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Discover the Different Types of Insomnia

May 14, 2020

Insomnia affects as high as 50% to 60% of the worldwide population and is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and poor quality sleep, reports the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care.

There are many different types of insomnia—each of which can be effectively treated after receiving a proper diagnosis from a doctor. Here’s a breakdown of the symptoms and causes for all types of insomnia, and what to do next if you think you may be suffering from insomnia and poor sleep quality.

Acute Insomnia

Acute insomnia is the most common type of insomnia, affecting an estimated 25% of the US population according to the Penn State’s Perelman School of Medicine. Acute insomnia is temporary and characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. This usually happens at least three nights per week for at least two consecutive weeks, but no longer than three months.

Acute insomnia is often caused by life events such as stress, grief, travel, and changes to your work schedule. Illness, the use of certain medications, and sleeping in a new bed are other factors that may trigger acute insomnia. Acute insomnia tends to resolve itself, with 75% of individuals being able to resume a normal, healthy sleep schedule.

Chronic Insomnia

Chronic insomnia affects an estimated 33% of the adult population. This long-lasting type of insomnia is defined by problems falling asleep or staying asleep on at least three days per week for at least three consecutive months. Chronic insomnia can be caused by a wide range of factors, though the most common chronic insomnia causes are increasing age and diabetes.

When left untreated, chronic insomnia increases the risk for other chronic health problems, including depression, heart attack, and stroke. The American College of Cardiology suggests that the prevalence of chronic insomnia is as high as 44% among patients with cardiac disease. Treatments for chronic insomnia may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, sleep medications, or a combination of both.

Comorbid Insomnia

Comorbid insomnia occurs with another health condition, which may even be the trigger for the insomnia. For instance, comorbid insomnia may affect people who are unable to sleep due to chronic back pain, or those with untreated mental health disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, and nightmares.

In comorbid insomnia, insomnia itself is usually a symptom of the co-occurring health condition. As a result, this type of insomnia can often be resolved by addressing and treating the comorbid condition. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can be used to address underlying sleep apnea, while a combination of psychotherapy and medications may be used to treat underlying mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.

Onset Insomnia

Onset insomnia is defined by difficulty initiating sleep. This type of insomnia may be acute or chronic, and is usually caused by stress, anxiety, depression, and use of stimulants, such as caffeine or certain prescription medications.

Like other types of insomnia, people with onset insomnia often feel groggy in the morning, suffer from impaired cognitive function, and struggle to perform their usual daytime activities. Other symptoms of onset insomnia include loss of sexual libido, loss of coordination, and mood swings. Treatments for onset insomnia may include sleep hygiene education, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and medications.

Maintenance Insomnia

Maintenance insomnia is the opposite of onset insomnia. Maintenance insomnia symptoms include:

  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Difficulty falling back asleep within 30 minutes of waking up in the night
  • Waking up 30 minutes prior to your desired wake time

Maintenance insomnia may be caused by physical problems, such as sleep apnea, asthma, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or psychological problems, such as stress and anxiety. Lack of exercise and use of caffeine and stimulants may also contribute to maintenance insomnia.

This type of insomnia can often be resolved by exercising regularly, avoiding caffeinated beverages after the morning hours, and being treated for anxiety and physical health problems contributing to sleeplessness.


Lack of sleep can interfere with your overall livelihood by making you feel groggy, irritable, and unproductive at home, school, or work. When left untreated, insomnia also increases your risk for many serious, chronic health problems that require extensive, long-term treatment.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from one of these types of insomnia as a result of sleep apnea, an at-home sleep test can be an easy, convenient way to find out. Lunella allows consumers to take a sleep apnea test from the comfort of their own home and receive a proper data-driven diagnosis from a board-certified sleep physician and a prescription for treatment, if necessary.

This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.

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