Insomnia can be acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing).
Acute insomnia is common and often is brought on by situations such as stress at work, family pressures, or a traumatic event. Acute insomnia lasts for days or weeks. Chronic insomnia lasts for a month or longer.
Insomnia can be:
Acute: It’s short-term (days or few weeks) and commonly triggered by a stressful situation.
Chronic: It’s ongoing (a month, years) and often has become like a learned habit (that can be unlearned).
Primary: Insomnia is the only problem.
Secondary: Some other condition (a different type of sleep disorder, a different medical disorder) is the primary problem. Insomnia is related to it.
Most cases of chronic insomnia are secondary, which means they are the symptom or side effect of some other problem. Certain medical conditions, medicines, sleep disorders, and substances can cause secondary insomnia.
In contrast, primary insomnia isn’t due to medical problems, medicines, or other substances. It is its own distinct disorder. At first, it may have been caused by something, like a life change. Over time, it simply keeps going, like an unwanted habit, long after the stress or emotional upset went away.
Insomnia can cause daytime sleepiness and a lack of energy. It also can make you feel anxious, depressed, or irritable. You may have trouble focusing on tasks, paying attention, learning, and remembering. These problems can prevent you from doing your best at work or school.
Insomnia also can cause other serious problems. For example, ‘drowsy driving’ is like driving drunk. It causes about half of U. S. deaths due to driving accidents.
Who Is at Risk for Insomnia?
Insomnia is a common disorder. It affects women more often than men. The disorder can occur at any age. However, older adults are more likely to have insomnia than younger people.
People who might be at increased risk for insomnia include those who:
- Have a lot of stress.
- Are depressed or have other emotional distress, such as divorce or death of a spouse.
- Have lower incomes.
- Work at night or have frequent major shifts in their work hours.
- Travel long distances with time changes.
- Have certain medical conditions or sleep disorders that can disrupt sleep.
- Have an inactive lifestyle.
Young and middle-aged African Americans also might be at increased risk for insomnia. Research shows that, compared with Caucasian Americans, it takes African Americans longer to fall asleep. They also have lighter sleep, don’t sleep as well, and take more naps. Sleep-related breathing problems also are more common among African Americans.
Treating the underlying cause of secondary insomnia may resolve or improve the sleep problem, especially if you can correct the problem soon after it starts. For example, if caffeine is causing your insomnia, stopping or limiting your intake of the substance might make the insomnia go away.
Lifestyle changes, including better sleep habits, often help relieve acute insomnia. For chronic insomnia, your primary care provider may recommend Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) or medicine.