Definition and Overview

Insomnia or sleeplessness is defined as an inability of an individual to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. It can even cause you to wake up too early during the night and you may not be able to go back to sleep. It is thus a sleep problem.

To be classified as insomnia, this sleep disorder should last for a minimum of three nights per week for at least two successive weeks for three months.

Contrary to this, a study defines good sleepers as those needing fewer than 15 minutes to fall asleep and/or those who are awake less than 15 minutes during the night on five or more nights per week.    

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder seen more commonly in older adults above the age of 65 years, females, and people who suffer from medical and mental ill-health.

Specific studies indicate that people with advanced age and diabetes are the most affected.

According to a new study, about 25 percent of Americans suffer from acute insomnia every year. However, about 75 percent of these individuals recover without developing its chronic form.

Various studies worldwide indicate its prevalence to be 10% to 30%, some even indicate it to be as high as 50% to 60%.

If you suffer from this sleep disorder, you dread the fall of the night, when you have to lie in bed for hours, tossing, turning, and waiting for sleep to come.

If you are having a sleeping problem, it is quite frustrating even during the next day too, as its symptoms such as fatigue, low energy, unable to concentrate, mood disturbances, and decreased ability at work or at school, make it a bad day.

Chronic insomnia has health complications and can give rise to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

To rule out this sleep disorder in a person, it is necessary to determine the quality of sleep. Different people require different hours of sleep and therefore, even if you doze off for an hour but feel drowsy and tired the next day, you could be experiencing insomnia.

It could be short-term, consisting of episodes lasting up to 1 week or it could be long-term (lasting for more than 4 weeks) in which case it is labeled as chronic.

However, most cases can be cured by just making a few adjustments in your lifestyle without resorting to medicine.


Insomnia is classified by two methods:

  1. According to its cause: Primary and secondary insomnia
  2. According to its duration and frequency: Transient, acute, and chronic insomnia

Any type can be treated with the right lifestyle habits or when required, by medical treatment.

Primary insomnia

This type of insomnia has no underlying medical cause. You will find it in 20 % of chronic cases. It is not due to any medical cause but due to changing lifestyle habits, stress, and emotional disturbances.

Secondary or comorbid insomnia

The secondary type of insomnia is the symptom or side effect, which occurs due to one of the underlying causes such as a medical pathology or medication. These conditions include asthma, depression, pain due to cancer, arthritis, and heartburn. The secondary type is the most commonly found and is present in about 80% of the cases.

Transient Insomnia

Transient insomnia lasts less than a week. It can be caused by stress, a nagging problem, jet lag, a change of physical environment, a minor illness such as a blocked nose, excitement due to a planned vacation, etc.

As mentioned above, this type is temporary and with just a few adjustments in lifestyle habits and with the passage of time, it can be overcome.

Acute Insomnia  

Acute insomnia lasts consistently for a few weeks usually less than a month. This is due to problems of a more severe nature than those mentioned in the transient form, but, which takes a longer time to pass.

Such situations include a job loss, the death of a loved one, divorce, medications used to treat colds, high blood pressure, allergies, depression, etc

Chronic Insomnia

As the name suggests, chronic insomnia is of longer duration – more than a month. People with high levels of stress, depression, anxiety, or a chronic health disorder causing pain, suffer from this type.

Ten percent of cases belong to this category. Untreated cases of this type can cause serious health disorders such as heart problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Effects of chronic insomnia vary according to its cause and include hallucinations, muscle, and mental fatigue, and in extreme cases, double vision. Chronic cases require medical treatment from a sleep specialist.

Some famous people who suffered from insomnia

As an insomniac, you are in a famous company, though you cannot be congratulated on this.

  • Napoleon
  • Sir Winston Churchill
  • Sir Isaac Newton.
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • William Shakespeare
  • Charles Dickens
  • Cary Grant
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Michael Jackson
  • Madonna
  • Jimi Hendrix