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What Are the Different Types of Insomnia?

Sleeping problems can take many forms, as there are actually many different types of insomnia, which can be caused by a huge variety of different factors and can range in length from a few days to chronic insomnia that can last for many years without proper treatment. In order to effectively treat these sleeping problems, it therefore becomes necessary to first understand and diagnose which type of insomnia you are suffering from.

When it comes to breaking down the different categories of insomnia, most doctors first separate the disorder into three broad, general categories: acute, transient, and chronic insomnia. Generally speaking, these basic categories are roughly based on the amount of time the sleeping problems persist and also at least partly on the underlying causes as well.

Transient insomnia is the lowest category in terms of time, as this type of insomnia is usually directly related to a specific event or worry that the individual may have, which typically only lasts for a few days or a week or two at most. It can be caused by a wide variety of different factors, and could be something as simple as jet lag after long flights or short term worries about an upcoming meeting, job interview, test, etc.

Acute insomnia refers to sleeping problems which persist for several weeks at a time. Again, it can be related to sudden stresses in life or a longer term illness or worries. It is generally considered to be much more damaging to a person's life, as several weeks of poor quality sleep can lead to sleep deprivation, which in turn can cause other health problems. 

If not properly treated, acute insomnia can quickly turn into chronic insomnia, which is basically long term insomnia that can last for months or even years on end.

Breaking Down the Types of Insomnia Further

These three categories of insomnia are quite general and broad ranging, without dealing much with the underlying cause of the sleeping problems. These underlying causes are incredibly important in properly diagnosing and treating these issues.


That's why the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has further broken this disorder down into eleven different categories, based mostly on what is causing the person to have difficulties sleeping.

  • General Insomnia

types of insomniaThe first category is just general insomnia which refers to a low quality of sleep caused by an inability to fall asleep or remain asleep throughout the night. 

The most effective treatment for this is cognitive behavioral therapy when the sleeping problems are long lasting, or herbal remedies or sleeping medications for short term problems. This category could include all three types of insomnia, depending on how long the problems persist.

  • Adjustment Insomnia
This category normally refers to acute insomnia and is caused by sudden stress or excitement in a person's life that they keep dwelling on, resulting in difficulties sleeping. Usually once the stressful situation is over, the person's sleeping patterns return to normal after they are able to let go of the stress or excitement.

  • Childhood Behavioral Insomnia
This is insomnia in children that is caused when children are not given a specific bedtime that is strictly enforced. Even more so than with adults, children need a very rigid sleep schedule that they stick to, or else they may start lying awake for hours due to not having a regularly established sleep schedule.

  • Substance Related Insomnia
This category refers to sleeping problems caused by drugs, alcohol, medicine or other substances including food. Even substances that we generally consider mostly harmless, such as caffeine or alcohol can wreak havoc on a person's sleeping patterns and severely degrade the quality of their sleep. 

These problems normally go away as soon as the person realizes what substance is preventing them from sleeping and begins to abstain from taking whatever it is for at least a few hours before bedtime.

  • Idiopathic Insomnia
types of insomniaThe most severe type of chronic insomnia, idiopathic insomnia is a lifelong sleeping disorder that is usually related to some other underlying condition, although often the actual cause is difficult or nearly impossible to determine. 

The only way to try to effectively treat idiopathic insomnia is to try to establish healthy sleeping patterns and try to minimize the effect of any other issues that you feel could be preventing you from sleeping properly. 

  • Unspecified Non-Organic Insomnia
Sometimes only used temporarily, this term refers to sleeping problems that have no apparent root in any other condition, leading to the conclusion that it is a mental or psychological problem that is causing the sleeping issues. Usually this category is only applied for a period of time, until the actual mental disorder has been identified. 

  • Unspecified Organic Insomnia
Similar to the non-organic insomnia, this category refers to insomnia where the underlying cause has yet to be determined. However, in this case, this category is applied when the doctors believe it is a physical condition or other health problem that is leading to the sleeping difficulties. Menopausal insomnia also falls under this category, as well as pregnancy insomnia.

In some cases, even allergies (food or seasonal) can also cause insomnia. If you believe you are suffering from insomnia from allergies, try looking up whether the symptoms you are experiencing match the ones described on Reed's website.

  • types of insomniaInsomnia Caused by a Medical Condition
Certain medical conditions, such as those resulting in chronic pain or again a mental health disorder. However, in this case it is usually necessary to simultaneously but separately treat the underlying mental illness and the sleeping problems themselves, often through the use of sleeping medications in this case. 

  • Psychophysiological Insomnia
 This type of insomnia is usually caused by excessive worrying and anxiety. These problems are self-sustaining and can result in a vicious circle, as the longer it takes a person to fall asleep, the more they begin to worry and focus on their inability to sleep, thus increasing anxiety and making it that much more difficult to sleep.

  • Paradoxical Insomnia
Probably the most difficult type of insomnia to understand, and many would suggest it is not really insomnia at all. This term refers to the situation where a person begins to feel that they have sleeping problems and start focusing on them, when in fact they are actually getting the sleep they need. 

Most people with this condition tend to overestimate the time it takes them to fall asleep and also how many hours they actually slept, while also reporting an intense awareness of their surroundings during the night that suggest a heightened state of mind during sleep.

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