Causes and Symptoms of Short-Term or Acute Insomnia

Difficulty Falling or Staying Asleep May Go Away

Acute insomnia occurs when difficulty falling or staying asleep lasts less than 3 months
Acute insomnia occurs when difficulty falling or staying asleep lasts less than 3 months. Jaris Paul/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep complaints and is characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. There are multiple types of insomnia based on the duration and potential causes. Of the types lasting less than three months, a more common one is short-term or acute insomnia. What is acute insomnia? Learn about the definition of short-term insomnia, the causes, the classic symptoms, and how it is diagnosed.

Defining the Disorder of Short-Term Insomnia

Acute insomnia lasts for less than three months and is often related in time to an identifiable cause. Insomnia is present when there is difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep or when the sleep that is obtained is non-refreshing or of poor quality. It may be associated with early morning awakenings. These problems occur despite adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep and they must result in problems with daytime function. Other sleep problems of this duration include circadian rhythm sleep disorders such as jet lag and potentially shift work, as well as high altitude insomnia.

What Else Is Acute Insomnia Called?

  • Adjustment insomnia
  • Short-term insomnia
  • Stress-related insomnia
  • Transient insomnia

What Are the Symptoms of Acute Insomnia?

There are any common symptoms of acute insomnia, including:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Early morning awakenings
  • Fatigue or daytime sleepiness
  • Poor attention or concentration
  • Mood changes (including worry or reduced motivation or energy)
  • Social or vocational dysfunction (including increased errors or accidents)
  • Tension, headache, or stomach symptoms

What Are the Causes?

There are many potential causes of acute insomnia, ranging from physical to psychological to social to environmental.

In most cases, the condition resolves when the affected person adapts or no longer is subject to the cause. These potential causes include:

  • Changes in noise, lighting, temperature, or other conditions of the sleep environment
  • Medications (especially those with stimulant properties)
  • Use of caffeine or nicotine or withdrawal from alcohol or sedating medications
  • Pain
  • Stress (varying from routine stressors to job loss, grief reactions, and divorce)
  • Nocturia (nighttime urination)

How Is Acute Insomnia Diagnosed?

Insomnia does not require any special testing in order for a diagnosis to be established. In fact, a diagnosis can be made by a healthcare provider who performs a careful history and physical examination. It is important that coexisting medical condition, psychiatric and neurologic disorders, sleep disorders, and medication or drug causes be considered. Sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome are the most common triggers of secondary insomnia. In some cases, additional testing may be indicated, though this is not often the case.

If insomnia lasts more than three months, it may be labeled as chronic insomnia. When this occurs, it may be necessary to pursue treatment with sleeping pills or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI).

Sources:

International classification of sleep disorders: Diagnostic and coding manual. 2nd ed, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Westchester, Illinois 2005.

Insomnia. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Diseases and Conditions Index.

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