Types of Insomnia: 9 Insomnia Disorders Explained

Insomnia is an umbrella term that describes any condition where you experience trouble falling asleep or sleeping soundly. Yet not everyone with insomnia has the same condition.

By Nicole Gleichmann

You stare at the clock, wishing with every ounce of your being that you could do something that’s supposed to come naturally…sleep. The following day, you feel tired and find it hard to concentrate. Your work life, personal life, and health struggle.

If you battle with insomnia, you know just how important a good night’s rest can be. Understanding what insomnia is and what causes it can help you regain control of your life.

Woman Suffering From Depression laying on bed, Bed , Sleep Disorders, Insomnia

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia describes a condition where you have trouble falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia), staying asleep throughout the night, waking up too early, or falling back asleep when you’ve woken up in the middle of the night. There are two categories of insomnia:

  1. Primary Insomnia: Insomnia that has no other explanation, meaning that it’s not due to another health condition or life experience.
  2. Secondary Insomnia: Insomnia that occurs due to something else, like a medication condition, traumatic life event, or substance abuse.

From here, insomnia is further categorized into either acute or chronic insomnia. Acute insomnia is short-term insomnia, such as when you travel or experience a life stressor. Chronic insomnia, however, is long-term. It occurs when you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night three nights or more per week for a minimum of three months.

In order to properly target your insomnia and find an effective treatment, you first must understand what causes your insomnia. This is done by identifying which type of sleeping disorder(s) you’re experiencing.

Read on to learn about the 9 insomnia disorders as defined by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, 2ndEdition.

1. Adjusted Insomnia

Also known as acute insomnia, adjusted insomnia is one of the more common types of insomnia. It’s a short bout of sleep difficulties that lasts up to a few months. It’s usually caused by a life event that disrupts our mood or routine, such as getting a divorce or moving to the other side of the globe.

2. Behavioral Insomnia of Childhood

Do your kids fight going to bed at night, or wake up in the middle of the night and not go back to sleep? From time-to-time, it can be easy to just let them do what they want to do and make your way to your bedroom-escape so that at least some of the family can get some shut-eye.

Related: How sleep works

Unfortunately, not instilling a strict bedtime can contribute to behavioral insomnia of childhood. This type of insomnia is quite common among children, with approximately 25% of children affected. It occurs when certain behaviors of either parents or children lead to troubles falling asleep and sleeping throughout the night.

3. Psychophysiological Insomnia

Psychophysiological insomnia is a type of chronic insomnia that’s both common and difficult to treat. It occurs when someone worries about their inability to sleep, with the resultant anxiety making it much harder to sleep well.

What happens is this: a person experiences insomnia and then begins to stress about how this lack of sleep is going to affect their day and quality of life. They are unable to stop this worrying, so even if the initial cause of their insomnia has left, their worry will keep them from getting the sleep they need.

4. Paradoxical Insomnia

Someone who is experiencing paradoxical insomnia believes they are struggling with insomnia, but they don’t demonstrate the symptoms associated with being sleep deprived. Sleep studies reveal normal sleep onset latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and sleep efficiency (how well they sleep during the night).

5. Idiopathic Insomnia

Idiopathic insomnia is one of the hardest types of insomnia to treat because there is no obvious cause. This type of insomnia begins in childhood and lasts throughout one’s lifetime. This may be caused by biological abnormalities in sleep patterns and the sleep and awakening systems.

6. Inadequate Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene consists of “the behaviors, practices, rituals, and habits that result in sleep onset or maintenance difficulties and unrefreshing sleep.” Inadequate sleep hygiene occurs when activities that you do interfere with your sleep.

One common example is using smartphones right before bed, or keeping them next to the bed, alerts on and ready to go. This can encourage mental stimulation, sleep disruption, and excess blue light exposure, making it harder to get a good night’s sleep.

7. Insomnia Due to Mental Disorders

Sometimes insomnia is caused by an underlying psychiatric condition like depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or schizophrenia.

Related: Sleep and mental health

8. Insomnia Due to Medical Conditions

There are many health conditions that can lead to trouble sleeping. These include sleep apnea, pain, cancer, a recent surgery, and more. If your medical condition is chronic, like arthritis, you are likely to experience chronic insomnia, but if it’s temporary, like a sprained ankle, insomnia will likely be acute.

9. Insomnia Due to Drugs or Substances

We’ve all had too much coffee or alcohol, making it hard to fall asleep or sleep soundly. Some of the biggest offenders are stimulants like caffeine and ADHD medication, but there are other recreational and pharmaceutical drugs that have side effects that can interfere with your ability to sleep well.

What to Do If You Suffer from Insomnia

It can be tough to know what to do when you can’t manage a proper night’s rest. Not only can it be frustrating, but it can slowly degrade your happiness and overall quality of life.

Related: How to cure insomnia without medication

While there are sleep medicines, these can come with many side effects and are not right for many people who struggle with insomnia. So, what should you do to address insomnia and take steps towards wellness?

  1. Identify Your Type of Insomnia: The first step is to figure out what’s causing your insomnia. This is done by identifying the type of insomnia that you have from the list above. You may need to visit a sleep specialist for help.
  2. Take Steps to Remedy the Cause: Once you know why you’re struggling to sleep, it’s time to determine what you can do to make the situation better. Maybe you add in meditation, switch medications, stop drinking coffee, or have two hours without screens before bedtime.
  3. See a Sleep Specialist: If you’re unable to remedy your insomnia symptoms on your own, it’s time to seek medical advice. Visit a sleep specialist who can help you with behavioral therapy, sleep habits, and other pieces of a game-plan to regain your quality of sleep.

The sooner you act, the sooner you can enjoy the deep, restful sleep that you deserve. Maybe you’ll find a good sleeping routine that can help fix your unique sleep problems.

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