Causes of Short-Term Insomnia

Stress, Jet Lag, and Shift Work May Disrupt Your Sleep

Trouble sleeping may come and go throughout your life. A temporary disruption in your ability to sleep may be quickly forgotten--once it has passed. In the midst of it, however, it may be important to differentiate acute insomnia from more chronic problems.

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Acute or short-term insomnia may have various causes, and one of the most important is stress. What are some of the potential causes of short-term insomnia? Can insomnia be linked to our travel or work schedules?

Common Causes

Acute or short-term insomnia lasts three months or less. The most common cause of acute insomnia is stress. The origin of this stress can be as varied as you can imagine. The most common stressors include:

  • Changes in your sleep environment (temperature, light, noise)
  • Major life changes, such as loss of close family or friends, divorce, or job loss
  • Problems at work and financial distress may also keep
    you up at night.
  • Medical conditions, such as a recent illness (especially those that affect breathing), surgery, or sources of pain
  • Use or withdrawal from stimulants (caffeine), certain medications (theophylline, beta blockers, steroids, thyroid replacement, and asthma inhalers), illegal drugs (cocaine and methamphetamine), or alcohol

It is key to recognize that difficulty falling or staying asleep (or sleep that is simply not refreshing) becomes a chronic issue when it lasts for longer than three months. Long-term or chronic insomnia requires a different assessment and possible treatment. As the causes are often distinctive, acute and chronic insomnia are considered to be separate conditions.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

There are certain living conditions and habits that can disrupt a normal sleep cycle which then triggers insomnia.

Sleep Environment

One of the most important complements to our ability to our ability to sleep is our sleep environment. This space should be quiet, cool, and comfortable. It should be free of disruption and distraction. We should ideally keep our bedroom empty of televisions, telephones, and pets. If we change our sleep environment, including the inclusion or exclusion of a bed partner, our sleep may change, too.

Jet Lag

When we travel a great distance rather quickly, as occurs with airplane travel, we are subject to jet lag. This condition results when our internal biological clock is not aligned to the patterns of light and dark in our new environment. This disrupts our circadian rhythm, mismatching the timing of our sleep to the new time zone.

There are effective treatments for this condition, including planning ahead and slowing changing your sleep schedule, using a light box for phototherapy, or taking a small dose of melatonin.

Shift Work

It is increasingly common to have our sleep disrupted by the requirements of our work schedule, especially in shift work. Many careers involve working non-traditional shifts, including during the evening hours or overnight. These "graveyard shifts" can take a toll. Not only do workers not function as well when they work at a time when they should be sleeping, but they also cannot sleep as well when they should be awake.

Most workers end up sleeping less than they normally would if they were to sleep at night. This may lead to numerous problems related to sleep deprivation, including errors, accidents, and other side effects. One way this sleep problem can be resolved is by transferring from the night shift, or by sleeping at the same time every day for several weeks.

The causes of short-term insomnia are important to recognize because, in many cases, they can be addressed. By alleviating the underlying stress or trigger, the difficulty sleeping may also resolve. In some settings, it is simply a matter of the passage of time.

In the cases of jet lag and shift work, the cause is clear. Though with jet lag you will gradually adapt to your new time zone after traveling, a mismatched circadian pattern in shift work may require changing your job schedule. This may not always prove to be possible, so maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule may be your second-best option.

A Word From Verywell

No matter the cause, the consequences of short-term insomnia may be serious, so it is worth taking the time to carefully consider your situation and what you might be able to do about it. You deserve to get the rest that you need, and if possible it is best to address these difficulties before they become a chronic issue.

Not being able to sleep every so often is usually not a health concern, but if you find yourself trying to cope with insomnia on a regular basis, it may be time to see your doctor.

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Article Sources
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