Do I Have Symptoms of Insomnia or Just Trouble Sleeping
Insomnia is characterised by a difficulty in falling or staying asleep — be it laying awake at night, waking up several times during the night or waking up too early and struggling to fall back to sleep.i Given its numerous causes, insomnia is an extremely common sleep disorder, affecting one in three UK adults in 2017.ii
Living with insomnia can be confusing, frustrating, and even worrying at times. But sometimes it’s hard to discern whether you’re experiencing insomnia, or just a temporary difficulty in sleeping. The purpose of this article is to differentiate between the two and equip you with the knowledge to find the best management strategies.
What causes insomnia?
Anxiety, stress, and low mood are some of the most common triggers of insomnia. Sleeplessness can often exacerbate these mental health issues, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Alongside this, emotional life events — such as grief, stress and trauma — as well as chronic medical conditions — chronic pain, and gastrointestinal issues — can also be triggers of insomnia.iii
Beyond this, poor sleep hygiene and an uncomfortable sleeping environment can both pave the way for sleep issues. You can discover more on the benefits of good sleep hygiene in our guide.
What are the symptoms of insomnia?
There is a whole range of symptoms of insomnia. Here are just a few of the signs to look out for:iv
Difficulty falling asleep at night
Waking up too early or waking up during the night
Daytime sleepiness or tiredness
Difficulty focusing, paying attention, or recalling information
Ongoing worries about sleep
Increased errors or accidents
What are the different types of insomnia?
Chronic insomnia denotes a long-term difficulty in sleeping. Insomnia is usually characterised as ‘chronic’ if sleep problems — that is, experiencing trouble falling asleep or staying asleep — last for at least three nights per week, for upwards of three months.
Comorbid insomnia occurs in conjunction with another condition, such as anxiety and low mood. As mentioned, certain medical conditions that make it hard to sleep due to pain, such as arthritis and restless leg syndrome, can also lead to insomnia.
Acute insomnia is a brief episode of sleeplessness. This is usually what is referred to when someone is having trouble sleeping because it typically manifests as a response to life events such as receiving bad news, travel, or a stressful change in a person’s job. Acute insomnia often settles naturally when the stressor dissipates. Often, this type of insomnia will go away on its own after a brief period.
Discover more on the difference between types of insomnia and their causes.
What’s the difference between insomnia and short-term sleeplessness?
To determine if you have a chronic sleep problem or simply experiencing a temporary bout of insomnia, a good marker is referencing your calendar and calculating how many nights you’ve had trouble sleeping.
Acute insomnia only lasts for a few days, while chronic insomnia persists for much longer (at least three nights a week for three months or more). What’s more, temporary sleeplessness is usually connected to an event, such as examination, work deadline, or any big change. When the stressor is removed, sleep generally improves.
It’s not uncommon to experience a short-lived spell of acute insomnia, and it will often subside naturally. If, however, insomnia persists and begins to interfere with your daily life, it’s always worth speaking to your GP.
Causes of acute insomnia and mild sleeplessness
More often than not, sleep issues are related to changes in mood. It can be helpful to ask yourself if your insomnia coincided with a dip in your overall emotional wellbeing. Are you feeling more irritable than normal? Are your hormones in flux? Often menstruation or menopause can lead to hormonal and emotional mood changes, which affect sleep.v
Other reasons for mild trouble sleeping may include lifestyle factors such as smoking, late-night screen use, drinking alcohol to excess, consuming too much caffeine, or eating sleep-inhibiting foods before bed.
Mild insomnia can often be remedied with simple lifestyle changes. It’s important, therefore, to identify the root cause and rectify it. There are also a number of natural insomnia remedies to help you fall asleep. For even more advice on how to achieve a restful night’s sleep, visit our sleep hub.
NHS UK. (2019). Insomnia. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insomnia
Aviva.com. (2019). Sleepless cities revealed as one in three adults suffer from insomnia. Available online: https://www.aviva.com/newsroom/news-releases/2017/10/Sleepless-cities-revealed-as-one-in-three-adults-suffer-from-insomnia
National Sleep Foundation. (2019). What Causes Insomnia? Available online: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/what-causes-insomnia
HelpGuide.org. (2019). Insomnia. Available online: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/insomnia-causes-and-cures.htm
National Sleep Foundation. (2019). Menopause & Insomnia: Causes & Solutions. Available online: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/menopause-and-insomnia
Jehan. S., Auguste. M., et al. (2018). Sleep and Premenstrual Syndrome. Journal of sleep medicine and disorders. 3(5), 1061.
Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.