Do You Have Terminal Insomnia?

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

When you think of insomnia, you may think of the inability to easily fall asleep at night. However, there is a type of insomnia that is the complete opposite. It is called terminal insomnia.

When you are dealing with terminal insomnia, you will have no problem falling asleep, yet you wake up too early and are unable to fall back to sleep. While most people sleep between six and eight hours each night, you may only be getting anywhere from three to five hours of sleep.

There is a difference between terminal insomnia and simply being someone who is a short sleeper. Most adults generally aim for between seven and nine hours of sleep to feel rested and to function in life in a healthy manner. You may be someone who needs less sleep, feeling completely rested on five or six hours of sleep. If so, you may have always been an early riser, and you may just be genetically predisposed to need less sleep.

If that is you, enjoy the fact that you are this way. You will have more waking hours in the day than most people without your energy and health. However, if that is not the case, and you are waking up earlier than normal and are unable to fall back asleep, and you feel exhausted, you probably have developed terminal insomnia.

Just like with other types of insomnia, it is hard to pinpoint one exact cause of terminal insomnia. The reasons vary from person to person. It may be anxiety, depression, subconscious thoughts or even health problems. Many people try to fix the issue on their own. They may go to bed earlier, but then they wake up earlier to make up for it. They may also try to stay in bed when waking in the wee hours of the morning, but sleep does not return.

To help you find the cause of your early morning awakenings, start keeping a sleep journal. Write down what it is you are thinking and feeling in the mornings when you wake up. Keeping a journal will help you pinpoint what is causing you to wake up. Start looking over your journal when you have a few weeks of notations in it and see if there is a pattern to what you thought or felt.

  • Did you wake up hot or cold?

  • Did you notice a light coming in through your window?

  • Did you hear the noise of a neighbor’s dog or traffic?

  • Did you feel ill, were you in pain, or did you feel that your nose was stuffy?

  • Did you wake up thinking about something that causes you anxiety?

If you do notice a pattern, see what you can do to correct it. For instance, if you wake up in pain and have arthritis or another issue that requires pain medication, you may need your nighttime dosage increased. If you wake up time and again noticing a light coming through your window, consider investing in heavy curtains that block out light or start wearing an eye mask to bed. If you hear noises, buy a fan or a sound machine that will lessen outside noise disturbances while you sleep. If you wake up feeling nervous or anxious, you may have some emotional situations going on in your life that you are not confronting.

If you can find no relief on your own for your terminal insomnia, seek out the help of a professional. Whether insomnia occurs at night or in the mornings, it is not pleasant. Help is available.

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free sleep training for insomnia. His course will help you identify the issues that are harming your sleep and teach you how to fix them. Over 3,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 96 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.