5 Types of Insomnia: How Do I Know What Type of Insomnia I Have?
If you feel like you aren’t getting high-quality sleep, learning more about your insomnia type may help you get better rest.
Researchers and sleep experts don’t all agree on the types of insomnia — they categorize the condition in slightly different ways.1 In general, however, insomnia is divided into groups based on how long it lasts and when symptoms occur throughout the night.2 Our expert sleep therapists have no wait and can talk as soon as today. We take insurance in several states and have affordable self-pay options! You can learn about by clicking to our home page.
Types of Insomnia: Short-Term and Long-Term
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recognizes two key forms of insomnia: insomnia that disappears soon after it begins, and insomnia that lingers for long periods of time.1
Acute insomnia, also called transient insomnia, is short term. Up to one out of five adults experiences an episode of acute insomnia in any given year.3
In many cases, it’s obvious what causes acute insomnia. Things that could disrupt your sleep in the short term include:2
- Traveling, especially across time zones
- Feeling extra stressed at school, work, or home
- Experiencing a major life change such as changing careers, moving to a new place, beginning a new relationship, or going through a breakup
- Starting a new medication
Acute insomnia often goes away on its own, especially if you address the underlying cause.2 For example, you may start sleeping better once you settle into a new job or work out problems that are causing stress.
Acute insomnia can also be treated with sleep aids. These medications may be a good short-term solution when you need a little extra help getting good sleep.4
Chronic insomnia lasts long term. You may have this condition if you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep for at least three months.1
Chronic insomnia is often caused by mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Other ongoing health issues like heartburn or pain may also cause long-term sleeping problems. Treating these conditions may help you get higher-quality rest.5,6
Sleep medication is often not a good solution for chronic insomnia. These drugs can cause unwanted side effects, lead to dependency (making you feel like you can’t sleep without them), and typically only work for short periods.4,7
Sleep experts recommend treating sleeping difficulties with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). This treatment doesn’t come with any side effects and works better than sleep medication. Going through CBT-I helps you learn more about sleep, work through unhelpful attitudes or behaviors surrounding sleep, and build new skills that help you relax more effectively.6
Types of Insomnia: When Does It Occur?
Sleep experts also think about insomnia in different ways based on symptom patterns. There are three main times when insomnia occurs: when you’re first trying to get to sleep, throughout the night, or early in the morning.2,8
Sleep Onset Insomnia
You may have sleep onset insomnia if you have a hard time falling asleep when you first lie down.
Sleep onset insomnia is strongly linked to anxiety.9 If this is the case for you, CBT-I may help keep you from lying awake at night worrying.
Sleep disorders like delayed sleep phase syndrome or health conditions like heart failure can also lead to sleep onset insomnia.10 Make sure to get regular physical exams and tell your doctor about any health issues you notice.
Sleep Maintenance Insomnia
Sleep maintenance insomnia occurs when you have a hard time staying asleep throughout the night. You may wake up often or for long periods, or feel like you were awake for much of the night.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common cause of sleep maintenance insomnia.2 During OSA, your airways become closed off or your brain doesn’t properly communicate with your breathing muscles, leading to breathing problems during sleep.11 Ask for a sleep study to diagnose OSA if you have other sleep apnea symptoms such as loud snoring, making gasping or choking sounds during sleep, a dry mouth, or tiredness.12
Nighttime awakenings may also occur due to bright lights or loud noises.13 Try to block light from your windows and electronics while you sleep and consider wearing soft earplugs.
Sleep maintenance insomnia is more likely to be linked to alcohol than the other insomnia types.9 If you have this type of insomnia, reducing or quitting drinking may help you sleep more soundly throughout the night.
You may be suffering from this form of insomnia if you wake up too early. You may awaken hours before your alarm goes off and feel unable to fall back asleep.
People with depression are more likely to have terminal insomnia. Antidepressants and therapy, including CBT-I, may help treat depression symptoms while improving sleep.14
Some people who experience early morning awakenings may also be dealing with other health conditions or taking medications that disrupt sleep. Addressing these underlying causes may be a part of insomnia treatment.5
Treating the Different Types of Insomnia
CBT-I is the main insomnia treatment option recommended by experts. It helps identify and resolve the underlying issues causing all types of insomnia.6
You can access CBT-I by looking for psychologists, therapists, or other mental health providers who specialize in this treatment. You can also go through CBT-I treatments virtually with Dawn Health.
To learn more about what type of insomnia you have and how CBT-I can help, fill out our quick questionnaire.
Sateia M. J. (2014). International classification of sleep disorders-third edition: highlights and modifications. Chest, 146(5), 1387–1394. https://doi.org/10.1378/chest.14-0970
Sutton E. L. (2014). Insomnia. The Medical Clinics of North America, 98(3), 565–581. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mcna.2014.01.008
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2008). Insomnia. https://aasm.org/resources/factsheets/insomnia.pdf (https://aasm.org/resources/factsheets/insomnia.pdf)
Lie, J. D., Tu, K. N., Shen, D. D., & Wong, B. M. (2015). Pharmacological treatment of insomnia. P & T: A peer-reviewed journal for formulary management, 40(11), 759–771.
MedlinePlus. (2018, December 4). Insomnia. https://medlineplus.gov/insomnia.html (https://medlineplus.gov/insomnia.html)
Kaur, H., Spurling, B. C., & Bollu, P. C. (2022, July 12). Chronic insomnia. In StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526136/ (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526136/)
Solomon, D. H., Ruppert, K., Habel, L. A., Finkelstein, J. S., Lian, P., Joffe, H., & Kravitz, H. M. (2021). Prescription medications for sleep disturbances among midlife women during 2 years of follow-up: a SWAN retrospective cohort study. BMJ Open, 11(5), e045074. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045074
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, June). Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 changes on the national survey on drug use and health. Table 3.36, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Insomnia Disorder Comparison. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t36/ (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t36/)
Bjorøy, I., Jørgensen, V. A., Pallesen, S., & Bjorvatn, B. (2020). The Prevalence of insomnia subtypes in relation to demographic characteristics, anxiety, depression, alcohol consumption and use of hypnotics. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 527. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00527
Park, H. S., Joo, E. Y., & Hong, S. B. (2009). Sleep onset insomnia. Journal of the Korean Sleep Research Society, 6(2), 74–85.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, March 24). Sleep apnea: What is sleep apnea? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022, March 24). Sleep apnea: Symptoms. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea/symptoms (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-apnea/symptoms)
Irish, L. A., Kline, C. E., Gunn, H. E., Buysse, D. J., & Hall, M. H. (2015). The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 22, 23–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2014.10.001
Murphy, M. J., & Peterson, M. J. (2015). Sleep Disturbances in Depression. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 10(1), 17–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2014.11.009
Therapist specializing in applying CBT principles for the treatment of insomnia.