Insomnia Causes

Insomnia Causes, Symptoms, About Aging, Causes of Insomnia in the Elderly, Causes of Insomnia During Pregnancy, Risk Factors, Complications, & Prevention

Insomnia Causes Overview

Common causes of insomnia include stress, an irregular sleep schedule, poor sleeping habits, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, physical illnesses and pain, medications, neurological problems, and specific sleep disorders. A combination of these factors can initiate and exacerbate insomnia for many people.

Insomnia[1] is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. As a result, you may still feel tired when you wake up. Insomnia can sap your energy level and mood and your health, work performance, and quality of life.

How much sleep is enough varies from person to person, but most adults need seven to eight hours a night.

Many adults experience short-term (acute) insomnia, which lasts for days or weeks. It’s usually the result of stress or a traumatic event. But some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia that lasts for a month or more. Insomnia may be the primary problem, or it may be associated with other medical conditions or medications.

Symptoms

Insomnia symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
  • Irritability, depression, or anxiety
  • Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks, or remembering
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Ongoing worries about sleep
Insomnia can be caused by psychiatric and medical conditions, unhealthy sleep habits, specific substances, or certain biological factors.
Insomnia can be caused by psychiatric and medical conditions, unhealthy sleep habits, specific substances, or certain biological factors.

Is all Insomnia the Same?

Not all insomnia is the same; people can experience the condition differently [2]. Short-term insomnia happens only over a brief period, while chronic insomnia lasts for three months or more. The primary problem is falling asleep (sleep onset) for some people, while others struggle with staying asleep (sleep maintenance).

How a person is affected by insomnia can vary significantly based on its cause, severity, and underlying health conditions.

Causes

Insomnia is usually a result of stress, life events or habits that disrupt sleep.
Insomnia is usually a result of stress, life events, or habits that disrupt sleep.

Insomnia may be the primary problem, or it may be associated with other conditions. Chronic insomnia is usually a result of stress, life events, or habits that disrupt sleep. Treating the underlying cause can resolve insomnia, but sometimes it can last for years.

Common causes of chronic insomnia include:

  • Stress: Concerns about work, health, finances, or family can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep. Stressful life events or trauma — such as the death or illness of a loved one, divorce, or a job loss — also may lead to insomnia.
  • Travel or work schedule: Your circadian rhythms act as an internal clock, guiding such things as your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism, and body temperature. Disrupting your body’s circadian rhythms can lead to insomnia. Causes include jet lag from traveling across multiple time zones, working a late or early shift, or frequently changing shifts.
  • Poor sleep habits: Poor sleep habits include an irregular bedtime schedule, naps, stimulating activities before bed, an uncomfortable sleep environment, and using your bed for work, eating, or watching TV. Computers, TVs, video games, smartphones, or other screens just before bed can interfere with your sleep cycle.
  • Overeating late in the evening: Having a light snack before bedtime is OK, but overeating may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down. Many people also experience heartburn, a backflow of acid and food from the stomach into the esophagus after eating, which may keep you awake.

Chronic insomnia may also be associated with medical conditions or the use of certain drugs. Treating the medical condition may help improve sleep, but insomnia may persist after the medical condition improves.

Additional common causes of insomnia include:

  • Mental health disorders: Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, may disrupt your sleep. Awakening too early can be a sign of depression. Insomnia often occurs with other mental health disorders as well.
  • Medications: Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, such as certain antidepressants and medications for asthma or blood pressure. Many over-the-counter medications — such as some pain medications, allergy, and cold medications, and weight-loss products — contain caffeine and other stimulants that can disrupt sleep.
  • Medical conditions: Examples of conditions linked with insomnia include chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), overactive thyroid, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Sleep-related disorders[3]: Sleep apnea causes you to stop breathing periodically throughout the night, interrupting your sleep. Restless legs syndrome causes unpleasant sensations in your legs and an almost irresistible desire to move them, which may prevent you from falling asleep.
  • Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol: Coffee, tea, cola, and other caffeinated drinks are stimulants. Drinking them late afternoon or evening can keep you from falling asleep at night. Nicotine in tobacco products is another stimulant that can interfere with sleep. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes awakening in the middle of the night.

Insomnia and Aging

Insomnia becomes more common with age[15]. As you get older, you may experience:

  • Changes in sleep patterns: Sleep often becomes less restful as you age, so noise or other changes in your environment are more likely to wake you. With age, your internal clock usually advances, so you get tired earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. But older people generally still need the same amount of sleep as younger people.
  • Changes inactivity: You may be less physically or socially active. A lack of activity can interfere with a good night’s sleep. Also, the less active you are, the more likely you may be to take a daily nap, which can interfere with sleep at night.
  • Changes in health: Chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis or back problems and depression or anxiety can interfere with sleep. Issues that increase the need to urinate during the night ―such as prostate or bladder problems ― can disrupt sleep. Sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome become more familiar with age.
  • More medications: Older people typically use more prescription drugs than younger people do, which increases the chance of insomnia associated with medications.

Insomnia and Mental Health Disorders

Mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder frequently give rise to serious sleeping problems. It is estimated that 40% of insomnia[4] have a mental health disorder. These conditions can incite pervasive negative thoughts and mental hyperarousal that disturbs sleep. In addition, studies indicate that insomnia can exacerbate mood and anxiety disorders[5], making symptoms worse and even increasing the risk of suicide[6] in people with depression.

Insomnia Causes include: Stress related to big life events, like a job loss or change, the death of a loved one, divorce, or moving
Insomnia Causes include: Stress related to big life events, like a job loss or change, the death of a loved one, divorce, or moving

Insomnia, Physical Illness, and Pain

Almost any condition that causes pain can disrupt sleep by making it harder to lie comfortably in bed. Dwelling on pain when sleepless in bed may amplify it, increasing stress and sleeping problems[7]. If you suffer from pain while lying in bed, it’s essential to pick the best mattress for your needs, like beds with good pressure relief and ease troublesome pain points.

Health complications related to Type II diabetes can be part of an underlying cause of insomnia[8]. For example, pain from peripheral neuropathy, more frequent hydration and urination, and rapid blood sugar changes can interrupt sleep. There is also a correlation between diabetes and other health conditions[9] that are known to interfere with sleep, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and depression[10]. In addition, other types of physical illness, including those affecting the respiratory or nervous system, may pose challenges to sleep that can culminate in short-term or chronic insomnia.

What Are Causes of Insomnia in the Elderly?

Insomnia occurs in 30-48% of older adults[11], who often have particular struggles with sleep maintenance. As in people of a younger age, stress, physical ailments, mental health problems, and poor sleep habits can cause insomnia in the elderly. However, older people are often more sensitive to these causes because of higher levels of chronic health conditions, social isolation, and increased use of multiple prescription drugs that may affect sleep.

Research indicates that people over age 60 have less sleep efficiency. They spend less time in deep sleep and REM sleep, making it easier for their sleep to be disturbed[12]. A decrease in daylight exposure and reduced environmental cues for sleep and wakefulness can affect circadian rhythm, especially for older people in managed care settings.

What Are the Causes of Insomnia During Pregnancy?

Multiple factors can cause insomnia during pregnancy[13]:

  • Discomfort: Increased weight and changed body composition can affect positioning and comfort in bed.
  • Disrupted Breathing: Growth of the uterus places pressure on the lungs, creating breathing problems during sleep. Hormonal changes can increase snoring and the risk of central sleep apnea, which involves brief lapses in a breath.
  • Reflux: Slower digestion can prompt disruptive gastroesophageal reflux in the evening.
  • Nocturia: Greater urinary frequency can create the need to get out of bed to go to the bathroom.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome: The exact cause is unknown, but pregnant women have a greater risk of RLS even if they have never had symptoms before becoming pregnant.

Studies have found that more than half of pregnant women[14] report sleeping problems consistent with insomnia. In the first trimester, pregnant women frequently sleep more total hours, but the quality of their sleep decreases. Whole sleep time decreases after the first trimester, with the most significant sleeping problems occurring during the third trimester.

Risk Factors

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night. But your risk of insomnia is more significant if:

  • You’re a woman. Hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle and in menopause may play a role. During menopause, night sweats and hot flashes often disrupt sleep. Insomnia is also familiar with pregnancy.
  • You’re over age 60. Because of changes in sleep patterns and health, insomnia increases with age.
  • You have a mental health disorder or physical health condition. Many issues that impact your mental or physical health can disrupt sleep.
  • You’re under a lot of stress. Stressful times and events can cause temporary insomnia. And significant or long-lasting stress can lead to chronic insomnia.
  • You don’t have a regular schedule. For example, changing shifts at work or traveling can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle.
Insomnia Causes
Improper medications for insomnia may lead to possible substance abuse and other health complications.

Complications

Sleep is as essential to your health as a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Whatever your reason for sleep loss, insomnia can affect you mentally and physically. In addition, people with insomnia report a lower quality of life than people sleeping well.

Complications of insomnia may include:

  • Lower performance on the job
  • Slowed reaction time while driving and a higher risk of accidents

Prevention

  • Mental health disorders, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, or substance abuse
  • Increased risk and severity of long-term diseases or conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease

Good sleep habits can help prevent insomnia and promote sound sleep:

  • Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, including weekends
  • Stay active — Regular activity helps promote a good night’s sleep
  • Check your medications to see if they may contribute to insomnia
  • Avoid or limit naps
  • Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol, and don’t use nicotine
  • Avoid large meals and beverages before bedtime
  • Make your bedroom comfortable for sleep and only use it for sex or rest
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as taking a warm bath, reading, or listening to soft music

At We Level Up Treatment Fl Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about insomnia causes and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and answer any of your questions.

Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.

Sources

[1] What is insomnia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/inso#. Accessed Sept. 6, 2016.

[2] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25367475/

[3] Sleep disorders: The connection between sleep and mental health. National Alliance on Mental Health. http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Sleep-Disorders. Accessed Sept. 6, 2016.

[4] MSD Manuals – https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/sleep-disorders/insomnia-and-excessive-daytime-sleepiness-eds

[5] NCBI –  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17682658/

[6] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9228889/

[7] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24290442/

[8] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28989888/

[9] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12610025/

[10] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31890668/

[11] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29852897/

[12] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26632430/

[13] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31890101/

[14] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22623880/

[15] NIH – Sleep and aging. National Institute on Aging. https://nihseniorhealth.gov/sleepandaging/aboutsleep/01.html. Accessed Sept. 6, 2016.

[16] Insomnia fact sheet. WomensHealth.gov. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/insomnia.html. Accessed Sept. 6, 2016