Help! I Can’t Sleep: The Different Types of Insomnia

by Dr. Kenny Pang

Insomnia can be classified according to duration and timing. Here’s what the doctor might ask about your sleep problems to get to the root of it.

Insomnia is a very common sleep complaint that I attend to in my practice. 

It is a perception that one’s sleep quality is inadequate or non-restorative, despite having adequate opportunity or time for sleep. 

It is important to recognise that insomnia is a symptom, not a disease; it is associated to, and occurs with a large variety of medical, psychiatric, and sleep disorders. Seeking medical help is thus important to get to the root of the issue. 

Insomnia encompasses several sleep problems that include difficulty falling asleep; sleeping too lightly; being easily roused from sleep, with multiple spontaneous awakenings; and early morning awakenings, with the inability to fall back to sleep.  

There are different types of insomnia. Insomnia can be classified according to duration:

  • Transient insomnia lasts up to a week, and is sometimes referred to as an adjustment sleep disorder. This is frequently due to an acute stressful event, such as a new job, an upcoming deadline, and/or an important examination. 
  • Short-term insomnia may last for one to six months and is usually associated with a more persistent stressful situation, such as a death or illness of a loved one.
  • Chronic insomnia is any form of insomnia that lasts more than six months and can be associated with a wide variety of disorders.

Insomnia can also be classified based on the timing of the night it occurs:

  • Initiating Insomnia – the person has difficulty falling asleep or takes a long time to fall asleep
  • Maintenance Insomnia – the person is able to fall asleep but wakes frequently during the night
  • Terminal Insomnia – the person wakes very early in the morning and is unable to continue sleeping afterwards

The timing of insomnia is key in determining its causes. That is why it is essential that you define what you mean by insomnia when talking to the doctor.

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