Trouble Sleeping? 7 Common Causes of Insomnia

by | Last updated Jun 29, 2022

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You toss and turn, turn and toss throughout the night. Before you know it, the sun is shining through your window and your alarm clock is blaring in your ears. You stretch, yawn, and sigh–another sleepless night.

Your day is an endless fog, and you can’t concentrate at work. When you get home that night, the cycle starts all over again. You know that you can’t keep living this. But who can help?

There’s no debate that sleep is essential to overall health and wellbeing. According to the National Institute of Health, “Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.” Adults need between 7-8 hours of sleep each night for optimal brain performance and physical health. During sleep, your body performs a number of vital restorative functions, from repairing blood vessels to fighting off infections to preparing your brain for the day ahead.

One of the most common causes of sleep deficiency is insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty in falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Understanding the causes of Insomnia is the first step to taking control of your sleep and your health. Here are seven reasons you may be having trouble sleeping and what you can do about them.

1. Poor Sleep Habits

Proper hygiene is just as important when it comes to sleep as it is in other areas of your life. Many of the activities you engage in just before bedtime and even during your day can disrupt your sleep cycle. For example, if you come home from work tired, resist taking a nap because that will stop you from sleeping well at night.

Another bad habit is screen use during the hours leading up to bedtime. It seems like screens are everywhere, but they should not be in your bedroom. Researchers have shown a correlation between the screen’s blue light and poor sleep quality. Make sure not to do any mentally stimulating screen-based activities right before bed like playing a videogame or scrolling on your phone. If you want to read something, pick up a book (but not a tablet or e-reader). Finally, remember that your bed is for sleeping, not for doing work, studying, or engaging in hobbies. If you do any of these things, your mind will start to associate your bed with work rather than sleep.

2. Eating at Bedtime

If you work long hours or have an irregular schedule, you may find it hard to resist the urge to eat a full meal when you get home. The problem is that if you eat that large meal at 9:00 p.m., your body will have a hard time settling when you try to sleep. Additionally, spicy foods eaten before bedtime may cause heartburn, which disrupts sleep. That bowl of spicy Chinese chicken that you ordered may not be doing you any favors if you eat it too late. If you must eat after 7:00 p.m., a small nutrient-dense snack may actually have some health benefits.

3. Heartburn

A common medical condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be associated with late-night eating and may cause painful heartburn that makes it hard to sleep. The good news is that gastroesophageal reflux is treatable. In some cases, making dietary changes can have a positive impact. In other instances, untreated obstructive sleep apnea causes GERD. With untreated sleep apnea, you’re having to create large negative pressures to bring air in through narrow aperture. Negative pressure in the chest creates positive pressure in the belly. This results in shooting acid up into the chest. Getting diagnosed and seeking treatment for sleep apnea can reduce GERD and therefore also benefit anyone suffering from insomnia as a result. If your issues with gastroesophageal reflux seek help from a primary care provider.

Related: GERD and Sleep Apnea: Treating OSA Helps Reduce Nighttime Reflux

4. Anxiety and Depression

The two most commonly diagnosed mental disorders, anxiety, and depression can both negatively affect your sleep in several ways. Researchers have found that 75% of people diagnosed with depression also experience insomnia as a core symptom. For people with all types of anxiety, 24-36% also report co-occurring insomnia, and insomnia is considered a symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It’s important to speak to a medical professional, such as a primary care practitioner or specialist designated by your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms that disrupt your sleep.

Your primary care physician should also rule out other conditions such as hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid gland produces too much of a hormone that regulates your metabolism. The symptoms can mimic those of panic attacks, including racing heart, night sweats, and anxiety. A neurological condition such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis can cause pain and muscle spasms. If you have any of these conditions, a sleep specialist can coordinate with you and your other physicians to address causes of your insomnia.

5. Medications

While medication can be an important part of managing many chronic health conditions including depression and anxiety, some medications may have side effects that interrupt your sleep quality. Even over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements may contribute to sleep problems. Some painkillers contain caffeine, an often overlooked but common cause of insomnia (see below). It’s important to work with a sleep specialist to ensure that the medications you are taking are not part of your sleep problem.

6. Caffeine, Nicotine, and Alcohol

Caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea may keep you awake at night if you drink them in the evening. These drinks act as stimulants and jump-start your body, interfering with natural sleep cycles. Nicotine is as much of a stimulant as caffeine is.

While alcohol will help you fall asleep, you will likely wake up feeling tired the next morning. Alcohol disrupts REM sleep, so even though your eyes may be shut, the sleep you’re getting will not be helping your body to rest and recover. You should talk with a sleep specialist about your current caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol intake to make sure that you are managing your health and your sleep.

7. Other Sleep Disorders

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder, but it’s not the only one. Sleep apnea, for example, will cause you to struggle to breathe (such as snoring) or stop breathing during the night and wake you up. This condition can be treated by a mask that fits over your mouth or soft nasal cushions to help you breathe while you sleep. Often, treating sleep apnea, an underlying cause of insomnia, resolves the issue. Another sleep disorder, restless leg syndrome, causes a sensation in your legs that forces them to move and can make it more challenging to fall asleep. Seek guidance if you feel any other sleep disorders may be the cause of your insomnia.

Reasons Why You May Have Trouble Sleeping at Night

Sleep is essential to physical and mental health. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may be putting yourself and others at risk during the day. If any of the descriptions above resonate with you, it’s time to speak with a medical professional. Insomnia does not have to control your life. You deserve a good night’s rest, each and every night.

Contact us if you feel your insomnia may be the result of something more serious such as other sleep disorders and can’t be resolved by making changes in your behaviors or lifestyle as recommended above.

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