How to Know if You Suffer from Insomnia

By Sam Hacker – July 1, 2022

It’s 2 a.m., your brain is wide awake and all you can hear is the ticking of the clock. 

According to John Hopkins Medicine, 1 in 3 adults will experience short bursts of insomnia known as acute insomnia, while 1 in 10 will experience chronic insomnia, wherein they have difficulty sleeping at least three nights each week for more than a month.

While there can be many reasons for why you are experiencing insomnia (ranging from stress in daily life to adverse medications to a symptom of another disease), there are ways to know if you are truly suffering from chronic insomnia or if you just need to put down the phone a little earlier in the evening.

Acute Insomnia

The Mayo Clinic defines acute insomnia as a short-term condition that often has a specific cause, such as a big test, an important business presentation or a stressful family situation.

Dr. Charles Sweet, a psychiatrist at the Specialty Clinic in Austin, says stress can play a huge role in insomnia.

“If there are increased stress levels, this can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle and cause insomnia,” Sweet says. “Sleep is crucial for the brain and body to replenish and repair. For most people, 7 to 9 hours is optimal to achieve this.”

Acute insomnia often occurs due to a change in environment, whether it be physical or mental stress, or perhaps being a shift worker with no set schedule. Ways to combat this include decreasing stress in your life, perhaps through talking with a therapist or changing any medication that may cause insomnia. 

Another way to combat insomnia is to avoid or limit how often you take naps. Napping may start out as a way to catch up on sleep, but it can make your body think it’s time for bed, keeping you from sleeping when it’s actually bedtime.

Person laying in bed.

Chronic Insomnia

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute defines chronic insomnia as when you have trouble sleeping more than three nights a week for more than three months, with no sign of any other health issues that may cause insomnia (such as medications).

According to an article written by Dr. Richard J. Schwab from the Division of Sleep Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the four most common sleep disorders are as follows:

  • Sleep Apnea: This can be central or obstructive and occurs when you either breathe shallowly throughout the night or stop breathing repeatedly. It can occur when you have another health issue, like a heart disorder, and may sometimes be a side effect of medication.
  • Narcolepsy: This is one of the most commonly known sleep disorders, but many may not know it’s considered a form of insomnia. Narcolepsy occurs when you have excessive daytime sleepiness as well as uncontrollable moments of falling asleep without warning during the day. There may also be temporary, but sudden, moments of muscle weakness.
  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder: Most people are usually unaware they suffer from this because the interruptions to sleep are so short that, though there may be consistent movements, people won’t remember waking up at all. This disorder consists of repeated twitching or kicking while asleep, with a brief moment of waking up at the end before returning to sleep. While it messes with your restful sleep, you may be unaware you’re kicking or twitching during the night.
  • Restless Legs Syndrome: If you struggle to fall asleep because it feels like you have to move your legs, you may be suffering from restless legs syndrome. Sometimes this feeling extends to your arms, but this is less common. Some people may also feel like they have creepy, crawly sensations in their limbs.

When to Visit the Doctor

It can sometimes be hard to tell whether you actually suffer from chronic insomnia or if you’ve just had a couple of stressful weeks. But if your sleepiness is starting to affect your daily activities, it may be time to seek out the advice of a doctor. They will often ask similar questions pertaining to sleep patterns, medical history, any recent changes in your schedule and more. The next steps may include participating in a sleep study, beginning to take medication such as melatonin or keeping a log to track your sleeping habits.

While insomnia can be a serious concern at times, it can also be managed fairly easily so long as you are aware of what it is and how to go about approaching it. Examine your life, see if there are any recent upheavals and recognize how your body may react to the things around it. Ultimately, insomnia can be something acknowledged and managed. 


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