The 3 Patterns of Insomnia: Onset, Sleep Maintenance and Terminal Insomnia

Patterns of InsomniaAlong with the 3 types of insomnia, insomnia can also be classed by 3 patterns. These are onset insomnia, sleep maintenance Insomnia and terminal insomnia.

The patterns of insomnia are defined by where in the night you suffer from insomnia; the start, middle or end.

Like each type of insomnia, each pattern of insomnia has its own individual causes.

In this article we’ll take a look at the 3 patterns of insomnia and discover the reasons why they might show up during the night.

Onset Insomnia – Problems Falling Asleep

Onset insomnia is classed as a difficulty falling to sleep at the beginning of the night. So essentially, something is preventing you from falling asleep.

This is commonly caused by:

  • Having nagging problems on the mind
  • Stress
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Going to bed when you’re not sleepy
  • Sleeping in an uncomfortable bed
  • Having a sub-optimal sleep environment

Onset insomnia can lead to, or can be caused by delayed sleep phase syndrome. This occurs when your sleep schedule continually gets pushed forward each day. Teenager’s and young adult’s body clocks are naturally wired to stay awake later and wake up later, making them far more likely to experience delayed sleep phase syndrome than older adults.

People with delayed sleep phase syndrome often experience a lack of sleep if they have to wake up early in the morning or work or school for example. It can also lead to oversleeping.

Delayed sleep phase syndrome is best treated by keeping to a good sleep schedule. To do this, the time you wake up and your meal times should be regular and consistent, avoid large meals before bed, and limit your exposure to bright light in the evening.

One of the best sleep habits to treat onset insomnia is to go to bed only when you’re ready to fall asleep. This is known as stimulus control.

Sleep Maintenance Insomnia – Keep Waking Up in the Night

Also known as middle of the night insomnia. This relates to waking in the middle of the night and having problems getting back to sleep. Everyone wakes up on the night and most of the time you don’t remember doing so. It only becomes a problem if you can’t get back to sleep.

This can be caused by an illness preventing you from sleeping soundly. Pain can also be to blame, causing you to wake you up in the middle of the night. Needing get up to go to the toilet and exposing yourself to bright light is another common cause.

If you do wake up in the night, remember to keep calm and relaxed to allow yourself to naturally drift back into a nice deep sleep. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep. That will only make you feel more stressed.

If you wake up in the night, avoid putting the light on. Your body reacts to light by suppressing the sleepiness hormone called melatonin. Your body is hard wired to believe that day equals awake and night equals sleep. Your body may interpret any light exposure by thinking that the sun has risen and so it is time to get up. So keep yourself in darkness.

If you have anxiety or depression, suppressed anxious thoughts can arise during one of these natural wake up times during the night and stimulate your brain, preventing you from sleeping.

Terminal Insomnia – Waking up Too Early

Also known as late insomnia or end of the night awakening. This is when you wake up early in the morning and can’t fall back to sleep.

This can be caused by poor sleep quality. Good quality sleep is defined as a sufficient amount of deep refreshing sleep. Poor quality sleep occurs when you get too much light sleep. Light sleep is very easy to wake up from.

Older people are most likely to suffer from this pattern of insomnia. This is because they often experience advanced sleep phase syndrome. It’s the opposite of what most teenagers suffer with. It basically means you get sleepy earlier and as a result you wake up earlier. Taking refreshing naps during the day of around 20 minutes each is often recommended as a good supplement to your normal nigh time sleep.

Some people naturally need less sleep than others. So if you wake up early but feel great, you’re not suffering from insomnia. It only becomes a problem if you wake up early and still feel tired and experience the signs of a lack of sleep.

If it’s daylight when you wake up, ensure you block out as much light from your bedroom as possible. Exposing yourself to light is a natural way to get your body to wake up.

Depression is also a common cause of terminal or late insomnia.  Depressed people spend more time in REM sleep. REM is a very light stage of sleep that you can be easily awoken from.

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For am in depth look at the causes of insomnia, and the sleep habits you need to overcome them, see causes of insomnia article.