December 20, 2021

Chronic and Severe Insomnia

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Medicially Reviewed By:
Dr. Priya Chaudhri
credentials here

What Is Considered Severe Insomnia?

When you suffer from severe insomnia your whole life is affected. Learn about how insomnia impairs functioning and how to find relief from this common problem.

The quality of sleep you get on a given night will have a direct impact on the way you feel and function the next day. Getting adequate sleep is essential for health and wellbeing.

When you struggle with chronic and severe insomnia, you never catch up on your sleep. You pile one lousy night’s sleep on top of another, and the resulting adverse effects will add up quickly.

Counting sheep doesn’t cut it when you have ongoing, chronic sleep issues. Sleeping pills are not a good long-term solution either. So what can you do to get a better night’s sleep? Read on to gain a better understanding of chronic sleep problems and what to do about them.

What is Insomnia?

When someone has insomnia they have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or just cannot get good quality sleep. Millions of American adults struggle with insomnia.

There is acute insomnia, which is a short-term bout of sleeplessness brought on by a stressful event or significant change in your life. There is also chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia occurs when you have sleep issues three or more nights per week, and this lasts more than three months.

When we don’t get enough quality sleep on a regular basis, it can cause very negative effects. These include:

  • Lack of mental alertness; brain fog.
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Prone to accidents.
  • Work suffers.
  • Moodiness

Finding healthy solutions for improving sleep quality is crucial in order to preserve the quality of life.

Understanding the Stages of Sleep

Sleep disorders are often the result of an out-of-kilter circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the internal clock that keeps us alert during the day and sleepy at night. This pattern of cycling between the various energy levels, as needed during each day, is hardwired into each of us.

The interaction between melatonin and cortisol levels is what drives the circadian rhythm. Melatonin is dominant during our night hours and cortisol is dominant during the daytime hours.

The stages of sleep include:

  • Stage One: This NREM stage features the lightest phase of sleep. We are drifting off, transitioning from wake to sleep, allowing our brains to shut down from conscious thought as our bodies begin to relax. As we fall asleep, breathing is still at a regular rate, eye movement is slow, rolling, and muscle tone is present.
  • Stage Two: During stage two, eye movement stops, and slow theta waves ensue. Approximately half of our sleeping hours are spent, collectively, in this stage of sleep. Stage two features light sleep, with a slowing heart rate and lower body temperature.
  • Stages Three and Four: During these deep stages of sleep, awakenings rarely occur, and when arousing someone in this phase they will appear groggy and disoriented. Brain waves slow further, referred to as delta. During this phase, sleepwalking, nightmares, or other sleep disturbances may occur.
  • Stage Five: This is the unique rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. During REM the brain is extremely active and sharp, nearly as active as in the waking state. During REM sleep, the body is virtually paralyzed, heart rate and blood pressure rise and breathing becomes shallower and more erratic.

Causes of Severe Insomnia

We all know how our sleep can be disrupted for a few days when going through a stressful life event. These cases are referred to as acute insomnia.

For chronic insomnia, there are other things at play that contribute to the ongoing problem. These causes might include:

Health issues

  • Sleep apnea
  • Diabetes
  • Prostate problems.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease.
  • GERD
  • Thyroid disease.
  • Cancer
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Lifestyle issues:

  • Alcohol abuse.
  • Rotating shifts at work.
  • Not having a sleep routine.
  • Frequent travel across time zones.
  • Noise or light in the sleep space.
  • Cocaine or Adderall use.
  • Nicotine use.
  • Excess caffeine use.
  • Eating late meals.


  • Chemo drugs.
  • Beta-blockers
  • Antidepressants

What is the Insomnia Severity Index?

When you reach out to a doctor about your sleep problems, he or she will use a screening tool called the insomnia severity index. This is a short quiz that involves questions related to the features of your insomnia. The patient is asked how often they have the sleep issue, about its severity, and how it impacts daily functioning. From the answers, the doctor is able to create a unique plan for treating insomnia that aligns with these features.

How to Find Relief for Insomnia

A medical issue, like sleep apnea discovered after a sleep study, will result in the doctor ordering a C-PAP device. These help keep the airways open, which leads to better sleep.

If a doctor has ruled out any related health issue and has not identified any side effects from a drug, then you will be referred to a mental health provider. This is because there is a good chance that insomnia is somehow connected to a mental health issue, such as anxiety, trauma, or depression.

There are several tools a mental health provider has at hand to help someone with insomnia. These include:

  • Therapy. CBT-I can be very helpful for helping someone struggling with insomnia. CBT-I helps you identify irrational fears that keep you up at night. They then guide the person to shift or eliminate those thoughts.
  • Light therapy. A lightbox can help you reset your circadian cycle.
  • Drugs. Sleep meds like Ambien or and anti-anxiety meds like Ativan can be helpful, although not for long-term use.

Holistic Help for Severe Insomnia

There are some other actions and supplements to take that can greatly improve your sleep quality. Consider these:

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
  • Sip chamomile tea prior to bedtime.
  • Take a warm bath and add some drops of lavender essential oil.
  • Melatonin
  • Valerian root.
  • Avoid heavy meals with three hours of bedtime.
  • Try deep breathing techniques as you are falling asleep.
  • Shut off your phone and other devices an hour prior to bedtime.
  • GABA
  • Kava kava.

Chronic and severe insomnia can be life altering. When seeking help for your insomnia, be sure to look for a sleep expert who will design a tailored approach. Insomnia is not one-size-fits-all, so treatment should not be either.

Elevation Behavioral Health Private Mental Health Care

Elevation Behavioral Health is an upscale private mental health treatment program. Many times, a mental health disorder is at the root of insomnia. If you are struggling with severe insomnia, reach out to us today at (888) 561-0868.

Our team of experts is here to help you.