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What Is Acute Insomnia?

Difficulty Falling or Staying Asleep May Go Away


Updated June 14, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Insomnia is one of the most common sleep complaints. 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 acute insomnia. Others of this duration include circadian rhythm sleep disorders such as jet lag and shift work, as well as high altitude insomnia.

Defining the Disorder

Acute insomnia lasts for less than three months and is 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. These problems occur despite adequate opportunity and circumstances for sleep and they must result in problems with daytime function.

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
  • 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 or withdrawal from caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol
  • Pain
  • Stress
  • Nocturia (nighttime urination)

How Is Acute Insomnia Diagnosed?

A diagnosis that 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. 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.


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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