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In Swedish one would understand insomnia as a disease where you couldn't sleep night after night, but now I'm currently learning Chinese and they seem to mean (for 失眠) just having trouble sleeping one night.

That leads to a debate among my friends, what does insomnia in English actually mean? Can it be used for both? Is it correct to use it for both?

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Hi Ragshi. This definition seems to clear up your quandary. Is there anything in that definition that needs further explanation? –  Matt Эллен Dec 14 '11 at 8:07
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In general, once medical conditions become part of the daily lexicon, they start to be used more loosely. So while schizophrenia is a true medical condition, you might hear someone say he's a total schizophrenic when describing someone whose behavior seems erratic or crazy. Insomnia is similar - you'll hear it used by doctors in reference to a specific condition, as well as by people who are describing their friend who doesn't sleep very much but has no medical problem. –  onomatomaniak Dec 14 '11 at 8:42
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closed as general reference by Matt Эллен, Hugo, Unreason, Robusto, Mitch Dec 14 '11 at 12:20

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

2 Answers

Insomnia is the state of being unable to sleep. The point at which such a state becomes a condition requiring therapeutic treatment is more matter of medicine than of language, for insomnia is used both in general and specialist contexts. If you’re really looking for something more esoteric, there’s agrypnia, but I wouldn’t rely on many people knowing what it was.

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Insomnia, used in a serious way, even in general speech, commonly means a persisting problem of being unable to fall asleep, esp. over a prolonged period.

Where you do not want to be misunderstood for such a medical condition, it is preferred to say difficulty in sleeping, unable to sleep well, unable to fall asleep, or something similar.

Lately though, it seems to have become fashionable to use high sounding jargon in casual speech.

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