What is Severe Insomnia?

Bethney Foster

Severe insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep on a regular basis. Sometimes called chronic insomnia, it is the most severe of three medically classified types of sleeplessness. Transient or mild insomnia lasts only a few days, while short-term or moderate insomnia lasts for less than a month. Severe insomnia is classified as insomnia that lasts for more than a month.

Hops, which can help with insomnia.
Hops, which can help with insomnia.

While symptoms are generally the same no matter which of the three types of insomnia the patient is suffering from, those with severe insomnia will likely experience more intense symptoms. In addition to the inability to fall asleep, symptoms include being sleepy during waking hours, irritability, and decreased ability with mental tasks. Chronic insomnia can increase a patient’s likelihood of being involved in a vehicle accident and is linked to depression and heart disease.

Watching TV late at night can contribute to insomnia.
Watching TV late at night can contribute to insomnia.

Causes of insomnia are generally the same no matter what the type. Those with transient or short-term insomnia will likely recover without treatment. For those with severe insomnia, medical intervention is usually necessary for recovery.

The causes of insomnia can include stress, psychiatric disorders, and physical pain. Medical conditions in addition to pain can also sometimes be the cause of chronic sleeplessness. Irregular sleep cycles or forced changes in sleeping schedules can trigger insomnia.

Treatment of severe insomnia often begins with a sleep study. Doctors observe the patient sleeping and monitor the patient for triggers that may be causing the patient to not be able to fall asleep or to wake prematurely from sleep. Treatment may include teaching patients how to change their lifestyles for better sleep. It may also include the use of medications. Doctors will look for underlying conditions that may be keeping the patient from sleeping.

About one-third of adults experience some degree of insomnia each year. In the U.S., it is estimated that about 35 million people experience severe insomnia. There is a strong correlation between insomnia and psychological issues. Studies have found that those with insomnia are more likely to have a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety. Substance abuse is a factor in as many as 15 percent of cases of severe insomnia.

All types of insomnia are more common in women, and the risk of insomnia increases with age. Those with certain medical conditions and who are taking certain medications are more prone to insomnia, as are those who were likely to have fears of sleeping as a child. Smokers, those who use large amounts of alcohol or caffeine, and shift workers are also more likely to suffer from insomnia of all types.

Anticipatory anxiety often causes insomnia.
Anticipatory anxiety often causes insomnia.

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