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Do you have problems with poor sleep for a long time? Maybe you have trouble falling asleep, waking up during the night or wake up early in the morning. Long-term insomnia can be debilitating, but help is available. Here we look at what causes sleep deprivation and how it can be treated.

What is insomnia?

Sleep problems are a common problem. Sleeping badly now and then is not problematic, but if you regularly sleep badly, it can be good to seek help.

According to SCB, up to 25% of the Swedish population suffers from some form of sleep problem. Many people who have sleep problems start to worry a lot about their sleep and then they can end up in a vicious spiral.

Sleep problems can make you feel tired, have difficulty concentrating, and become easily irritated. If you have problems over a long period, it can become debilitating and very stressful. It can also lead to secondary problems such as anxiety and depression.

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Why does long-term insomnia occur?

The reasons for sleep problems can vary. During crises, sleep problems often occur for a short period, but they can also be triggered by everyday stress. Sleep problems are also common if you have neuropsychiatric problems such as ADHD, have small children, or are in menopause.

If you sleep poorly at least 3 days a week and have done so for at least three months, you may develop insomnia, which is the diagnosis for more severe sleep problems. There is a rare form of fatal insomnia that occurs in a small number of families in the world, but it is very uncommon.

How much sleep do you need?

For people with sleep problems, the question of how much sleep they have had is often very central. People often count the hours, worry and look at the clock at night, and become preoccupied with sleep. The amount of sleep each person needs is individual and can vary between 6-9 hours per night.

We all have an internal clock that regulates our sleep rhythm and when you have sleep problems you are often not in your natural rhythm. Part of the treatment for sleep problems is about finding this rhythm again, but it is also important to remember that the body can adjust its sleep. If you sleep badly one night, your body can regulate it so that you sleep more deeply the next night. So you don’t need to worry too much.

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How does long-term insomnia affect the body?

Many people with sleep problems worry a lot about physical symptoms. This can include fear of symptoms such as anxiety, heart palpitations, nausea, dizziness, body aches, high blood pressure, or fear of becoming mentally ill with hallucinations or psychosis. Sleep is important for body processes and our energy levels.

It also helps us with memory and learning. If you have a lot of concerns about your physical health, you can have a health check-up through your health center with tests to rule out underlying medical conditions. Mental conditions such as mania in bipolar disorder or hallucinations are other conditions that have causes other than lack of sleep and if you think you may be suffering from any of these, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional to get the right help.

Can you get sick from long-term insomnia?

The nature of long-term illnesses is not fully understood. Sleep deprivation can increase the risk of certain diseases such as diabetes, anxiety, depression, addiction, and cardiovascular disease. If we are very sleepy, we function as poorly as when we drink alcohol.

Prolonged sleep problems can lead to exhaustion and if you have symptoms of this, it is important to be assessed by a doctor for this. There may also be an increased risk of premature death, as seen in animal studies, but you should not worry too much. There are treatments for sleep problems.

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Long-term insomnia as a parent

For most people, having a baby is a big adjustment and a period where sleep can often be affected. Sleep problems are common during the final stages of pregnancy, and once the baby arrives, they may sleep restlessly, which also affects their own sleep. A period of poor sleep is not dangerous, although it can be distressing, but around 20% of parents experience severe sleep problems.

Tips for managing long-term insomnia for parents

Some tips include trying to rest when the child is resting during the day, sharing responsibilities if you are two parents, and seeking support from others close to you. Try to accept the situation as it is and find other ways to recover such as going for a walk, having coffee with a friend or doing yoga. If you feel that sleep is affected a lot during the toddler years, you can seek help to get more support. If you are very worried, you can also seek treatment from a psychologist or a child health care provider.

Long-term insomnia symptoms

Sleep problems are common, but if you sleep poorly, you may find it very difficult. Often the body can regulate how much sleep you need; if you sleep little one night, you can sleep more deeply the next night. The body is amazing that way. So you shouldn’t worry too much if you have sleep problems. But if you have symptoms of prolonged sleep deprivation, it can manifest itself like this:

  • Fatigue during the day
  • Sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety and depression.
  • Problems falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night or early in the morning
  • Mood swings and memory problems

If you have had sleep problems for a long time, you may have developed insomnia, which is the diagnosis for more severe sleep problems. It is a common condition, with around one million people suffering from it in Sweden. It can be very difficult, but it can be helped and treated. Insomnia means that you have difficulty falling asleep and/or wake up often and/or wake up too early in the morning. You function less well during the day and are dissatisfied with your sleep and suffer from sleep problems. To be diagnosed, you must also have sleep problems that last at least three nights per week on average and for at least three months.

Treatment for insomnia and insomnia

There are both medical and psychological treatments that can be effective for people with sleep problems. Psychological treatments include tools and strategies specifically developed to treat sleep problems and have been shown in research to be effective. Anxiety is also treated during sleep therapy, as people often have a lot of anxiety related to sleep. When treating sleep problems, it has been seen that other symptoms such as depression also improve. Treatment for sleep problems is:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for sleep problems (CBT)
    CBT for sleep problems is an evidence-based method for improving sleep quality and reducing daytime fatigue. During treatment, you may complete a sleep diary, work on sleep hygiene and sleep routines. There are also various techniques and tools developed specifically for sleep problems. Anxiety and stress are also treated, including through mindfulness.
  • Medical treatment
    In some cases, medication for sleep problems can be prescribed, but it is important to note that this should be seen as a temporary solution. If you want to try medication, talk to your doctor.

Managing sleep problems on your own can be a challenge. Meeting with a professional therapist can help you understand the underlying causes and create a tailored treatment plan for you.

12 common questions about insomnia

What is sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is the experience of not getting enough sleep. Sleeping badly one night now and then is not problematic, but if you are regularly sleeping badly, you may want to seek help. Sleep deprivation can manifest itself in symptoms such as tiredness, depression, anxiety, difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night or early in the morning. You may also experience mood problems.

What are the causes of sleep deprivation?

Sleep problems can be caused by various factors. These can be lifestyle factors or external events such as crises, stress or anxiety, but there can also be underlying medical causes. Life changes such as having children or going through the menopause can also have an impact.

How common is sleep deprivation?

Sleep problems are very common and can affect people of all ages. It is estimated that 25% of the population has some form of difficulty sleeping.

How do sleep problems affect my physical health?

Sleep problems can lead to issues such as fatigue, reduced concentration and difficulties with memory. Often there is a lot of anxiety associated with sleep problems, but there may also be other underlying symptoms such as stress or mental illness. If you have a lot of physical symptoms, contact your health center for a medical assessment and possible tests.

How can I improve my sleep quality?

Try to keep regular bedtimes, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and create a calm sleep environment. Exercise can also improve sleep quality.

Is it dangerous to take sleeping pills?

While sleeping pills can be effective in the short term, they are not a long-term solution and can have side effects. Always consult a doctor before starting such treatment.

Are sleep problems common as a parent of young children?

Sleep problems are common during the toddler years, with around 20% experiencing sleep problems. There is help available if you need it.

Can sleep deprivation be treated?

Sleep deprivation can be treated and the best results have been seen with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is a set of habits and routines that contribute to better sleep. It includes things like avoiding screens and heavy meals before bed and working on relaxation.

Is prolonged sleep deprivation dangerous?

It is not entirely clear how sleep deprivation affects our health, but it can put us at risk of various diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression and addiction. It is therefore advisable to seek help if you have this problem.

How can stress and anxiety affect sleep?

Stress and anxiety are common causes of insomnia. It is possible to work with, for example, CBT for this.

How much sleep do I need?

Most adults need between 6-9 hours of sleep per night. However, sleep needs can vary from person to person.

What should I do if I have serious sleep problems?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists working with CBT who can help you feel better. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact 112 or the nearest emergency room.

How to treat sleep problems

In this step-by-step guide, we look at how a treatment for sleep problems can be treated using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

  • Step 1: Assessment interview
    During an initial assessment interview, we will review your history and you may be asked to complete forms such as the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI), which measures sleep problems. For severe sleep problems or acute crises, a doctor can prescribe medication if necessary.
  • Step 2: Treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
    If the problem is psychological, CBT is an option. During treatment, you will work on sleep hygiene, i.e. your sleep habits. You will also complete a sleep diary and work on strategies to get into your natural sleep rhythm. You can also work on your anxiety and stress through exercises and mindfulness.
  • Step 3: Follow-up and adjustments
    Follow-up sessions evaluate the effect of the treatment and make any necessary adjustments.
  • Step 4: Continued follow-up
    After the treatment, you will be given a plan to maintain your progress and ensure long-term effectiveness.

How do I get help with my insomnia?

Do not hesitate to seek professional help. It is the first step to regaining a good night’s sleep and an improved quality of life. You are not alone and we are here to help you every step of the way. Book an appointment with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists today.

Myths about insomnia

Myth 1: “Sleeping less than seven hours a night is dangerous.” False! Sleep needs are individual and vary over a lifetime.

Myth 2: “I can’t function if I can’t sleep.” False! Sleep deprivation causes disability, but it does not necessarily mean that you are completely disabled. You can compensate for mild sleep deprivation.

Myth 3: “I need to rest because I can’t sleep at night”. False! Insomnia is not cured by rest, but rather by activity. You should keep moving and preferably be outdoors, despite being tired. That way you can get really sleepy just before bedtime.

The myths are taken from an article with sleep researchers at Karolinska Institutet, written by Annika Lund. Published in Medical Science number 3, 2016.

Take the step towards better sleep and improved quality of life

If you or someone you know is experiencing sleep problems, it is possible to get help. Our licensed psychologists and therapists will help you every step of the way on your journey to better sleep and health. Don’t be afraid to take the step towards recovery, we make the hard things easier.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.