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What is insomnia?

What exactly is insomnia?

The word “insomnia” literally means: “no sleep” (from the Latin in meaning “no” and somnus meaning “sleep”).

To be diagnosed with insomnia, the following must be true for 3 or more days a week:

  • You experience poor sleep such as challenges falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and/or waking up too early and not being able to go back to sleep,

  • This poor sleep is occurring even with ample time to sleep and an adequate environment for sleep, and

  • You experience some kind of impairment while awake such as fatigue, sleepiness, aches and pains, emotional distress or mood swings, lack of energy or focus, poor work performance, or worry and anxiety about sleep.

Insomnia can be short-term (lasting more than 1 month but less than 3) or chronic (lasting more than 3 months). Chronic insomnia is further broken down into persistent (lasting 3 months or longer) or recurrent (having two or more episodes of chronic insomnia in one year).

Situational insomnia (acute insomnia) includes all the above criteria except for the minimum time duration. This kind of insomnia is often the result of a stressor in your life or adaptation to a new sleep environment (like on vacation, a business trip, or staying with a family member).

Insomnia can be diagnosed independently or can be a feature of other health concerns such as a mental health condition (like depression, anxiety, or substance use disorder), with other sleep disorders (like sleep apnea), or with another medical issue (like acid reflux).

And if you don’t meet full criteria but experience a lot of stress, anxiety, and worry about your sleep – you can still seek help!


This information is not a replacement for assessment and treatment by a sleep specialist, physician, and/or therapist.

For more support and guidance, book a consultation with me to get started with a specialized treatment for insomnia called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I).

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