What Are Common Causes of Insomnia? When to see a doctor? Update 05/2024

Insomnia refers to a group of sleep disorders characterized by difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or early awakening with subsequent inability to settle back to sleep. When you finally do wake up, you may still feel exhausted. Fatigue, depression, and a general lack of zest for life are only the beginning of what insomnia can do to a person’s health, productivity at work, and overall happiness.

Although the ideal amount of sleep for an adult is from seven to eight hours each night, this varies greatly among individuals.

Many individuals may suffer from acute, or temporary, insomnia for a few nights to a few weeks at some point in their lives. Anxiety and trauma are common causes. However, some individuals suffer from persistent insomnia that lasts for a minimum of one month. Insomnia could be the root cause, or it could be a side effect of a treatment or illness.

No longer must you suffer through sleepless nights. In many cases, the solution lies in making minor adjustments to your routine.


Signs of insomnia include but are not limited to:

  • Nighttime insomnia is a problem because of this.
  • Nighttime awakenings.
  • Problem: I keep waking up way too early.
  • difficulty waking up feeling refreshed after a night of sleep.
  • Experiencing difficulty staying awake during the day.
  • Emotional instability, such as irritability, depression, or worry.
  • Problems concentrating, remembering, or paying attention.
  • There has been an increase in mistakes or mishaps.
  • Constant anxiety about getting enough shut-eye.

When to see a doctor

Visit your doctor if you’re having trouble sleeping and it’s interfering with your daily life. Your doctor may suggest you visit a sleep clinic for diagnostic evaluation if he or she has reason to suspect that you suffer from a sleep issue.

Is All Insomnia the Same?

Insomnia manifests itself differently in different people. Insomnia can be either temporary or chronic; the latter typically lasts for three months or longer. While sleep maintenance is a common issue, sleep onset is a concern for certain people (sleep maintenance).
Insomnia Causes

Insomnia can have quite different consequences for different people depending on their unique circumstances, including the underlying diseases they already have and the degree to which they are afflicted by insomnia.

What Are Common Causes of Insomnia?

Many factors, often interrelated, can contribute to insomnia’s occurrence. As a result of the complicated web of relationships between insomnia’s many contributing factors, the disorder is often misdiagnosed.

Hyperarousal is thought to be the root cause of insomnia since it prevents people from going asleep and staying asleep. Hyperarousal can manifest itself in the mind and body and is caused by a wide variety of environmental and medical factors.

Insomnia and Stress

The physical response that stress might cause can interfere with restful sleep. Work, school, and interpersonal connections can all trigger this stress reaction. Tragic experiences have been linked to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of chronic stress (PTSD).

Hyperarousal can be caused by both the mind and the body while under stress. The inability to sleep may cause additional stress, making it more challenging to overcome the stress-insomnia triad.

Insomnia due to stress may be more common in some people, according to the research. These individuals are categorized as having high “sleep reactivity,” which is associated with additional problems that influence their quality of sleep and general wellbeing.

Insomnia and Irregular Sleep Schedules

In a perfect environment, the 24-hour day and night cycle would be reflected in the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Actually, many people’s sleep schedules throw off their circadian rhythms.

Jet lag and shift work are two common examples. A person’s ability to fall asleep is negatively impacted by jet lag because their body has to work too hard to acclimatize to the new time zone. The worker working shifts must forego daytime naps in favor of staying awake through the night. These two conditions can contribute to shifts in circadian rhythm and sleeplessness.

Circadian rhythm disruptions can occur in adults for no apparent reason, causing long-term issues with sleep onset latency and overall sleep quality.

Insomnia and Lifestyle

Insomnia risk increases with unhealthy lifestyle, eating, and drinking patterns.

There are a number of different ways in which one’s daily habits can affect their ability to get to sleep:

  • Sustaining mental activity well into the evening by doing things like working or playing video games or using other electronic gadgets.
  • If you have a nap in the late afternoon, it could disrupt your sleep schedule and make it harder to get to sleep at night.
  • Trying to make up for lost sleep by sleeping in longer might throw off your body’s internal clock, making it harder to get back on a regular sleep pattern.
  • By doing things other than sleeping in your bed, you may start associating it with being awake.

The significance that one’s food can have in sleep disorders like insomnia is generally underappreciated.

When consumed in the late afternoon or early evening, caffeine’s stimulating effects can linger in the body for several hours, making it more difficult to fall asleep and perhaps leading to insomnia. Another stimulant that can interrupt your sleep is nicotine.

While it’s true that alcohol is a sedative and can make you sleepy, it actually worsens sleep quality by disrupting the sleep cycle and leading to shortened, restless slumber.

When ingested late in the day, big meals and spicy foods can be taxing on the digestive system and may prevent you from falling asleep easily.

Insomnia and Mental Health Disorders

Extreme insomnia is a common symptom of mental health issues such anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Forty percent of those who suffer from insomnia also have a diagnosable mental health condition.
Insomnia: Causes, Symptoms, Types, and More

Sleep disruption and chronic negative thinking are both possible outcomes of the aforementioned situations. Studies have also shown that insomnia can amplify the negative effects of mood and anxiety problems, heightening the likelihood that a depressed person will take their own life.

Insomnia, Physical Illness, and Pain

The inability to lie down comfortably in bed due to pain can be a major sleep disruptor. The stress and inability to sleep may be made worse by focusing on the discomfort that one is experiencing when awake. Beds with appropriate pressure relief can ease difficult pain points, so if you experience pain when lying in bed, it is crucial to select the finest mattress for your needs.

Type II diabetes-related health problems are a potential underlying cause of sleeplessness. Rapid variations in blood sugar, increased frequency of urination and hydration needs, and peripheral neuropathy-related pain all have the potential to disrupt a good night’s rest. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and depression are two major health issues that are linked to diabetes that disrupt sleep.

Short-term or long-term insomnia can be the result of other medical illnesses as well, such as those that disrupt breathing or the nervous system.

Insomnia and Medications

Numerous drugs may cause sleep disruptions or insomnia as unwanted side effects. medications for high blood pressure, asthma, and depression are all examples. An individual’s sleep routine may be disrupted if they take a medicine that makes them sleepy during the day.

Medication isn’t the only thing that can keep you up at night. Difficulty sleeping may be a side effect of stopping drug use, either through withdrawal or other physiological reactions.

Insomnia and Neurological Problems

Brain issues, such as neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental problems, have been linked to an increased likelihood of insomnia.

Dementia and other forms of neurodegenerative disease can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm and their ability to respond to the daily cues that regulate sleep and wakefulness. Disorientation in the middle of the night might make it even more difficult to get quality rest.

Insomnia is a common symptom of neurodevelopmental disorders like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because hyperarousal, a state of heightened alertness, can make it difficult for patients to fall asleep. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have trouble falling or staying asleep, and these issues may follow them into adulthood.

Insomnia and Specific Sleep Disorders

Insomnia may be brought on by a variety of sleep disorders. Up to twenty percent of the population suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, which is characterized by periodic cessations in breathing and brief awakenings throughout the night.

The overwhelming need to move one’s legs is a major symptom of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), which disrupts sleep.

Parasomnias, or abnormal actions in sleep, are a known sleep disruptor. Parasomnias are characterized by a wide range of abnormal sleep behaviors, some of which are more well-known than others.

What Are Causes of Insomnia in the Elderly?

The elderly (30-48%) are disproportionately affected by insomnia due to their unique difficulties maintaining sleep.

Insomnia in the elderly can be brought on by the same stress, physical diseases, mental health problems, and bad habits that bring it on in younger individuals. But because of greater rates of chronic health issues, social isolation, and usage of many prescription drugs that may influence sleep, the elderly are often more vulnerable to these factors.

There is evidence to suggest that the sleep efficiency of persons over the age of 60 decreases. They are more easily awakened because they spend less time in the deeper stages of sleep and REM sleep. Particularly for the elderly in managed care settings, a reduction in sun exposure and diminished environmental cues for sleep and wakefulness might alter circadian rhythm.

What Are the Causes of Insomnia in Teens?

Up to 23.8% of teenagers suffer from insomnia, according to certain studies. Teens are biologically predisposed to have a later, “night owl,” sleep schedule, but school start hours often prevent them from getting as much sleep as they would want.

The pressures of school, work, and social life may put a lot of strain on anyone, but teenagers may be especially prone to the effects of overscheduling. The prevalence of teen bedroom gadget use is comparable to that of adults. Insomnia is common among adolescents for many reasons.

What Are the Causes of Insomnia During Pregnancy?

Sleeplessness during pregnancy can be caused by a number of different things:

  • Discomfort: Because of changes in body composition and placement, sleeping can become uncomfortable as one gains weight.
  • Disrupted Breathing: The expanding uterus puts stress on the lungs, which can disrupt sleep because of difficulty breathing. The risk of snoring and central sleep apnea, characterized by periodic cessation of breathing during sleep, may be amplified by hormonal shifts.
  • Reflux: Inconvenient nighttime episodes of gastroesophageal reflux have been linked to slower digestion.
  • Nocturia: When you have to get up more often to use the bathroom because of your increased urine frequency, it might be inconvenient.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome: However, even if a woman has never experienced RLS symptoms before becoming pregnant, she has a higher risk throughout her pregnancy for developing the condition.

Approximately 50% of pregnant women have insomnia-like symptoms, according to studies. Pregnant women typically sleep more in the first trimester, but their quality of sleep drops. Total sleep time drops after the first trimester, with the worst insomnia hitting in the third.

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Risk factors

Nights spent wide awake are experienced by nearly everyone. On the other hand, the following factors increase your likelihood of experiencing insomnia:

  • You’re a woman. Changes in hormone levels, such as those that occur during menstruation and menopause, may play an impact. Sleep disruption is common during menopause due to nocturnal sweats and hot flashes. Sleeplessness is another typical pregnant symptom.
  • You’re over age 60. Insomnia is more common as people become older due to changes in sleep habits and health.
  • You have a mental health disorder or physical health condition. The quality of your sleep can be negatively impacted by a wide variety of mental and physical health conditions.
  • You’re under a lot of stress. Insomnia can be a temporary side effect of stress. Major or persistent stress can cause sleeplessness to persist for an extended period of time.
  • You don’t have a regular schedule. Your natural sleep-wake rhythm might be thrown off by things like working different shifts or traveling.


You need sleep just as much as you need a balanced diet and frequent exercise. Insomnia has psychological and physiological consequences regardless of the cause. Insomnia sufferers typically report a lower quality of life than their well-rested counterparts.

Possible side effects of sleeplessness include:

  • Reduced productivity in the workplace or classroom.
  • Accident risk increases and reaction times decrease while driving.
  • Mental health illnesses, such as depression, an anxiety disorder or substance abuse.
  • High blood pressure and heart disease are two examples of chronic disorders that are more likely to occur and be more severe as a result of this trend.


If you want to avoid insomnia and have a good night’s rest, adopting certain healthy practices can assist.

  • Maintain a regular schedule of going to bed and getting up, even on weekends.
  • Always try to keep moving; research has shown that frequent exercise might improve sleep quality.
  • See whether any of your prescription drugs are the cause of your sleeplessness.
    nap time should be limited or avoided.
  • Stay away from, or at least cut back on things like, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.
  • Do not consume any heavy foods or drinks just before bed.
  • The bedroom should be made pleasant for sleeping and used only for sex or sleeping.
  • Develop a soothing routine to help you wind down before night, such a warm bath, some light reading, or some soothing music.

What Is Insomnia? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention | Everyday Health

What should I ask my healthcare provider about insomnia?

A doctor is the person to consult if you’ve got sleep issues and want to know:

  • Can you tell if I’m taking anything to stay awake?
  • What can I do differently to improve my ability to get to sleep at night?
  • Explain how CBT helps people get better rest at night.
  • Where can I search for a qualified psychotherapist?
  • What are the chances that I have another sleep condition, like apnea, instead?

Do not put off seeing a doctor for treatment if you have trouble sleeping. They may be able to give advice on how to deal with concerns that are keeping you from getting a good night’s rest. Making adjustments to one’s food, lifestyle, and nightly rituals often results in improved sleep for those who suffer from insomnia. Alternately, they could suggest CBT or medication.

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