What Causes Insomnia? – Symptoms and Causes

If you find it difficult falling or staying asleep, you might be suffering from insomnia. It’s a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Insomnia can have devastating effects on your mood, energy levels and health. It saps your work performance and quality of life. Here, we’ll look at what causes insomnia, it’s symptoms and prevention.

What Is Insomnia?

habits to prevent insomnia

Insomnia is a term describing the inability to fall and stay asleep. The hours of sleep differ for different people. Some need more hours to feel well rested, while others need less. That’s why insomnia is not defined by the number of hours you sleep but rather by the quality of sleep you’re getting. Even if you spend 8 hours in bed, it doesn’t mean that you’ve had 8 hours of restorative sleep. You might still wake up drowsy and fatigued the next day, which means that you’re experiencing insomnia.

Types of Insomnia

Primary insomnia. In this case, the person is experiencing sleep problems that are not associated with any other health conditions.

Secondary insomnia. In this case, sleep problems are caused by other health conditions, pain, medication or substance use.

Symptoms of Insomnia

  • Difficulty falling asleep even though you’re tired.
  • Waking up many times during the night.
  • When awakened during the night, trouble getting back to sleep.
  • Waking up too early.
  • Waking up feeling unrested.
  • Feeling drowsy and tired during the day.
  • Relying on sleeping pills to fall asleep.
  • Anxiety and irritability.
  • Difficulty staying focused during the day.

Commons Causes of Insomnia

Causes for insomnia can be both physical and psychological. The following are common insomnia causes.

Anxiety, stress or depression

how to prevent insomnia

Most adults at some point experience problems sleeping because of daily worries. It can be anything from getting caught in thoughts about the events of that past day and worrying about future to feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities and overstimulation. However, for some, it becomes a pattern and the stress starts disrupting their sleep on a regular basis.

Moreover, anxiety and insomnia feed each other. As you spend many sleepless nights feeling anxious and stressed out, it can make the anxiety and depression symptoms even worse. So, it becomes a cycle of you being stressed out leading to you not sleeping well, which, in turn, gets you even more stressed.

Treating insomnia in this case involves treating these underlying problems.

Medical problems

what is insomnia

There are many medical conditions that can be the cause of insomnia. It can be either the condition itself causing insomnia or the symptoms of the condition causing discomfort and because of it making it difficult for a person to fall asleep. For example, some medical conditions cause pain or make it difficult to breath, which contribute to poor sleep quality. Other conditions might cause frequent trips to the bathroom during the night.

Medical conditions that can lead to insomnia include chronic pain, asthma, allergies, acid reflux, endocrine problems, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, neurological conditions.


common causes of insomnia

Insomnia can also be a side effect of certain prescription medications that can disrupt normal sleep patterns. That includes antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, cold and flu medications, pain relievers, diuretics, and other.

Disturbances in sleep can also be experienced by those who use illicit drugs. And the longer a person has been using drugs, the more disruptive their sleep becomes. And it’s not limited to illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarette smoking can also affect the quality of your sleep.

Sleep Disorders

what causes insomnia

There are also a number of sleep disorders that can be the underlying cause of insomnia.

For example, with sleep apnea, a person might have trouble breathing at night. It causes the person’s airway to become partially or completely obstructed. This leads pauses in breathing and as a result, frequent awakenings.

Restless leg syndrome is another sleep disorder that can be causing insomnia. This neurological conditions gives the person an uncomfortable sensation of needing to frequently move his or her legs. The symptoms of this condition are especially felt during the transition from wake to sleep, making it more difficult for a person to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Unhealthy Lifestyle

symptoms of insomnia

Unhealthy lifestyle and poor sleep habits can also interfere with your sleep cycle. Here are a few examples of unhealthy lifestyle habits and sleep patterns:

  • Overeating in the evening or eating right before bedtime. It can make you feel physically uncomfortable and cause heartburn or acid reflux.
  • Consuming too much alcohol or caffeine.
  • Having inconsistent sleeping schedule.
  • Taking naps in the afternoon, which only confuses your body’s internal clock and makes it more difficult to fall asleep in the night.
  • Doing stimulating activities before bed, such as watching TV, playing video games, using the phone which emits blue light, etc.
  • Uncomfortable sleep environment. Having an uncomfortable mattress or pillow.
  • Working irregular hours, which disrupts your circadian rhythms, leading to insomnia. This includes working till late in the evening, traveling across multiple time zones and constantly changing shifts.

Good Sleep Habits for Preventing Insomnia

  • Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. Go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time. And avoid taking naps during the day.
  • Right before bedtime avoid screen use or anything else that gives off light.
  • Try to avoid heavy meals in the evening.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and smoking late in the day.
  • Avoid stressing out before bedtime.
  • Create a comfortable bedroom setting by choosing the optimal temperature, dimming the lights and choosing comfortable beddings, such as blankets, mattress, and pillow.
  • Create a pre-bedtime routine that can include taking a bath, reading a book, meditation, etc.
  • If you can’t fall asleep, try reading a book. But don’t do anything that would be overstimulating.
  • Regular exercise is good but it’s better to no workout right before bedtime.
  • Use the bed for only sleeping and sex.

When to See a Doctor

Usually, people can feel if they’re not getting enough sleep. All of us experience a sleepless night once in a while but if you experience it for days on end, you might have insomnia. First, try to improve your sleep hygiene and try different relaxation techniques. If the insomnia persists, schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist. The specialist will examine your sleep patterns and look for possible underlying conditions.

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