Transient Insomnia – What Are the Causes and How to Treat It?

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Have you noticed that you experience periodic episodes in which you have trouble falling or staying asleep? You may have transient insomnia, a short-term form of this sleep issue.

Though it is temporary, this sleep issue can still have a significant effect on your well-being. Even just a single night of sleep loss could leave you groggy the following day, putting you at an increased risk for accidents and negative work or academic performance.

This article will cover what you need to know about transient insomnia, including what causes it and how to treat it.

What Is Transient Insomnia?

There are three types of insomnia categorized by duration; transient, short-term, and chronic. According to Stanford Healthcare[1], transient is a temporary form of insufficient rest that lasts for less than one month. Sometimes, experts may also refer to this condition as acute or adjustment insomnia.

Within these durations, there are two additional categories, primary and co-morbid. Primary means the sleep issue exists with no other disease, and co-morbid implies the individual's condition is present alongside another medical or mental health complication.

However, other health experts have differing qualifications for what constitutes acute insomnia.

For instance, this clinical review[2] presents two classification systems that describe acute sleeplessness with a 3-month duration and a third that lists it within a single month.

Short-Term

Animated Image of a Woman who Suffers from Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and Can't Fall Asleep

Stanford Healthcare reports that short-term sleeplessness is slightly more prolonged than transient, lasting between one and six months. However, other medical professionals, such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM[3]), describe this condition as lasting three months or less.

Chronic

Animated Image of a Woman Struggling To Fall Asleep

As reported by Stanford Healthcare, chronic sleeplessness is a long-term problem lasting six months or longer. However, the AASM would qualify someone as having chronic insomnia if the condition lasts more than three months. They add that the individual would also have to exhibit symptoms at least three times per week.

What Causes Transient Insomnia?

Stress

For many folks, stress can cause them to develop temporary sleep deprivation. Family problems, work, romantic relationships, or financial issues are common stressors preventing someone from getting adequate rest. Rather than allowing your mind to relax, which is necessary for sleep onset, these worries can leave your mind racing.

Sleep Schedule Interruption

Transient sleeplessness could also be due to an interruption in your schedule. The perfect example would be jet lag from travel, particularly flying across multiple time zones.

Illustration of a Group of Students in Class

Traumatic Event

Traumatic events are also linked to temporary rest issues. More specifically, experts say most individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have disturbed sleep[4] following a traumatic experience. These types of experiences might include severe car accidents, natural disasters, violent attacks, sexual assault, abuse, or the death of a loved one.

How to Treat Transient Insomnia

For some, their sleeplessness will eventually go away on its own. However, there are things you can do to help mitigate this issue.

If your condition results from stress, finding ways to reduce stress should lead to better rest. Some folks may use a journal before bed to write out their concerns or plan ways to address their worries the next day. Regular exercise, time outside, or artistic outlets may also provide opportunities to minimize stressful feelings.

If interruptions to your schedule are the cause of your sleeplessness, you may benefit from planning out your schedule ahead of time. For example, if you will be traveling overseas, slowly adjust your sleep schedule to your destination. Furthermore, avoid taking a nap if you arrive during the day, as this could lead to trouble sleeping later that night.

Illustration of a Woman Reading Before Bedtime

The aftermath of a traumatic experience[5] can be a difficult time for many individuals. However, mental health experts advise there are ways to help you cope. These tips include asking for support from family or friends, taking time for yourself, discussing your feelings, having a routine, connecting with other survivors, and partaking in normal activities with those you know.

Furthermore, they say you should not expect to heal overnight, allowing yourself time to work through your emotions. If you notice your emotions worsen or you have no one to talk to, they suggest reaching out to a professional for help.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can short-term insomnia become chronic?

Research has found that about 75 percent[6] of people with acute insomnia recover, while six percent go on to develop a chronic form.

Furthermore, certain factors could put individuals at a higher risk of ongoing sleep loss. A 2012 study started with a sample group of just over 1,700 participants. After seven and a half years, they followed up with 1,395 people from that initial group. The research team[7] found that mental health, poor rest, and obesity were notable risk factors for chronic sleep deprivation.

Is transient insomnia common?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, roughly 30-35 percent of adults experience brief sleeplessness, while 15-20 percent have it short-term. Chronic loss of rest is the least common, only accounting for 10 percent of adults.

Can anemia cause anxiety and insomnia?

Researchers have looked into whether there might be a link between anemia[8] and insufficient rest. Anemia is when the individual doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to deliver sufficient oxygen to various body tissues.

The scientists studied a group of just over 1,000 adults, who were classified into three categories: nonanemic, non-iron-deficient anemic, and iron-deficient anemic. Their results suggest that those who were non-iron-deficient anemic had a higher chance of exhibiting sleeplessness than those who were nonanemic.

Sources and References:

  • [1] “Types of Insomnia”, Stanford Healthcare
  • [2] Jason G. Ellis, Philip Gehrman, Colin A. Espie, Dieter Riemann, Michael L. Perlis, “Acute insomnia: Current conceptualizations and future directions”, Perelman School of Medicine, 2010
  • [3] “Insomnia Awareness Day facts and stats”, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, May 20, 2019
  • [4] “Sleeping after a trauma”, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, April 24, 2013
  • [5] “Coping after a traumatic event”, Royal College of Psychiatrists, August 2016.
  • [6] “One in four Americans develop insomnia each year: 75 percent of those with insomnia recover”, Science Daily, 2018
  • [7] Ravi Singareddy MD, Alexandros N. Vgontzas MD, Julio Fernandez-Mendoza PhD, Duanping Liao MD Phd, Susan Calhoun PhD, Michele L. Shaffer PhD, Edward O. Bixler PhD, “Risk Factors for Incident Chronic Insomnia: A General Population Prospective Study”, National Library of Medicine, 2012
  • [8] Lenis P. Chen-Edinboro, Laura E. Murray-Kolb, Eleanor M. Simonsick, Luigi Ferrucci, Richard Allen, Martha E. Payne, Adam P. Spira, “Association Between Non-Iron-Deficient Anemia and Insomnia Symptoms in Community-Dwelling Older Adults: The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging”, The Journals of Gerontology, 2018
Content Writer

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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