

It may be hard to differentiate between insomnia as a symptom of mental illness and chronic insomnia. It may be particularly true for children struggling to express their feelings and thoughts.

A doctor can refer a patient to a mental health professional if conditions like anxiety or depressive disorder are suspected.

Causes and symptoms of idiopathic insomnia

The term “idiopathic,” which means unknown, is used. Sleep experts are still unsure whether no known cause can cause insomnia.

The causes of chronic insomnia may be challenging to determine in some cases.

The causes of insomnia include:

  • stress
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Hormonal changes
  • pregnancy
  • Sleep problems in a partner

Treatment of idiopathic insomnia

Chronic insomnia can be treated by:

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia is a form of talk therapy that experts have developed for people with persistent sleep problems. Dr. Dimitriu said CBT for insomnia involves changing and challenging beliefs about sleep.

A reviewTrustedSource from 2019 found that CBT-I has a similar effect to sleep medications but without side effects. CBT-I addresses a person’s feelings and thoughts but also examines behaviors that can help them sleep, like sleep hygiene and consolidation.

To improve sleep, a person must make changes in their daily routine. They may, for example, limit their use of electronic devices at night and refrain from using alcohol or nicotine.

Dr. Dimitriu continues, “Regular bedtimes and wake-up times are also helpful since sleep is attracted to rhythm and regularity.” However, oversleeping or undersleeping patterns can be harmful. Oversleeping is not recommended because it can cause insomnia the following night.

Sleep consolidation describes the practice of only sleeping in bed and waking up if you cannot fall asleep. This is done to relieve a person’s pressure to get to sleep.

Relaxation and mindfulness techniques

These techniques help to relax the nervous system. These techniques can be taught as part of CBT I or by themselves.

Dr. Dimitriu explains that “for teenagers, learning how to calm the mind, and even meditating for 10 minutes a day, can help slow the brain down to prepare for sleep.” He reminds his clients to “start slowing down and turning off the screens around 10 p.m. to foster the transition into sleep.”

Relaxation and mindfulness techniques include:

  • Breathing Techniques
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • Yoga or Tai Chi


If other sleep-related interventions have failed, doctors may prescribe a sleeping medication.

Other Sleep Disorders

Chronic insomnia or another sleep disorder may cause difficulty sleeping in childhood. Possible explanations include:

  • Circadian rhythm disorder: These disorders affect the body’s normal sleep-wake cycle. The delayed sleep-wake disease, for example, causes an individual to sleep and awaken later. It is relatively common among adolescents.
  • Sleep-related breathing disorder: Sleep apnea causes a person to stop breathing while sleeping temporarily. This can cause poor sleep or frequent waking.
  • Behavioral Insomnia of Childhood: This is insomnia that occurs when children refuse to go to bed or stall, or cannot fall asleep without any special assistance, like a caregiver rocking the child.

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When to seek assistance

A doctor or sleep specialist can help people who have persistent problems falling or staying asleep. A doctor can identify the different types of insomnia and their causes.

It can be challenging to live with insomnia, both physically and emotionally. Joining support groups and forums for people with similar experiences can be helpful. These groups offer people practical advice on managing the condition and can help them feel like they’re not alone.

Read more: Buy Ambien Online


Doctors diagnosed it in patients who had insomnia since childhood without any apparent cause. It is no longer included in diagnostic manuals because of concerns about its validity.

People with these symptoms could be diagnosed as having chronic insomnia. The treatment for chronic insomnia varies depending on its cause. It may include CBT, sleep hygiene techniques, and stress reduction.

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