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What Is Transient Insomnia?

Is your sleep schedule disrupted by transient insomnia or a chronic one? What even is the difference? Let’s find out together!

Transient insomnia is a common sleeping disorder that most of us don’t know enough about. Most folks are vaguely familiar with general or chronic insomnia, but what most of us don’t understand is that those times when we just can’t seem to doze off are also considered to be insomnia.

While it might seem to us that we’re just dealing with a disputed sleep-wake cycle (which is not far away from the truth), this is also a condition recognized by the doctors.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let us start with the big picture first, and work our way down toward what transient insomnia actually is, so we can ultimately learn how to deal with it.

Table of Contents
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    Insomnia VS Transient Insomnia

    First up, there are two types of insomnia: primary and secondary.

    Primary insomnia is not caused by another health condition or problem. It’s its own issue. Secondary insomnia, on the other hand, is brought on by an underlying cause, condition, or any of the following:

    • Stress
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Mental health disorders
    • Pain
    • Light or noise
    • Unfamiliar bed
    • Medications or alcohol
    • Restless legs syndrome
    • Sleep apnea
    an image of a woman suffering from insomnia problems

    More often than not, chronic insomnia is primary insomnia, although it is not impossible for it to be secondary, as well. Transient insomnia, on the other hand, is almost exclusively secondary insomnia. So, what does that mean?

    Transient insomnia or acute insomnia is a type of secondary insomnia. It’s a short-term sleep disorder that goes away on its own after a few days or weeks and lasts up to three months at its worst. It can be caused by stress from a life event, such as a death in the family, job loss, or divorce.

    a man trying to sleep

    Additionally, transient insomnia is also common in people who live certain lifestyles. For example, those that travel a lot and have jet lag or those who work night shifts, which is why this condition is also often referred to as adjustment insomnia.

    Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, is (mostly) a type of primary insomnia. Unlike transient insomnia, chronic insomnia is usually treated with medication and won’t go away on its own. It’s a long-term sleep disorder that lasts for more than three months. It isn’t necessarily a symptom of any underlying issue and is usually a cause on its own.

    However, it is not uncommon for chronic insomnia to be caused by any of the following:

    • Severe anxiety
    • Depression
    • Chronic stress
    • Medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    • Medications, such as beta-blockers, steroids, and some antidepressants
    • Substance abuse

    Essentially, the main difference between the two is the length, but, as you can also see, the difference could be in the underlying issue, as well.

    Is transient insomnia the same as chronic insomnia?

    No, transient insomnia is not the same as chronic insomnia.

    Transient insomnia is a type of a common sleep disorder that lasts for less than three weeks and goes out on its own, while chronic insomnia is a disorder that lasts for more than that and is usually treated with sleep medicine.

    Although both types of sleep disorders can cause disrupt your sleep patterns and cause trouble sleeping, chronic insomnia is often more severe and can have a more serious impact on your health.

    If you think you may be suffering from either type of sleep disorder, it is important to see a doctor so that you can get the treatment you need.

    What are the symptoms of transient insomnia?

    Now that we understand what transient or short-term insomnia actually is, let us take a look at the symptoms it usually causes.

    Problems with falling asleep

    Sleep onset insomnia, defined as difficulty initiating asleep is the most common symptom. Tossing, turning, feeling restless, and generally feeling unable to relax and fall asleep are one of the main symptoms of it.

    an image of a woman suffering from a hormonal disbalance

    You may find that you can fall asleep eventually, but it takes longer than usual. As you can imagine, these symptoms often occur due to stress, different bed, light, noise, or other causes that could contribute to secondary insomnia like transient insomnia.

    Problems with staying asleep when needed

    Frequently waking up during the night and having trouble falling back asleep is another common symptom of transient insomnia. Even if you manage to fall asleep rather easily, you’re constantly woken up, without apparent reason, leaving you with little to no chance of achieving deep restorative sleep or getting enough sleep.

    An image of a man fallen asleep in his office.

    Daytime drowsiness/impairment caused by lack of sleep

    Feeling tired, grumpy and drowsy during the day is perhaps one of the most common symptoms of insomnia, regardless of its type. When you don’t get enough sleep at night, you can’t function properly during the day.

    An image of a business man had fallen asleep in the office due to narcolepsy condition.

    You may find it hard to concentrate, focus on tasks or complete them efficiently. Additionally, you may also feel more prone to accidents and making mistakes.

    When does transient insomnia occur mostly?

    Transient insomnia can occur in any situation where stress is a factor, but that’s hardly the only trigger.

    For example, even though it can be common in people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, those who are going through a divorce, or those who have lost their job, acute insomnia can also occur in people who travel frequently and have jet lag, as well as those who work night shifts.

    In general, any type of change in routine can lead to transient insomnia. For those especially prone to this issue, something as mild as a daylight savings clock switch could cause problems that can last a week or more.

    The timeline of insomnia

    If you’re suspecting that transient acute insomnia or even chronic insomnia could be an issue for you, let us guide you through the day of someone that struggles with it.

    an image of a woman suffering from postpartum insomnia

    Waking up tired

    The first thing you notice when you have insomnia is that, despite being in bed for 7-8 hours (or even 12), you still feel tired when you wake up.

    You might also find it hard to get out of bed and you might end up feeling groggy and disoriented throughout the day because no matter how hard you try you just can’t manage to achieve a healthy sleep routine.

    Daily fatigue & lack of energy

    By the time lunch rolls around, you’re already exhausted. It’s hard to keep your eyes open and all you want to do is take a nap. Of course, you can’t always do that, so you push through the fatigue and hope that it will go away on its own. It doesn’t.

    An image of a young woman feeling sleepy after the workout.

    In fact, it only gets worse as the day goes on and by the time evening comes, you’re struggling to keep your eyes open. And then, when you finally lie down – you can’t fall asleep, so the vicious cycle keeps going.


    Not being able to get enough sleep can take a toll on your mental health as well, causing irritability and/or mood swings.

    an image of an angry woman

    You will often find yourself snapping at your loved ones for no reason. You might pick a fight with your coworker over a stapler or something as meaningless. You’ll boil with rage over the sound of someone sipping coffee, eating chips, or having a casual conversation in the background.

    Issues with concentration

    You can’t focus on anything and everything seems harder than it should be. Even though you’re trying your best, your mind feels foggy and slow. Even making breakfast feels like a chore and getting ready for work is a pain. And, when you arrive, you can’t focus on work no matter how easy the task at hand may be.

    An image of a young man feeling focused on work after a coffee nap.

    Problems with retaining new information

    Since you can’t focus, you also have trouble retaining new information. Your brain feels like it’s in a constant state of static and no matter how much you try to learn or remember something, it just slips away. Whether you’re a grown person with a stable job or a student preparing for midterms, being unable to retain new information will truly wreak havoc on your everyday life.

    Poor coordination

    You’ve probably noticed that you’ve begun dropping your phone or pen, or you’ve just generally become more clumsy even though you never were. That’s because when you’re sleep-deprived, your coordination and motor skills are greatly affected, and it shows. It really does.

    Poor work performance

    It’s not just your ability to focus and retain new information that’s affected – your work performance as a whole will suffer. Your quality of work will go down, you’ll make more mistakes, and you may even find yourself getting scolded or even fired if the issue persists.

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