Insomnia is regarded as the most common sleep disorder, affecting millions of people worldwide. It can be defined as the repeated difficulty with sleep initiation, maintenance, or quality that occurs despite having adequate time and opportunity for sleep. Insomnia can make it exceptionally difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to go back to sleep.
While many consider ‘insomnia’ to be a blanket term that encompasses all forms of sleeping disorders and sleeping problems, there are several types and severities of sleeping disorders that exist. Insomnia can either be short term (acute) or long term (chronic).
Short term or acute insomnia is the most common type of insomnia and is described as a brief episode of difficulty sleeping. This type of insomnia can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Chronic insomnia is a long-term pattern of having difficulty sleeping. Insomnia is considered chronic if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least three nights per week for three months or longer. Chronic insomnia can have serious long-term effects if not addressed and managed properly.
Although insomnia is primarily classified as either short-term or chronic, insomnia can manifest itself in several distinct ways. In rare cases, individuals may exhibit insomnia symptoms without meeting the criteria for either chronic or acute insomnia. This is known as other insomnia. Most forms of insomnia can fall into one of the following four categories:
- Sleep-onset insomnia: Sleep-onset insomnia refers to difficulty falling asleep. This form of insomnia is most common among individuals who find it difficult to quiet their mind and relax in bed. Sleep-onset insomnia typically manifests in people whose circadian rhythm is not in sync due to factors like irregular work schedules and jetlag. It is most commonly associated with the idea of tossing and turning without actually being able to fall asleep.
- Seep maintenance insomnia: This type of insomnia refers to having difficulty staying asleep after you have initially fallen asleep. It typically involves waking up at least once (or several times in more severe cases) during the night and then struggling to go back to sleep thereafter. Sleep maintenance insomnia is most common among the elderly population, as well as those who consume caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco before bed. Other conditions/disorders such as periodic limb movement disorder and sleep apnea can result in sleep maintenance insomnia. The fragmented sleep associated with poor sleep maintenance means a decrease in both sleep quantity and quality.
- Mixed insomnia: Some individuals can have mixed insomnia which involves both sleep-onset and sleep maintenance difficulties. Those suffering from chronic insomnia may find that these symptoms can shift over time. Mixed insomnia is typically used to describe people who have overlapping sleeping problems.
- Early Morning Awakening Insomnia: Early morning awakening insomnia refers to a type of insomnia where an individual wakes up in the morning well before they intend to or plan to wake up.
It is worth noting that these forms of insomnia are primarily used informally or as a way for researchers to better understand, categorize and analyse the various ways that insomnia can present and manifest itself in different people.
In addition to different types of insomnia, how an individual is affected by insomnia can also vary significantly based on its cause, severity, and how it is influenced by underlying health conditions.
Insomnia can lead to issues such as:
- Increased daytime fatigue, sleepiness, and lethargy.
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks.
- A general feeling of being physically and/or mentally unwell.
- Irritability, mood changes, and anxiety.
Insomnia can also play a role in the development of chronic diseases such as:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Depression (as well as other mental health conditions)