12 Types of Insomnia: What You Should Know About Each One

Insomnia can present itself in multiple ways.

Upset woman lying in bed in sleepless.
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You don't have to lie awake for hours past your bedtime to have insomnia. Having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and even waking up too early are all signs of a sleep disorder.

To help you determine what kind you might have, Health has compiled a list including 12 classifications of insomnia.

01 of 09

General Insomnia

General insomnia is a classification of sleep disorders in which a person has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, or a combination of any of those circumstances.

These disorders are either short-term or chronic and fall into the categories of primary and secondary. Primary insomnia exists independently of any of other condition. Secondary, or comorbid, insomnia occurs alongside another condition. For example, anxiety may cause you to lose sleep, but insomnia can also cause anxiety, so they are dually problematic, per the Sleep Foundation.

About one-third of America's general population deals with insomnia, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM); it is also the most common sleep issue.

Other factors that can contribute to insomnia are divorce, separation, and losing a loved one, as well as lower socioeconomic status. Basically, there is a significant correlation between extensive angst and the development of insomnia.

02 of 09

Adjustment Insomnia

This primary insomnia, also called acute insomnia, is a type of short-term insomnia. It generally lasts up to a few weeks, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), but it can last up to 3 months.

Adjustment insomnia disturbs your sleep and usually stems from a specific source of stress. This sleep problem resolves itself when the source of stress is gone or when you've adapted to the stress. Of note, this stress does not have to come from a negative experience. Something positive can also make you too excited to sleep well, such as pregnancy or new job.

That being said, adjustment insomnia can turn into chronic insomnia. If you find yourself losing sleep for longer than three months, you should seek out a sleep specialist.

03 of 09

Behavioral Insomnia of Childhood

As children grow, their sleep behavior changes drastically. Naps are discontinued, nocturnal sleep is extended, and the standard bedtime is pushed further and further back.

These changes are known as behavioral insomnia of childhood (BIC) and can cause sleep disruption in approximately 30% of children, according to the American Thoracic Society.

There are three subtypes of this insomnia:

  • Sleep onset association type concerns difficulty falling asleep or going back to sleep after awakening without certain conditions (e.g., having a parent in the room or needing their favorite blanket in order to fall asleep).
  • Limit-setting type occurs when a child refuses to go to sleep and attempts to delay bedtime by asking for a drink or to go to the bathroom.
  • Mixed type is when behaviors from the other subtypes are combined in some way.

However, BIC is manageable with specified bedtimes and relaxing sleep routines.

04 of 09

Psychophysiological Insomnia

Psychophysiological insomnia is associated with excessive anxiety or worry specifically focused on not being able to sleep. Someone with this type of insomnia may find it more helpful to sleep somewhere other than their own beds, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With this type of insomnia, the very act of worrying about sleep makes sleep very difficult to achieve. People with this sleep disorder become tense and anxious as bedtime approaches and develop a negative association with sleep, making this type of insomnia tricky to navigate.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is the best way to treat psychophysiological insomnia, according to authors of an October 2017 Scientific Reports article.

05 of 09

Idiopathic Insomnia

Idiopathic insomnia is a primary form of chronic insomnia that is not identified by visible signs of its cause, according to the American Sleep Association (ASA).

It may result from an imbalance in your body, such as an overactive awakening system or an underactive sleep system, but the true cause of this disorder is unknown. It is not a result of any of the following: other sleep disorders, medical problems, psychiatric disorders, stressful events, medication use, or other behaviors.

Idiopathic insomnia often occurs nightly and may include short sleeping times, numerous unexplained awakenings, and difficulty falling asleep even when you feel tired. Idiopathic is one of the rarest types of insomnia, affecting just under 1% of the population, per the ASA.

06 of 09

Paradoxical Insomnia

Paradoxical insomnia is a complaint of severe insomnia. This primary insomnia occurs without objective evidence of any sleep disturbance, per a May 2021 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. Daytime effects vary in severity, but they tend to be far less severe than one would expect given the expressed sleep complaints.

People with this disorder often report little or no sleep for one or more nights. They also describe having an intense awareness of the external environment or internal processes consistent with being awake. This awareness suggests a state of hyperarousal. A key feature is an overestimation of the time it takes them to fall asleep.

07 of 09

Insomnia Due to a Medical Condition

This secondary insomnia is caused by a medical or neurological disorder, where the insomnia is a symptom of the disorder.

Medical conditions that can be linked to insomnia may include chronic pain, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, thyroid issues, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, per the Office on Women's Health (OWH).

The course and severity of insomnia are directly linked to that of the medical condition, but the insomnia is a separate focus of treatment. This insomnia is a disorder only if it is severe enough to require separate treatment.

If you feel that insomnia might be the result of another health issue, you'll want to talk to a healthcare provider to rule out this connection.

08 of 09

Insomnia Due to a Drug or Substance

This type of secondary insomnia occurs when your sleep is disrupted by the use of a substance such as alcohol, caffeine, food, or medication.

With food and other substances, the sleep problems occur because what you've consumed or used stays in your body for several hours—especially with high consumption. Additionally, certain medications used to treat conditions like blood pressure, diabetes, or depression can lead to problems with both sleepiness and insomnia, per a 2013 Sleep Science study.

It's also important to note that insomnia can also occur when you stop intaking whatever is causing the insomnia. Depending on the substance or medication and severity of the insomnia, it would be best to consult a healthcare provider to determine the safest way to cut back or stop using the substance.

09 of 09

Unspecified Insomnia

Unspecified insomnia is when a cause has yet to be specifically proven, so further testing is required to discover the exact cause. "Unspecified" is used as a temporary classification while further evaluation and testing are completed. There are two subtypes of unspecified insomnia:

  • Unspecified insomnia that is considered nonorganic suggests that known substances and other physical causes of the insomnia have been ruled out. This means that the cause of insomnia is most likely due to an underlying mental health disorder, psychological factor, or sleep disruptive behaviors that is yet to be determined.
  • Unspecified insomnia that is considered organic is caused by a medical disorder, physical condition, or substance exposure, but the specific cause remains unclear.

Overall, it's important that you get the sleep that you need so that you can remain as healthy as possible. If you find that you may be having sleep issues, see your healthcare provider for possible treatment options.

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