What Is "Short-Term" Insomnia & How Can You Tell If You Have It?

photographed by Michael Beckert.
Sometimes, life is hard and it makes falling asleep even harder. It might seem like there aren't enough sleep meditations, CBD tinctures, or weighted blankets to calm your mind and lull you to sleep each night, because you're that stressed. But does being unable to sleep mean you have insomnia, or could this just be a phase?
Technically, there is such a thing as short-term or "acute" insomnia, and it's defined as a brief period of difficulty sleeping, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Short-term insomnia can last for a matter of days or weeks, but usually is no longer than 30 days. Although it's short-lived, it can be pretty miserable.
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Short-term insomnia can usually be traced to a stressful life event — whether that's receiving bad news about your job, learning that a family member is sick, coping with the aftermath of a natural disaster, or grieving the loss of a loved one. This stress can make it harder to fall or stay asleep, which leads to poorer sleep quality. As a result, you may feel tired and groggy during the day, or have difficulty focusing when you are awake, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). And in some cases, insomnia can also lead to anxiety and depression — so it's a vicious cycle.
The good news is that short-term insomnia usually goes away without treatment, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Once whatever event or situation is keeping you awake at night passes or resolves, and you're feeling less anxious and stressed, it can make it easier to fall asleep each night. In the meantime if you find yourself tossing and turning, you might find that making simple lifestyle changes (like putting down your phone before bed) or getting a grip on your sleep hygiene (by setting consistent bedtimes) helps, too, according to the NIH.
One strategy that we know works wonderfully for treating acute and chronic insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of psychotherapy. During CBT for insomnia, a therapist would help you re-frame the thoughts and worries you have that keep you awake — including the ones you have about your ability to fall asleep, according to the Mayo Clinic. It sounds so simple, but it works: a 2015 study found that just one session of CBT is sufficient for treating acute insomnia.
So, if you are in a rough patch of sleep and are getting more and more discouraged by your ability to snooze, perhaps it's important to remember that this — and all the stressful events keeping you up at night — too shall pass.
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