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Acute and chronic insomnia both mean sleepless nights and jittery days. The difference is how long the waking and shaking lasts. 

Both types of insomnia are marked by difficulties falling and remaining asleep at night, as well as staying alert and awake during the day. Those who struggle with this sleep disorder suffer constant fatigue, which can wreak havoc on every aspect of daily life, including energy level, mood, at-work performance and general health. Unsurprisingly, one of the chief symptoms is irritability.

What is acute insomnia?

Also called transient or short-term insomnia, acute insomnia usually lasts between a day and a couple of weeks. It’s a common side effect of an emotionally disruptive experience — for instance, the death of a loved one, a job loss, an illness or other stressful event.

Even travel, when it involves crossing time zones and jet lag, can trigger temporary insomnia, as can changes to your environment such as noise level, increased light or temperature shifts. Medications for asthma and depression are also known culprits.

While it’s certainly unpleasant, the good news about acute insomnia is that it’s relatively temporary. Sleep almost always returns when a situation resolves itself, the stress recedes or you accustom yourself to a new situation. 

Does that mean chronic insomnia lasts for months?

Whereas acute insomnia rocks your sleep pattern for a relatively short burst, chronic sleeplessness stretches out to an epic length of time. Though there are various ways to define it, one generally accepted description is disrupted sleep that occurs three nights per week and lasts at least three months. (Some experts say it’s extreme sleep trouble that lasts at least three nights a week for a month or more.) Chronic insomnia can have many causes, including prolonged stress or pain, shift work, unhealthy sleep habits, certain medications or other clinical disorders. 

 

Well, at least they've narrowed down the causes...

Though it’s probably of little consolation, about 30 percent of Americans report having insomnia symptoms in a given year. If you’ve tried all the natural remedies and nothing’s worked, debilitating insomnia is a good reason to pay your primary care doc a visit. He or she may prescribe some type of sleeping pill to get you over the hump and back to better rest habits.

However, one health expert recently argued in The New York Times that data indicates cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves training a problem sleeper to adopt new habits, may be more effective than the pharmaceutical approach.