What are the types of insomnia?

  1. Acute insomnia
  2. Chronic insomnia
  3. Onset insomnia
  4. Maintenance insomnia

You likely already know that sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. When the day ends, the natural course of action is to wind down and go to bed. While some have no problem falling asleep or staying asleep, others have a hard time due to a sleep disorder known as insomnia. Let’s delve deeper into this condition and the different types of insomnia.

Insomnia is one of the associated problems when it comes to sleep. Studies show that 10% to 30% of adults are estimated to suffer from insomnia and the distribution is skewed towards women being affected twice as often as men.

It is defined as the persistent difficulty to fall asleep or stay asleep despite having ample time and opportunity to do so. This means you have about 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night, but you are still unable to achieve proper rest. As a result, insomnia may result in excessive daytime sleepiness, mental and cognitive dysfunction, impaired work performance, and health problems (i.e., diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart and lung diseases) among others.

Not all cases of insomnia are the same. This sleep disorder affects people in different ways, and distinguishing the difference between the forms of the condition can be a key in identifying the proper treatment. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of insomnia.

Acute Insomnia

Acute Insomnia

Acute insomnia, also known as short-term insomnia, is defined as a brief episode of difficulty sleeping. It is the most common type of insomnia and is often caused by a stressful life event (i.e., the loss of a loved one, major job change, relationship change, a concerning medical diagnosis, pandemic, or a crisis).

On a biological level, emotional distress results in an overactive sympathetic nervous system. This controls the body’s fight-or-flight response and the increased metabolic rate, blood flow, brain activity, and release of cortisol make it difficult to sleep.

In general, acute insomnia lasts for less than three months and symptoms may fade on their own as time passes. Without recovery, however, it may potentially progress to chronic insomnia.

Chronic Insomnia

Chronic insomnia is a long-term pattern of sleep difficulty. It is characterized by symptoms of trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least three times per week for at least three months or longer.

Similar to acute insomnia, a common trigger for chronic insomnia is emotional distress. However, this sleeping disorder may also occur due to a long history of irregular sleep schedules due to the following:

  • Shift work sleep disorder
  • Poor sleep hygiene
  • Underlying mental health disorders (i.e., anxiety, depression)
  • Physical and neurological illnesses (i.e., diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder),
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Medications (i.e., chemotherapy medications, antidepressants, beta-blockers)
  • And other sleep disorders (i.e., obstructive sleep apnea, sleep paralysis)

There are a variety of potential treatments for chronic insomnia including medication (i.e., sleeping pills, benzodiazepines, orexin receptor antagonists), psychotherapy, and behavioral therapy.

Onset Insomnia

Onset Insomnia

Onset insomnia refers to difficulty falling asleep at the beginning of the night or when attempting to fall asleep. Common symptoms include tossing and turning and not being able to fall asleep even after spending 20 to 30 minutes in bed.

The symptoms of onset insomnia typically occur among people whose circadian rhythm is not in sync. These can be traced to various triggers such as the following:

  • Irregular sleep schedules
  • Poor sleep hygiene
  • Mental health problems (i.e., anxiety and depression)

In general, anxious and depressed people carry worries to bed. These emotional and mental fixations cause hyperarousal, which further makes it difficult to fall asleep. This breeds into a vicious cycle involving anxiety and onset insomnia.

People with this condition may immediately resort to drinking sleeping pills or improving their bedroom environment. However, the best way to combat onset insomnia is to understand its root cause. If you are experiencing a sleep disorder due to anxiety, seek professional medical help to help you understand the underlying conditions.

Maintenance Insomnia

Patients with maintenance insomnia experience difficulties staying asleep throughout the night. Oftentimes, this results in waking up at least once and struggling to fall asleep again. The fragmented sleep associated with maintenance insomnia results in poor sleep and leads to negative consequences such as excessive daytime sleepiness and sluggishness.

Maintenance insomnia can be caused by these conditions

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Sinus allergies
  • Periodic limb movement disorder
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Chronic pain conditions

Treatment for maintenance insomnia may involve medication, lifestyle changes, sleep disorder treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of all.

Key Takeaway

As you can see, the different types of insomnia can manifest in diverse ways. If you suffer from this, it is not something that you should take lightly as it has numerous negative implications for overall life quality.

You should consider consulting your doctor to examine your condition and intervene if necessary. This is the key to finding the right treatment and improving long-term sleep health.

Want to learn more about sleep tips? At Sleep Science, we are the sleep experts and sleep companions to turn to for the perfect night’s sleep. Click here to read our expert-reviewed sleep articles!