Insomnia is generally characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. It tends to have a significant impact on your quality of life, affecting both your physical and mental health.
But insomnia is not one single disorder. There are actually many different types of insomnia, each with its own set of symptoms, causes, and treatments.
Acute insomnia is a short-term sleep disorder that lasts for a few days or weeks. It is generally caused by stress, anxiety, or a major life change, such as a move or a new job. Acute insomnia will usually resolve itself without treatment. However, if it persists for more than a few weeks, it may be necessary to seek help from a healthcare professional.
Chronic insomnia is defined as difficulty sleeping for at least three nights a week for at least one month. It is linked to a variety of potential causes and risk factors, including medical conditions, medications, and lifestyle habits.
Chronic insomnia can be further broken down into two categories: primary chronic insomnia and secondary chronic insomnia.
Primary chronic insomnia means there is no known underlying medical condition or medication causing the insomnia—it is a primary condition in itself. Common causes include stress, anxiety, or poor sleep habits, which can often be treated with lifestyle changes, such as improving sleep hygiene or practicing relaxation techniques.
Secondary chronic insomnia is caused by an underlying medical condition. Common examples include depression, chronic pain, asthma, and heart disease. Treatment strategies for secondary insomnia focus on treating the underlying condition and any associated symptoms. Secondary insomnia can also be a side effect of certain medications, such as antidepressants or beta blockers.
Onset Insomnia and Maintenance Insomnia
Insomnia can also be classified as either onset or maintenance insomnia.
Onset insomnia refers to difficulty falling asleep at the start of the night. Common causes of onset insomnia include stress, anxiety, or physical discomfort. Treatment strategies may include relaxation techniques, avoiding caffeine late in the day, and cutting back on alcohol or late-night snacks.
Maintenance insomnia means you experience difficulty staying asleep once you’ve already fallen asleep or waking up too early. This is often linked to medical conditions such as sleep apnea, GERD, asthma, restless leg syndrome, or an overactive bladder. Recovery typically focuses on treating the underlying condition and any associated symptoms.
When To See a Sleep Doctor
Sometimes, situational factors like travel or stress may cause you to experience difficulty sleeping for a few days or weeks. However, if your insomnia persists for longer than a month, or if it is interfering with your ability to function during the day, it’s time to see a sleep doctor who can help diagnose and treat the underlying cause.
A sleep specialist will do an extensive evaluation of your medical history, current lifestyle, and sleeping habits to determine the root cause of your insomnia. From there, they can create a personalized treatment plan that may include lifestyle modifications, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, or other treatments to help you get better sleep.
While this might seem like a daunting process, keep in mind that low-quality sleep can have serious consequences for your physical and mental health. It also substantially raises your risk of getting into a car accident or having difficulty performing your job.
Getting help for your insomnia is an important step in taking back control of your sleep schedule and improving your health and well-being.