If you have a little trouble sleeping occasionally, you’re not alone. Almost everyone does. But most people don’t experience these kinds of problems on a consistent basis. If you frequently feel tired, have trouble falling asleep, or if you wake up too early and can’t fall asleep again, you might be experiencing some form of insomnia. But what kind? There are several different types of insomnia, each with distinct causes, symptoms and management techniques. If you’re suffering from insomnia it’s important to understand which type you have.
Primary Insomnia vs. Secondary Insomnia
Insomnia falls under two main classifications, primary and secondary. Primary insomnia is not caused by another specific health problem, while secondary insomnia is triggered by one or more pre-existing conditions. Medical conditions like arthritis, asthma and depression can cause insomnia. Certain types of medication can also interfere with healthy sleep patterns.
This is an extremely important distinction to make, because it directly influences the approach toward getting help. Primary insomnia help directly addresses the insomnia itself. In contrast, people with secondary insomnia are also treated for the underlying medical condition that’s causing the sleep disorder.
Acute and Chronic Insomnia
Insomnia can also be classified as acute or chronic. Acute insomnia is short-term, and may only last for a few nights over the course of several weeks. Stress, illness, or environmental disturbances such as noise and extreme heat or cold can cause acute insomnia. Schedule changes such as jet lag, or switching from a day shift to a night shit, may also cause temporary insomnia. Acute insomnia is fairly common, but by definition, it is a short-term condition.
Chronic insomnia, in contrast, can be a persistent, long-term issue. This condition is marked by difficulty sleeping for three or more nights per week, for at least one month. Chronic stress, anxiety or depression can all cause chronic insomnia. Medical conditions that cause discomfort or pain at night may also cause chronic insomnia.
Acute insomnia often does not require any specific technique, since its causes are temporary. Often, chronic insomnia and secondary insomnia go hand in hand, and require the diagnosis of underlying health problems. Medication or other sleep aids may be prescribed in the meantime.
Idiopathic Insomnia vs. Psychophysiologic Insomnia
Idiopathic insomnia is very similar to primary insomnia, but with some noted differences. Idiopathic insomnia usually refers to chronic, primary insomnia that is often a life-long problem. Usually, the condition begins during childhood. Idiopathic insomnia can be an extremely debilitating condition that causes mood disturbances, impaired daytime functioning and health problems. It is thought that this type of insomnia occurs because of a lack of important brain chemicals that help regulate the sleep cycle.
Psychophysiologic insomnia is the result of psychological conditioning, rather than a physiological cause. People with psychophysiologic insomnia have learned behavior that prevents them from sleeping properly. This means that they inadvertently make subconscious associations that prevent them from being able to fall asleep. The frustration and stress that comes with insomnia only serves to make the problem worse, and reinforce the psychological problem that prevents sleep.
In severe cases, even getting into bed and trying to sleep causes physical responses such as rapid heartbeat or palpitations, sweating, anxiety and muscle tension. People suffering from this disorder eventually come to associate their beds and bedrooms with unpleasant thoughts and tension, and often can only experience real, restful sleep when sleeping outside the home.
These types of insomnia are typically treated in a sleep clinic, where the person can be monitored and observed while attempting to sleep. In addition to medical observation, sleep clinics also conduct tests using an electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram, to measure heart and brain function during sleep. These tests help the doctors pinpoint what types of problems are preventing restful sleep.
Both idiopathic and psychophysiologic insomnia are types of chronic insomnia, but they typically require different forms of help. In the case of idiopathic insomnia, the problem is caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. Medication that restores the balance may be beneficial.
For people with psychophysiologic insomnia, the most effective type of help involves breaking the cycle of learned behavior that prevents sleep. This often includes learning good sleep habits, such as establishing a regular sleep schedule, and following a special nightly routine that helps facilitate sleep.
All types of insomnia can interfere with daily tasks and relationships. Over time, insomnia can take a real emotional, mental and physical toll. But by identifying what kind of insomnia you’re struggling with, and working with an experienced health professional, you can put an end to your insomnia and get the restful, recuperative sleep you need to stay happy and healthy. Whether your insomnia is primary or secondary, acute or chronic, idiopathic or psychophysiologic, there are effective management techniques available.
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