Understanding these simple facts about insomnia – a very puzzling and frustrating sleep disorder to say the least – will get you started on the road to recovery.
Let’s start with a a definition… So what is insomnia, exactly?
Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
For some people, insomnia means getting into bed and staying wide awake for hours until they finally doze off in the wee hours of the morning.
Others may fall asleep fairly quickly, but wake up in the middle of the night and then it’s “game over”–they’ll have a fine opportunity to watch the sun rise after three to six hours of tossing and turning.
While some insomniacs tend toward one or the other version, many, including myself, are quite familiar with both types of insomnia.
What is chronic insomnia?
This simply insomnia that has been going on for a while. Some experts like to put a dividing line between acute and chronic insomnia, so they’ll say three weeks of sleeping less than 5-6 hours a night for 2-3 days a week qualifies for the “chronic” label.
But you probably don’t need a doctor to tell you if you have chronic insomnia. Some people have sleeplessness that lasts for months or years… so long that they look upon it as their “normal” sleeping pattern. One of the common facts about insomnia is how long it hangs on due to its self-perpetuating nature. (See article on sleep anxiety)
What is the difference between insomnia and a sleeping disorder?
Sleep disorders cover a lot more territory. They include acute and chronic insomnia, but also include conditions such as…
- sleep apnea
- somnambulism (sleepwalking)
- hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
- night terrors
- sleep violence
- sleep bruxism (grinding the teeth while sleeping)
- restless leg syndrome (actually considered a movement disorder, but it definitely interferes with sleep).
There have been recent advances in the medical treatment of some of these conditions, so if you suffer from any sleep disorder besides simple insomnia, seeing a medical specialist or visiting your nearest sleep center is a very good idea.
How much sleep do you really need, anyway?
This is an excellent question! People’s sleep needs vary according to their stage in life and other hard-to-understand genetic factors.
You may know someone who consistently sleeps four or five hours a night and feels fine. Or you may BE this person yourself, and not realize it. (You’ll have ample opportunity explore this subject and find out your optimum number of sleeping hours in the article below entitled “How much sleep do you really need?”)
While some people manage to do well on a few hours sleep per night, many consider themselves sleep deprived with less than seven or eight hours. The “normal range” of sleep is considered to be six to eight hours, with a range of five to nine hours describing the largest majority of regular sleepers (those who do not have insomnia).
What is the least amount of sleep I can get and be OK?
Here are some crucial facts about insomnia and sleep deprivation: Despite people’s varying sleep requirements, most sleep experts have determined that five to five-and-a-half hours of sleep is the right baseline for establishing a definition for insomnia.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, it means that if you cannot get your “optimum” hours of sleep, but you CAN manage to get in five to five-and-a-half hours each night, you’re OK… not great, maybe, but OK. You are getting enough sleep to fulfill the biological function that sleep is meant to serve.
You might not FEEL all that wonderful, but you will be fine physiologically until you completely resolve your insomnia sleep problem and can get back to your optimum sleeping habits.
This is good news for two reasons:
1) Most insomniacs worry about the effects of insomnia and sleep deprivation — especially on their health. This constant worry only makes their insomnia worse! So it makes sense to ease that anxiety as much as possible.
2) Getting rid of insomnia is usually not an “overnight” process. It takes time, especially if you’ve been suffering from sleeplessness over a period of months and years.
But getting five hour and a half (or so) per night is a good intermediate goal to reach for. You can maintain reasonably good mental and physical functioning at that level.
And it may also comfort you to know that you do not have to get all your sleep in one solid block to receive the full benefits of sleep. Even if you wake up in between your “baseline” hours, you’ll be OK.
(DISCLAIMER: Since I know nothing about your particular and unique situation, you must not take anything on this site as a substitute for medical advice. Please read my About Me and Disclaimer pages for a full list of my “non-qualifications” to give out medical advice! And please see your own doctor or health practitioner for professional help and guidance.)
What is the MOST important of all facts about insomnia?
The single most important thing to know if you suffer from simple chronic insomnia is, you CAN get rid of it permanently!
The next important thing to know is that it is quite possible for you to sleep better through self-treatment. You can treat yourself at home, by yourself, with the help of the tips, advice and articles on this site.