What is Insomnia? Difference Between Acute and Chronic Insomnia

There’s nothing worse than watching the ceiling fan spin as you lay in bed ,completely unable to fall asleep. Or what about when you get woken up at 2AM because the neighbor’s dog is barking and you can’t get back to sleep?

These are all examples of insomnia, and if you suffer from sleep deprivation long term,   your health will likely face negative consequences! Keep reading to understand the different types of insomnia as well as an overview on how to finally get some rest!

Why Do I Even Need Sleep In the First Place?

The verdict is still out on why animals sleep. But most researchers agree it has to do something with consolidating memories and general “housekeeping” for the brain.

For analogy, consider that a regular day is like a rave for your brain! Constant stimulation from all your senses every second of every day is exhausting. Plus, someone needs to clean up the mess!

This is what sleep is for! You can’t mop the dance floor while people are still shaking their flashing glow sticks! You have to send those fools home and close up shop, at least for a little bit.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Surprisingly, a lot.

Besides needing an extra few cups of coffee the day after a poor night’s sleep, you can throw your body into survival mode!

Levels of fight or flight hormone, called cortisol, sky rocket on days you are sleep deprived. Cortisol can make you hungry, grumpy and nervous, not to mention shrink parts your brain if it hangs around too long, and too often.

If you are significantly sleep deprived, your brain will sleep anyways! It just does it in shifts, so you don’t notice too much. If you’ve experienced brain fog, or can’t recall what you were doing the second before, it’s because part of your brain was shut down for maintenance.

Sleep deprivation can affect us on a cellular level too!

Insomnia can actually activate genes that increase inflammatory markers and other chemicals in your body. These chemicals are supposed to be used for emergencies, like infections and gaping flesh wounds to keep you alive.

Not because you binge watched Seinfeld.

What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep even in optimal conditions. About 30% of adults report frequent sleep disruptions according to the National Institute of Health.

That’s a lot of tired people! And depending on the causes of sleep deprivation, there are different types of insomnia.

Acute Insomnia

This is a short term type of insomnia that happens when something transient, like worrying about a presentation the next day, or drinking too much caffeine in the afternoon, can affect your sleep.

Usually this type resolves on it’s own.

I usually have 1-2 episodes a month, where I toss and turn for hours before I can get some rest.

I’ve tried my best to figure out what causes it, but I’ve just chalked it up to the human experience, and now spend those extra hours getting caught up on my favorite Korean dramas.

Chronic Insomnia

Chronic InsomniaIf you experience insomnia at least three days a week for a minimum of three months, you meet the criteria for this long term type of insomnia.

The diagnosis for chronic insomnia is not as straightforward as it sounds.

Your physician may ask you to fill out a sleep log, have your blood tested, or even do a sleep study where you spend the night at a facility, hooked up to a machine called an EEG.

Insomnia Treatments

There is a ton of advice on how to improve sleep. The pharmaceutical industry has corned the market on people suffering from both types (acute and chronic) of insomnia.

Just remember that all drugs have side effects!

I’m not saying to discount all the advice or medications, but I often see patients struggle with insomnia, and they are never taught the best way to improve their sleep.

Sleep hygiene has demonstrated, time and time again in clinical studies, to be the best tool in your box for combating insomnia.

Yet hardly any physicians I know have the time to teach their patients about it.

Sleep hygiene are practices and habits that are completed every day, or night prior to bed.

Some examples of sleep hygiene include:

  • Exposing yourself to natural light during the day and at dusk.

    Poor sleep hygiene
    Poor sleep hygiene
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid blue light from your computer, or phone, one hour before bed
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex. Did you know that couples who do not have a TV in their bedroom have 2x more “marital relations” than people who do? Don’t blame me, blame science!
  • Do the same activities prior to bed each night
  • Don’t eat right before bedtime

And there are so many more examples of sleep hygiene and other methods that can help sleep.


Today you have learned what is insomnia. There are two types, acute (caused by some events that prevent you from sleeping well one night) and chronic (caused by some serious factors that prevent you from sleeping well for a long time).

You have learned also that sleep hygiene plays a vital role in improving your sleep, and is the first and best treatment for insomnia that you should try.

There are also many other treatments to cure insomnia and ways to relieve sleep deprivation that can help a lot.

What have you tried in the past to help cure your insomnia?


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