Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Insomnia Works

Will You Ever Sleep Again? Transient, Acute and Chronic Insomnias
Short-term insomnia can usually be treated with tweaks to your sleep habits.
Short-term insomnia can usually be treated with tweaks to your sleep habits.
© monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Thinkstock

Most of the time when we talk about our insomnia we talk about its duration, going on about another sleepless night. Insomnia doesn't last for any specific length of time, and it may come and go or visit you just once in a lifetime. The length of your insomnia can be transient, acute or chronic -- and you might experience any or all of these types throughout your life. Transient insomnia is a sleep disturbance that lasts only a few days at a time. An upcoming deadline at work or school may keep you awake for a few nights prior; this is a classic example of transient insomnia. Acute insomnia is another short-term type of the sleep disorder, but instead of losing sleep over the course of a few nights during this manifestation, a person could have bouts of sleepless nights over the course of three weeks at a time.

And then there are those who seem like they never sleep; when you aren't able to sleep for more than six hours a night on at least three nights a week for at least 30 days, you have chronic -- that's long-term -- insomnia. About a quarter of all chronic insomniacs are diagnosed with primary insomnia.

Most insomnia will respond well to treatment. Short-term insomnias are often best treated with lifestyle and behavioral changes, including a change in what's called your sleep hygiene -- your personal sleep habits. Maintaining a regular bedtime and wake time, for example, may help improve your sleep, as does keeping your bedroom dark, quiet and at a cool temperature. Reschedule your day so you're not eating within a few hours before your planned bedtime, and cut back on caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants -- as well as alcohol -- which are known to keep even the best of sleepers from quality sleep.

Insomnia that lasts longer than a just a few nights may need more powerful treatment, in addition to making lifestyle and bedtime habit changes.