Do I have insomnia?

Q:  I’m not sure if insomnia is my problem.  I’m  in my mid-30s, and feel tired a lot during the day.  I easily fall asleep, but wake up an average of 15 times per night.  (I wear an actigraph to measure my sleep).  I am averaging about 7 hours of sleep, but try to sleep 8.  When I do awaken, I usually fall right back to sleep, but also toss and turn a lot it seems.  Is this normal?  Do I have insomnia?

A:  This does not sound like insomnia, at least from your description.  Presuming your actigraph data is correct, here’s why.

First, you are averaging 7 hours of sleep (many insomniacs would shout “hallelujah!” to get that much), which puts you into the normal 7-9 hour category for adults.

Second, your sleep efficiency is about 88% (7 hours asleep out of 8 hours allowed for sleep), which also puts you in a normal category. In comparison, insomniacs can be more in the 50-60% range, sometimes less.

Third, even the very best sleepers awaken something like 10 to 15 times per night.  It’s common and normal to briefly awaken, especially between cycles of sleep. Most people usually forget about these transient awakenings and it’s not an issue.   Now if you were awakened hundreds of times, then you’d look at sleep apnea as a distinct possibility.

So just from what you’ve described, it appears you are in fact a good sleeper.

With true insomnia, the sleeplessness must also be accompanied by an adverse affect during waking hours.  You describe feeling tired, but that may not be from a lack of sleep.  There may be something else going on.

So, a few suggestions.

First, see a doctor for a checkup if you haven’t had one recently. Sleep apnea or restless legs could be a possibility, and you definitely want to either treat or rule that out.  You can also ask what else besides lack of sleep could be causing you to feel tired during the day.

Second, is your mattress comfortable?  If not, you might consider investing in a new bed, buying a memory foam mattress topper, or even getting some nice new sheets.  Might help you feel more comfortable and cut down on the tossing and turning.

Third, if you are still concerned, you might try cutting down on the time you are allowing in bed.  In other words, if your actigraph is showing 7 hours of sleep on average, maybe that’s all you need.

There is nothing written in stone that says you or anyone else must get 8 solid hours every night. This number is in fact highly variable, and even among one individual changes throughout life.

Although insomnia is very common (the majority of us will deal with it at some point in our lives), and you feel some daytime fatigue, from your description sleep does not appear to be the underlying issue.

For more on the science of sleep, feel free to visit us at

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One Comment on “Do I have insomnia?”

  1. Poor sleep hygiene, fibromyalgia, occult depression, and of course sleep apnea may explain some of the symptoms.

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