Insomnia 101: Ultimate Guide Of All The Types Of Insomnia

Do you feel restless and unable to sleep? Are you tossing and turning in your bed all the time when you really need to relax? Do you feel tired when you wake up because of insufficient sleep? Chances are you could suffer from one of the types of insomnia, which is a sleep disorder.

Insomnia is a common problem, with one-third of all adults suffering from this problem as reported by the American Psychiatric Association. Insomnia can be a disturbing problem, and only the people who are troubled by it can understand the toll it takes on their life. Read on for everything you need to know about the types of insomnia and what you can do about it.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder where a person finds it difficult to fall asleep, or in some cases, to remain asleep. A full-blown insomnia problem exists when a person is unable to sleep for at least three nights per week lasting over three months at a stretch. Further, insomnia interferes with a person’s personal, professional and daily life making it difficult for him or her to function adequately also confirms the existence of an insomnia problem.

man wearing green printed crew neck shirt while sleeping

Why Is Adequate Sleep Important?

Sleep is one of the primary restorative functions of life. In humans, sleep is characterized by 2 broad phases – non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREMS) and rapid eye movement sleep (REMS). These two phases alternate about four to five times during sleep, lasting about 90 minutes each. So why is sleep so essential to our daily functioning?

Take a look:

  • Sleep allows the brain to rejuvenate and form new circuits. The brain rewires during sleep, by sharpening its cognitive processes and restoring its mental pathways for smooth functioning.

  • Sleep is crucial to processing the day’s activities and forming memories for long-term storage.

  • Sleep maintains the physical status of our body. Adequate sleep is associated with maintenance of the balance of stomach hormones, which control the feelings of hunger and satiety. It balances our appetite and prevents over-eating.

  • Sleep also regulates the blood sugar hormone of the body, which is known as insulin. Impairments in sleep can alter this hormone balance in the body, leading to increased risk of cardiovascular or heart diseases and diabetes.

  • The immunity of the body depends on adequate sleep, and they link immune deficiencies to improper and inadequate sleep.

  • Sleep reduces the metabolic state of the body and is a time of low energy conservation and rest, which allows the body to recover from daily stresses. Sleep deprivation can lead to increased cortisol levels in the body and increased stress.

  • Sleep maintains our mood and emotional stability. Sleep deprivation can lead to emotional problems such as mood instability, anxiety, and depression.

midsection of depressed man

Sleep has a very significant role in the mental and physical well-being of the body. Acute or chronic sleep loss due to insomnia can be destructive at several different levels of body functioning. It is thus essential to curb the problem to allow the body to rest and heal with adequate sleep.


All the different types of Insomnia may be caused by a host of factors such as -

medical conditions

Medical problems may be the root cause of some types of insomnia in an individual. These medical conditions include:

  • Gastrointestinal problems such as gastroesophageal reflux

  • Endocrinal disorders like hyperthyroidism

  • Painful conditions such as arthritis or back pain

  • Breathing disorders such as dysnea, apnea, or snoring

  • Prostrate problems

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Restless leg syndrome

Mental or Psychological Conditions

Certain psychologic conditions can also lead to several types of insomnia as a symptom of the overall problem. These psychiatric conditions include:

  • Mild, moderate or severe depression or depressive disorders

  • Anxiety disorders


Certain medications can lead to some types of insomnia. These include medicines prescribed for:

  • Hypertension

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Nasal allergies, asthma, and the common cold

  • Birth control

  • Depression

  • Thyroid disorders

Risk Factors of Insomnia

There may also be certain risk factors for insomnia that make a person more prone to develop it. These factors do not cause insomnia but make an individual likely to develop it. These risk factors include:


Women are more likely to experience insomnia. It may also occur more often as the menses set in or menopause develops.


Older adults are more prone to developing insomnia. One reason for this may be the decline in sleep control systems with advancing age.

nature of work

Individuals who work in rotating shifts may experience more insomnia because of the disruption of regular sleep cycles induced by irregular sleep timings. People who travel in different time zones such as pilots may also be prone to insomnia.

stress and tension

man using smartphone while sitting at the table

People experiencing stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, job-related stress or emotional trauma are more likely to develop insomnia.

low activity levels

Individuals with a less active lifestyle and low activity may have more sleeplessness than others with an active and energetic lifestyle.


Insomnia can take a heavy toll on a person’s life. Ideally, a person requires seven to nine hours of fitful sleep every night, as per the National Sleep Foundation. That amount varies with each individual, but a feeling of restfulness is important after a person wakes up from a prolonged sleep, which does not happen for insomniacs. The symptoms can be varied and include the following:

Difficulty Falling Asleep

Insomniacs find it difficult to fall asleep at night, despite being tired or sleepy. This makes a person restless and unable to unwind leading to tiredness on awakening.

Difficulty Sustaining Sleep

A person with insomnia may find it difficult to consistently remain asleep. As a result, he or she wakes up frequently during the night. This disturbed sleep pattern leads to fatigue and restlessness during the daytime as well.

adult dark depressed face

Irritability and Anxiety

Lack of proper sleep over a prolonged period makes a person irritable, depressed and anxious. This is because the body and mind do not get the rest and relaxation needed to function in an efficient way. This causes emotional instability and resultant emotional problems.

Daytime Fatigue

Sleep is vital for the mind and entire body to reboot its system and is therapeutic in many ways. Insomnia robs the physical and mental system of much-needed rest, and when the affected person awakes, he or she is not well rested. This leads to tiredness and fatigue during the daytime and affects daily life functions.

Cognitive Impairment

A lack of sleep can result in impairment in mental functions such as cognition. This implies deterioration in basic mental tasks such as memory, concentration, and focus. A person may feel less alert and unable to concentrate on daily tasks requiring mental focus.

Increased Reaction Time and Chances Of Mistakes

Another cognitive impairment is the chances of making more mistakes or errors while performing day-to-day tasks. The speed and accuracy of work may also be negatively affected, leading to more mistakes in routine tasks. Some people may experience an increased reaction time, which can be dangerous while driving.

stress and worry

As the effects of sleep deprivation pile up, a person may begin to feel stressed or worried about the toll it is taking on his or her life. This persistent stress and anxiety may further precipitate sleep loss, making it a vicious cycle of stress and all types of insomnia.

Impaired Immunity Sleep Deprivation

Can lead to increased risk of infections and a lowering of the body’s immunity.

Types of Insomnia

Insomnia may be of different types, depending on its causes, onset, duration or severity. Read on for more information:

Acute Vs. Chronic Insomnia

Insomnia may be acute or chronic, depending on the time it lasts for:

Acute Insomnia

This lasts for days or weeks at a time and resolves after that. It usually occurs due to a precipitating factor, such as stress or sudden trauma. It is short-term and gradually improves. It does not run for over four months and occurs in individuals who have not experienced insomnia previously.

Acute Insomnia

Chronic insomnia is a sleep disorder lasting over a longer duration and lasts for a minimum period of three months.

Recurrent, Episodic, or Persistent Insomnia

Insomnia may also be described as follows depending on its frequency of occurrence:

Acute Insomnia

This is a type of insomnia that recurs, and an individual is affected by two or more episodes in a span of a single year.

Episodic Insomnia

This type of insomnia usually lasts for a duration of one to three months.

Persistent Insomnia

This is a type which lasts over an extended period of three months or more.

Onset Or Maintenance Insomnia

These types of insomnia are classified on the basis of the time that sleep loss occurs.

Onset Insomnia

Here, a person has difficulty falling asleep. He or she may remain restless and unable to induce sleep at night.

Maintenance Insomnia

In this type, a person falls asleep but is unable to sustain or maintain sleep. As a result, he or she wakes up too early and feels restless and tires because of insufficient sleep.

adult attractive bed


Insomnia is diagnosed by several different ways such as:

Sleep Log

A sleep log is a sleep diary to record daily sleep times, duration and onset of sleep as well as periods of drowsiness or sleepiness. This helps to record the pattern of sleep loss and understand possible reasons for insomnia.

person getting his blood checked

Sleep Inventory

This is a questionnaire recorded by the physician detailing a person’s medical history, sleep schedules, lifestyle and other relevant facts to help diagnose a sleep disorder.

Blood Sampling

The sleep physician may order blood samples which are required to detect any underlying causes of insomnia such as thyroid disorders.

Sleep Study Or Polysomnography

A sleep study is a sleep laboratory-based observational test, which allows sleep physicians to monitor sleep cycles and periods of wakefulness. It also checks body movements and oxygen levels to pinpoint causes and times of sleep disruption.


Both medical and psychological approaches can treat different types of insomnia. Treatment may also require lifestyle changes to induce a way of living that is more conducive to sustained sleep.

Sleep Hygiene Or Lifestyle Management

One of the primary methods of treating insomnia is through lifestyle changes. This can be a very effective intervention and does not require any medication. Read on to know more about lifestyle changes called sleep hygiene ways that can significantly improve sleep:

woman covering face with book on bed
  • Sleep in a room that has low light, is noise-free and has a comfortable temperature.

  • Eat adequately before sleeping. Hunger or overeating can obstruct good sleep.

  • Sleep at a pre-determined time every day. This sets the body’s biological clock, allowing sleep to set in at fixed times daily.

  • If you do not feel drowsy within the first 10 to 15 minutes of entering the bed, leave the bed and return only when tired.

  • Sleep at a time when you are tired and need to rest.

  • Do not utilize sleeping space for other recreational activities such as reading or reclining to watch television

  • Avoid nicotine, or alcohol and caffeinated drinks before bedtime.

  • Avoid taking naps during the daytime.

  • Avoid excessive or heavy exercising before bedtime.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

One of the primary methods of treating insomnia is through lifestyle changes. This can be a very effective intervention and does not require any medication. Read on to know more about lifestyle changes called sleep hygiene ways that can significantly improve sleep:

Stimulus Control Therapy

This approach suggests that a person uses the bed only to sleep or for sexual activity. Other activities such as reading or relaxing other than at bedtime should be taken elsewhere. This creates a positive association of the bed with sleep and helps induce a favorable sleep response. If a person is unable to fall asleep, he or she must leave the bed and engage in other activities and then return only when ready to sleep. If again sleep loss persists, the person must leave the bed and again repeat the process until sleep occurs.

Sleep Restriction

This method involves sleeping only when tired at night. It involves restriction of excessive sleep, in the form of avoidance of daytime naps or relaxing in bed before bedtime. This allows an individual to be able to sleep at night as he or she is truly tired by then, due to the imposed sleep restriction throughout the day.

woman flexing her legs

Relaxation Techniques

This therapy utilizes relaxation of the body to decrease the anxiousness created at the time of sleep time due to the apprehension of being unable to fall asleep. Several ways of relaxation can be mastered, such as biofeedback, guided imagery, distraction, muscle relaxation, and deep breathing exercises promote relief of tension. Biofeedback can help decrease heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure to allow better sleep.

Passive Awakening

This therapy is also called paradoxical intention and involves trying to stay awake in bed, rather than trying to fall asleep. This paradoxical approach helps to decrease the stress and anxiety of falling asleep.

Fixing A ‘Worry Time’

Usually, bedtime becomes a focus time for worries and tensions of the whole day as they are replayed in the mind. This cognitive behavioral approach suggests the fixing of a ‘worry time’ in the afternoon or evening, apart from bedtime. This helps a person sleep better as he has already gone over the worrying thoughts at a different time and can relax in bed and fall asleep.

Pharmacological Management

This approach involves the use of drugs or medicines to manage insomnia. The drugs commonly used include the following classes:

  • Benzodiazepine and non-benzodiazepine receptor agonists

  • Anti-depressant drugs

  • Anti-epilepsy medications

  • Anti-psychotic agents

Types of Insomnia - Conclusion

Insomnia can be a heavy burden for persons suffering from acute or chronic sleep loss. Timely identification of the underlying causes can help relieve the symptoms of insomnia and its types. Stress, emotional problems, trauma, and medical problems may all contribute to poor sleep. Medical conditions associated with all types of insomnia should be treated concurrently to alleviate the problem. Lifestyle approaches and cognitive behavioral therapy can significantly reduce the problem of insomnia. In severe cases, pharmaceutical treatments also yield good results. Understand and manage your problem and do not let different types of insomnia rob you of your precious sleep.