Transient, Acute, and Chronic Insomnia Explained
Insomnia can be classified into three categories: transient, acute, and chronic. The specific causes, symptoms, and treatments vary depending on the classification, although all three types are characterized by difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or feeling unrested in the morning.
Transient insomnia usually lasts between a couple days and one week. It is often caused by another disorder or by a change in the individual’s sleeping environment. Common examples of a change in sleeping environment include:
- Sleeping away from home
- Moving to a new home
- Hearing excessive noise while trying to sleep
- Sleeping in warmer or colder temperatures than normal
A change in the individual’s sleeping schedule can also cause temporary insomnia. Jet lag can often result in insomnia, as traveling across time zones affects the body’s circadian rhythm. Short-term feelings of stress can also contribute to temporary insomnia.
The effects of temporary insomnia are similar to the effects of short-term sleep deprivation. Many individuals will show extreme sleepiness and difficulty performing psychomotor skills.
Acute insomnia, which is also known as short-term insomnia or stress-related insomnia, lasts for a month or less. It is most commonly caused by stress or emotional conflicts, but it can also occur as a result of changes in the sleeping environment or anxiety related to falling asleep. For example, an individual may suffer from short-term insomnia because they are afraid of severe nightmares.
It can also be caused by new medications, especially those that act as a stimulant, or the frequent use of caffeine or nicotine. Individuals who suffer from an alcohol addiction may experience short-term insomnia from alcohol withdrawal.
Short-term insomnia is characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep despite having plenty of time and opportunities to sleep, resulting in problems with thinking or functioning during the day. Some common effects include:
- Fatigue during the day
- Inability to concentrate
- Sudden changes in mood
- Increase in job-related accidents or errors
- Stomach pain or headaches
Chronic insomnia, or long-term insomnia, lasts for longer than a month and is the most severe form of insomnia. It can sometimes last up to several years. It is often caused by another disorder or illness, but it is sometimes the primary disorder affecting an individual. People with higher than normal levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, are at an increased risk for the disorder.
The effects of long-term insomnia can have a serious impact on an individual’s day-to-day life. Effects vary depending on the causes and severity of the disorder, but some of the most common effects include:
- Mental fatigue
- Muscular weariness
- Double vision
To diagnose long-term insomnia, a doctor may ask the individual to complete a sleep log or a sleep diary that keeps track of their sleeping habits and patterns over a few days or weeks. A doctor may also perform a general physical exam to check for potential causes of long-term insomnia, including asthma, restless leg syndrome, or COPD. Diagnosing and treating an underlying cause to insomnia is usually easier than trying to just treat the insomnia.
If the patient has no physical cause for the insomnia, they can seek treatment for just the sleeping problems. Sleeping pills are a common treatment, and there are several medications that the FDA has approved for long-term use. However, some doctors still do not recommend using sleeping pills for a long period of time, despite the FDA’s approval.
Individuals can also seek several types of therapy to treat insomnia. Therapies that can be beneficial for people with insomnia include relaxation therapy, sleep restriction therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.