All about different types of insomnia – and what can be done about them.
Insomnia is a common problem in the US and around the world. You, or a loved one, may have trouble sleeping, but may not have the same type of insomnia. You may have trouble falling asleep, whereas your partner may fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow, but then awake in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. Just as many things in life, insomnia comes in different forms, or types. The different types of insomnia are:
Primary Insomnia: Sleep problems not associated with other health conditions or problems. Characterized by poor sleep habits: consuming stimulants too close to bedtime, poor diet and exercise, failure to set up a sleep schedule.
Secondary Insomnia: Sleep problems associated with pain, use of substances (alcohol, drugs, etc.), health conditions (depression, cancer, arthritis, heartburn, asthma, obesity, etc).
Acute Insomnia: Lasts one or two days at a time. Very common in the population. May be caused by lifestyle habits, illness, medication, stress, or poor sleep hygiene. Those who drink caffeine in the evening may experience acute insomnia. Practicing better sleep habits or improving your stress management skills may help with acute insomnia.
Chronic insomnia: longer-term insomnia that occurs three nights a week for more than 30 days. It is often caused by anxiety, grief, depression or chronic stress. Chronic insomnia is usually classed as a secondary insomnia. Chronic insomnia cannot be treated without addressing the underlying condition.
Jet lag (desynchronosis), is often experienced by air travelers who in a short period of time cross several time zones, or, to be more accurate, several of Earth’s meridians. Meridians mark travelers’ geographic position in relation to the Earth’s poles, and thus define time zones. In jet lag, travelers’ internal clocks get out of sync with the environment. It may affect their ability to maintain routine sleep-wake patterns in their new surroundings, because different patterns are dictated by external stimuli: sunshine at unaccustomed hours, or local timetables. Newly arriving passengers may feel apathetic one moment, and stimulated the next. As they try to adjust their internal clock to their new surroundings, they may experience various symptoms.
Jet lag differs from “regular” insomnia in that it is neither Primary nor Secondary Insomnia, but a different type altogether. Acclimating to a different time zone’s dictates involves circadian rhythms.
Sufferers of jet lag may feel “tired-wired,” or that they are soaring but may crash at any moment. They may experience daytime fatigue, headaches, irritability or stomachaches. Some people experience such a low degree of disruption that they will not show any symptoms and will not be bothered by jet lag. The symptoms may last for a week or more, but after a day or two, the body adjusts, and the new sleep patterns feel more normal again.
Some symptoms people associate with jet lag actually arise from the plane’s environment: dry air that irritates noses and sinuses, noise, vibrations, pressurization and the restriction of mobility.
Delayed Sleep-Phase Syndrome (DSPS) may be misdiagnosed as insomnia, but in reality, they are quite different. DSPS is a circadian rhythms sleep disorder, a chronic disorder of the timing of sleep, core body temperature, hormonal, peak period of alertness and other daily rhythms. This disorder is characterized by late onset of sleep (delayed sometimes hours after midnight), and an inability to wake up in the morning. People with DSPS usually sleep well, once they get to sleep, and their need for sleep is entirely normal. But because they need to finish out their sleep through the morning hours, they find it difficult to wake up in time for work or school. Such people may find that the afternoon shift, from 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM, if available, suits them best.