Can I Get Disability Benefits Because of Severe, Chronic Insomnia?

Social Security isn't likely to grant disability for insomnia alone, but when combined with other physical or mental problems, it could tip the scales in your favor.

By , Contributing Author
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Insomnia is a sleep disorder causing individuals to have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. A person has chronic insomnia if they experience insomnia at least three nights a week for at least one month.

Types of Insomnia

There are two types of insomnia: primary insomnia, which is insomnia that is not caused by another health condition, and secondary insomnia, which is a direct result of another heath condition. Chronic insomnia may be either of these types of insomnia and can be caused by depression or anxiety, chronic stress, or pain or discomfort during the night.

Symptoms of Insomnia

Symptoms of insomnia may include:

  • not being able to fall asleep
  • waking up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning
  • not feeling well rested after a night's sleep
  • tiredness during the day
  • irritability, depression, or anxiety
  • decreased concentration and increased errors
  • decreased memory
  • tension headaches, and
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (for example, stomach aches and constipation).

Treatments for insomnia include treating the underlying conditions (if any exist) and behavioral therapy to teach relaxation techniques to promote sleep.

Long-Term Health Effects of Insomnia

Sleep is essential to your overall wellbeing. If insomnia isn't treated, there can be long-term effects for those who suffer from severe and chronic insomnia, including:

  • decreased performance at school or on the job
  • decreased reaction time
  • psychiatric issues, such as depression or anxiety disorders
  • weight gain or obesity
  • decreased ability to fight illness, and
  • increased risk and severity of long-term illness, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

Not Being Able to Work Due to Insomnia

Those whose chronic insomnia has affected their ability to function and work might be able to receive Social Security disability benefits -- either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To receive one of these monthly benefits, you must either show that you are unable to do any kind of work or that you meet the criteria of one of Social Security's listed disabilities.

Social Security will assess your physical and mental abilities using a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form. Those with severe and chronic insomnia can have both mental and physical impairments. While insomnia does not in and of itself cause physical impairments, the effects of insomnia can affect your ability to perform physical jobs. Fatigue is a major barrier to many physical tasks. Tension headaches can also further hinder your ability to do physical work. However, those with insomnia can generally do work that does not require physical work, including a desk job or other work that includes minimal physical abilities, unless their mental abilities are affected by insomnia.

Mental abilities that can affect your work include your ability to understand and complete tasks, get along with coworkers, respond appropriately to supervision, and handle stress at work. For those with severe, chronic insomnia, the lack of sleep leads to a decrease in concentration and memory, which will directly affect your ability to understand and complete tasks. In addition, long-term anxiety and depression caused by chronic fatigue may affect your ability to get along with coworkers and handle the stresses at work.

Finally, decreased reaction time can affect your ability to work in certain conditions, such as around heavy machinery or in a position that requires quick response times. If the work you used to do before you had to stop working was around heavy machinery, and you have reduced reaction times due to chronic insomnia, Social Security will likely agree you can't do that work anymore.

To learn about how Social Security uses your RFC assessment to decide whether you can work, see our series of articles on Social Security's RFC analysis.

The long-term effects of insomnia, such as heart disease and diabetes, may also limit the types of work you can do. For more information, see our articles on heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes.

Meeting the Requirements of a Listed Disability

Social Security doesn't have a specific disability listing for insomnia. However, there are several listings that could apply to your medical condition due to the long-term effects of chronic insomnia. Such listings include:

Your Chances of Getting Disability for Insomnia

If you apply for disability benefits based on insomnia alone, it's unlikely you'll be granted disability benefits, even on appeal. But most people who suffer from insomnia suffer from other medical ailments as well. The additional limitations caused by fatigue and the resulting mental deficits can help you get disability benefits based on other physical or mental ailments. For more information, see our article on combining impairments to win disability.

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