How To Tell If You Have Terminal Insomnia

While insomnia is associated with older adults or people who are stressed or suffering from depression, the reality is that anyone may suffer from insomnia at some point in their life. The indicators could be trouble sleeping and extreme fatigue during the day.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomniacs experience problems falling asleep at night, waking during the night, having bad dreams, and feeling tired during the day. Women are more likely than men to suffer from insomnia.

There are three main types of insomnia, characterized by duration:

  • Transient insomnia: Lasts for less than one month

  • Short-term insomnia: Lasts for one to six months

  • Chronic insomnia: Lasts for more than six months

Have you considered clinical trials for Insomnia?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Insomnia, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is terminal insomnia?

Terminal insomnia, despite the rather alarming name, is not fatal. It occurs when you consistently wake up earlier than your desired wake-up time and cannot fall back to sleep. For example, you could wake up between 2 AM and 4 AM, then have trouble falling back to sleep.

In most instances, you do not have a challenge falling asleep at night but cannot go back to sleep if you wake in the middle of the night.

Terminal insomnia results in daytime sleepiness and an inability to focus due to fatigue.

What causes terminal insomnia?

While there may not be one specific cause of terminal insomnia, it may result from several factors, including:

1. Stress and anxiety

Stress is the primary reason behind many health issues, and terminal insomnia is no exception. In most cases, your stressors are on your mind as soon as you wake up. When you experience stress, your body goes into overdrive to cope with the situation. This reaction can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and even sweating. These physiological changes can be uncomfortable and often lead to terminal insomnia.

When experiencing anxiety, your body triggers a ‘flight or fight’ response, which affects you physically and mentally. Stress manifests itself in several ways, including restlessness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms can harm your ability to fall asleep again at night.

2. Depression

Depression is a mood disorder with serious symptoms, and there are multiple different kinds of depression or major depressive disorder. Some symptoms of depression are:

  • Feelings of guilt

  • Pessimism or hopelessness

  • Increased fatigue

  • Difficulty sleeping

Sleep disturbance is a common symptom of depression, in particular, terminal insomnia and hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness during the day, despite naps and sleeping at night). A tendency to focus on negative thoughts can impact sleep quality. Studies have found that persistent insomnia is tied to future relapses in people with depression.¹ ²

3. Jet lag

When traveling from one time zone to another, your internal clock needs time to adjust to the new environment. While this adjustment period can last from six hours to a couple of days, it usually takes a few days before your body clock returns to normal.

Jet lag throws your body clock off balance, causing your brain to receive conflicting information. Your circadian rhythm is disrupted by varying time zones, and your sleeping pattern goes haywire. Jet lag can make it difficult to fall asleep, keep you awake throughout the night, or make you wake up earlier than you should. It makes you feel exhausted and groggy.

If you don't get adequate rest after traveling, your body produces too much melatonin, disrupting your circadian rhythm and making it harder to fall asleep.

4. Chronic pain

Chronic pain is often associated with sleep disorders due to shared symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Stress

  • Difficulty concentrating

When the body experiences pain, it releases chemicals that affect our brain and nervous system. These hormones produce feelings of fear and frustration and disrupt our ability to fall asleep.

Chronic pain affects everything about your life, including your ability to get quality sleep at night. The significant energy produced by the body to process information about pain signals removes the body's ability to relax and fall asleep. When your brain doesn't get enough sleep, this can lead to insomnia.

Many chronic pain conditions are associated with terminal insomnia. These conditions include:

  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis can cause increased sleep disturbance, and the combination of pain and insomnia can also increase the risk of depression.

  • Back pain: Increasing evidence points to the connection between sleep disturbance and chronic pain, with insomnia more prevalent among people suffering from chronic back pain.

  • Fibromyalgia: Research has shown that increased pain caused by fibromyalgia is associated with reduced sleep quality, increased sleep disturbance, and total wake time.³

  • Headaches and musculoskeletal pain: While it’s not clear if the relationship between musculoskeletal pain or headaches and insomnia is causal, studies have consistently established a long-term tie between the conditions.⁴

Symptoms of terminal insomnia

Terminal insomnia deprives you of sleep after a disruption to your sleep cycle. You may feel tired or unrefreshed after sleeping. If you have terminal insomnia, you often wake up groggy and unable to function correctly. You may also have headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue.

Mood disorders

Several symptoms can occur when you have not slept well over a long period. You may experience anxiety, depression, irritability, and other mood disorders. These feelings may worsen if you continue to lack quality sleep.

Excessive sleepiness during the day

Because you cannot fall asleep again after waking, you are awake from an early hour and cannot stay awake throughout the day. If this problem persists over time, it could lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, narcolepsy, and even death.

Difficulty concentrating

If you are having trouble staying focused throughout your day, lack of sleep could be the reason.

Poor memory

When you haven't had enough sleep over several nights, your brain doesn't receive the amount of stimulation it needs to store information effectively. Your short-term memory is affected, making it harder to retain what you learned during the day.

Your long-term memory is also negatively affected as, over time, memories are not being properly consolidated. 

How to treat terminal insomnia

There are a few different things you can try to improve your terminal insomnia.

Plan your traveling

If you want to avoid terminal insomnia caused by jet lag, keep your journeys shorter than 12 hours. In addition, make sure you get enough sleep the day before your trip. If possible, try to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier to help your circadian rhythm adjust.

Try to travel in warm weather. Cold environments lower your core body temperature, which makes you feel more tired. When traveling in colder climates, wear multiple layers rather than a single thick one.

Try cognitive behavioral therapy

CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, is a subtype of psychotherapy that involves structured conversations with a licensed mental health professional.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) and other organizations recommend CBT as an initial, nonpharmacologic treatment due to the well-researched positive outcomes associated with this treatment.

CBT sessions involving sleep hygiene and other behavioral interventions can help many people reduce terminal insomnia.

Avoid alcohol before bedtime

Try not to drink alcohol right before going to sleep. Drinking alcohol can lead to dehydration, which can disrupt your sleep cycle.

Employ relaxation techniques

Yoga and meditation are two great ways to relax. These activities help reduce tension and give you a sense of calmness. After doing yoga or meditating, go to bed earlier than usual to get a good night's rest.

Use herbal remedies

Herbal remedies like chamomile tea, valerian root, ginger tea, and lavender oil help calm your nerves and relax the body. Additionally, herbal remedies can improve your mood, relieve anxiety, and promote deep sleep.

Try drinking an infusion every time you lose sleep earlier than you should. Even better, make this a bedtime routine to prevent sleep disruptions.

Lavender oil has sedative properties. In addition to using lavender oil on your skin, try adding some to your bath water for some relaxation time.

Reduce caffeine

If you’re suffering from any sleep disorder, including terminal insomnia, consider reducing your caffeine intake. Caffeine has a stimulating effect on the body and can keep us alert for extended periods. Long-term caffeine use can lead to insomnia.

Talk to your doctor about medication options

If you do not have access to melatonin sleep sprays, talk to your doctor about pharmaceutical medications. There are several medications that can be prescribed for treating insomnia.

They may also refer you for tests or to a specialist for further investigations and specialized treatments.

The lowdown

When you have terminal insomnia, you consistently wake up earlier than you wish to, and have trouble getting back to sleep. This changes your sleep cycles and disrupts your sleep patterns.

If you suspect you may have terminal insomnia, talk to your doctor. They can diagnose you based on your symptoms. If you do have terminal insomnia, they can recommend ways to treat it.

Find clinical trials now for terminal insomnia

Would you like to get a diagnosis and find a solution for terminal insomnia? Contact us at HealthMatch, where we help you understand your condition, inform you of your treatment options, and give you access to leading specialists. Visit our website or email

Have you considered clinical trials for Insomnia?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Insomnia, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

Do you want to know if there are any Insomnia clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for Insomnia?
Have you been diagnosed with Insomnia?