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Types of Insomnia

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 23 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Types Insomnia Sleep Problems Nocturnal

If you're persistently having problems sleeping, it's not hard to figure out that something is wrong. Working out what type of insomnia you have is the first step toward doing something about it. Your doctor can help with this, but for the most part you will need to monitor your symptoms at home, so it's important to understand what the different types of insomnia are.

Transient, Short Term and Chronic Insomnia

One of the first things your doctor will ask about your insomnia is how long it has lasted. Sometimes insomnia is transient, lasting for just a few days, in which case there is usually no need to seek treatment. Transient insomnia can, however, return periodically in some people, in which case you should note its occurrence in a diary or on a calendar. This will enable you to keep track of its development if it becomes a more serious problem.

Short term insomnia lasts for two to six weeks and is usually related to other short term problems such as anxiety about a life change (anything from losing a loved one to moving house). Although it often goes away by itself, short term insomnia can wear you out just when you most need to be strong, so it can still be worth seeking help. If it lasts for longer than four weeks, you should consider treatment to stop it turning into a long term problem.

Chronic insomnia is a much longer-lasting variant of the condition, and is often harder to treat. If your insomnia has lasted for more than two months, your doctor should treat it as a chronic condition.

Primary and Secondary Insomnia

Primary insomnia is the name given to insomnia that develops independently of any other medical condition. It is relatively rare and can be difficult to diagnose, especially in its transient and short term forms. It can also be masked by other conditions which develop as a result of the physical and psychological stress caused by sleep loss. This means that, if you have another health problem, it's useful to work out whether it developed before or after your insomnia.

The most common type of insomnia is secondary insomnia, which is caused by another condition. Generally speaking, secondary insomnia will not go away until the underlying condition has been resolved. This does not, however, mean that it can't be successfully treated. People with secondary insomnia often need ongoing treatment to keep their sleep problems at bay.

Insomnia and your Sleep Pattern

Insomnia can also be categorised by sleep pattern. This can help to clarify what type of treatment it is most likely to respond to.

Onset insomnia is one of the most common forms of sleep problem, and means that you have difficulty getting to sleep when you go to ed. It is often caused by pain, stress, or simply an inability to 'switch off' waking thoughts.

Nocturnal awakening insomnia is the appropriate label when you have no particular difficulty getting to sleep but keep waking up during the night. This is often related to chronic health problems and poor hydration or nutrition, or a problematic sleep environment.

Terminal insomnia isn't as drastic as it sounds - it just means that your insomnia affects you toward the end of the night. You may not even think of it as insomnia if you simply wake up early, but if this happens all the time and you simply can't get enough rest as a result, it's a real problem.

Knowing what type of insomnia you have can help you to anticipate and control your problems. It will also put you in a better position to discuss them with your doctor and work out the best approach to treatment.

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