The First 48 Hours: Insomnia

You've been diagnosed with insomnia - what now?  Expert Patient Florence Cardinal explains what you need to know - and do - after your diagnosis.

By Florence Cardinal

After months of long, sleepless nights and sluggish, unproductive days, you’ve finally made it to the doctor to learn that your suspicions are confirmed: you’ve been suffering from insomnia. 

As someone who’s been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, I know that a medical diagnosis is never fun.  On the bright side, however, you can relax knowing that you have an official name for the problem and you can move forward with treatment to get your life back on track.

Below you’ll find a guide to what you need to know about insomnia immediately after diagnosis.

Insomnia: The Basics

There are three main types of insomnia: transient, short-term, and chronic.

Transient insomnia lasts only a night or two. It's usually caused by some outside influence - sleeping in a strange bed or stress about that big presentation you have to make in the morning, for example. Even positive anticipation, such as looking forward to a big vacation, can cause transient insomnia. A perfect example is the problem children have getting to sleep on Christmas Eve.

Short-term insomnia can last from a few days to a few weeks. Stress or poor sleep habits can bring this on, as can health, business or relationship issues. To solve this problem, taking steps to get rid of the stress can be very helpful.

Chronic insomnia can last for years and causes excessive daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, memory loss and irritability. It can manifest as early as childhood. The resultant loss of sleep often causes additional health problems.

If your condition is bad enough to warrant a visit to your physician, chances are you have chronic insomnia, the type that keeps you awake night after night, week after week, sometimes for years.

Insomnia can disrupt sleep in different ways for different people or even can vary for one person over time. Some people find it difficult to fall asleep when first going to bed, and may toss and turn for hours before dropping off. Others fall asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow, but three or four hours later they are wide awake again, unable to go back to sleep. A third person may fall asleep easily, but wake up far too early in the morning, unable to drop off again. Be sure to let your doctor know which is the most common for you. It might help determine what medication she prescribes.

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