Sleep problems can be divided into two basic categories, the first is insomnia and the second comprises of all the other sleep disorders. Few people are immune from sleep problems; only 5 percent said that they never have trouble sleeping. Difficulty falling asleep is the more common type of insomnia among people under forty or fifty. Difficulty staying asleep becomes more common after that age. Even if a person has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, the problem constitutes significant insomnia only if it interferes with daytime mood or functioning. The seriousness of insomnia is measured not by how little a person sleeps but by how well the person feels and functions the next day.
Despite our genuine distress during bad nights, it can be useful to consider the accuracy of our perception of how well we sleep. People with insomnia tend to overestimate how long it takes them to fall asleep and tend to underestimate how long they sleep. One study at Sanford University observed a group of self-reported insomniacs overnight in the sleep laboratory. The next morning, these subjects estimated on average that it had taken them about an hour to fall asleep and that they had slept only four and a half hours. However, recordings of their sleep showed that the subjects had slept much better than they reported. In fact, the subjects on average had taken about fifteen minutes to fall asleep and had slept for six and a half hours. Some people go to sleep disorders centers because they believe that they sleep poorly, only to find that objective physiological monitoring shows they sleep much better than they think. Sometimes this insight itself is sufficient to help them stop worrying about their sleep.
Typically, the length of time it takes an adult to fall asleep is about eight to fifteen minutes. If you can’t fall asleep after lying in bed for thirty minutes, you are experiencing sleep onset insomnia . There are four basic reasons for sleep onset insomnia . The first is when a person will wrestle with their problems until the very last minutes of their waking hours. This mental wrestling match robs them of sleep. Sleep onset insomnia is also a problem for people who have an extremely high energy level. These people are active until the very last minute of the day. When it is time to sleep, they are so wound up that the natural sedation necessary for sleep eludes them. The third cause of sleep onset insomnia is anxiety. The body’s physical response to anxiety is the opposite of how it reacts to sleep; it can chase away the calm of sleep. The fourth cause of sleep onset insomnia is stress-induced response to what is known as conditioned insomnia . Many people condition themselves to view their bed as a battleground. Not being able to fall asleep quickly causes such anxiety that their bodies are aroused to the point that sleep becomes impossible.