Almost everyone goes through bouts of sleeplessness from time to time. It happens to the average person about once a year. That's the cost of being human and having the capacity to worry about the future and chew over the past.
Chronic insomnia, however, is marked by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or by waking up too early. If it takes 30 minutes or more to fall asleep, or if someone is awake for 30 minutes or more during the night at least three times a week—for a month or more—they're officially suffering from insomnia. Approximately 50 to 70 million Americans have a sleep or wakefulness disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insomnia has major effects on mood as well as on alertness. It is also a classic symptom of depression.
Short-acting sleeping pills may improve sleep and next-day alertness, but the best way to handle a bout of insomnia is to do nothing; the body's sleep mechanism tends to right itself if given the chance. The most effective treatments for chronic insomnia are behavioral techniques that eliminate sleep anxiety and allow the body's own sleep cycle to kick in.
For more information on symptoms, causes, and treatment see our Diagnosis Dictionary.