What Exactly is Insomnia? (and what you can do about it)

People can experience many difficulties with sleep throughout their lives.  Some people are often told by their parents that even as small children they were never “good sleepers.” Some people experience issues with sleep following a stressful or traumatic event in their life.  Sometimes issues with sleep just seem to come out of nowhere. 

However people with insomnia all have the same thing in common – they are not sleeping well and things don’t seem to be getting any better anytime quick.

There are three main types of insomnia

  1. Difficulty falling asleep
  2. Difficulty staying asleep
  3. Waking up too early

The criteria for an official diagnosis of insomnia are as follows:

  1. Difficulty getting to sleep, difficulty staying sleep, or waking up too early.  Also if sleep is chronically non-restorative or poor in quality.
  2. These problems with sleep happen even when all the right circumstances are present (i.e. a dark, quiet room & no need to be anywhere for a period of time).
  3. The issues with sleep cause problems for the person during the day, including at least one of the following:
  • Fatigue
  • Problems with attention, concentration or memory
  • Social problems / work-related problems / poor school performance
  • Mood disturbance or irritability
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Reduced motivation, energy, or initiative
  • Proneness for errors
  • Accidents at work or while driving
  • Tension, headaches, or gastrointestinal symptoms in response to sleep loss
  • Concerns or worries about sleep

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2005). The International Classification of Sleep Disorders (2nd Edition)

What is NOT Insomnia

It’s important to also know what sleep issues are not considered insomnia.  Here is a list of other common sleep disorders:

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally, which causes an abnormal daytime sleep pattern and also sudden muscular weakness often brought on by strong emotions.

Sleep Terrors are characterized by a sudden arousal from sleep along with intense fear.

Sleep Walking is when people engage in activities that are normally associated with wakefulness (such as walking, eating, or dressing) while unconscious of their behaviors.

Sleep Disordered Breathing is a category of problems such as sleep apnea or snoring.

Restless Legs Syndrome is experienced as an irresistible urge to move one’s body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders are types of sleep disorders that affect the timing of sleep (often caused by shift work or jet lag). For example, a person’s body may not want to go to sleep until 5am, even though they need to get to sleep around 11pm.

REM Sleep Behavior Disorder is a sleep disorder that involves acting out violent or dramatic dreams during sleep. 

Hypersomnia is a disorder characterized primarily by severe excessive daytime sleepiness which is not better explained by a medical illness or other sleep issue.

Good News for Insomnia Sufferers

If you believe you suffer from insomnia and not one of the other, related disorders then there is good news for you – there is an effective, natural treatment available.  The science of sleep medicine has developed many tools over time.  One of these tools is a medication-free approach to treating insomnia called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI).

If you would are interested in learning more about how CBTI can help you can read more here or contact me using the form below for a FREE telephone consult.

Dr. Scott Rower

Author: Dr. Scott Rower

Scott is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty in working with people who struggle with chronic sleep issues.