Insomnia is one of the most frustrating conditions that people regularly have to endure. You want to sleep, you just can’t. In turn, you feel frustrated, irritable, and overwhelmed. Plus, of course, you end up tired throughout the day. It’s frustrating, but you don’t have to live with it forever. There are ways to limit the symptoms and even eradicate insomnia from your life altogether. First, you have to understand the many reasons for insomnia.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder. Although it can exist on its own, it’s typically caused by some other problem within the body, mind, or environment. There are both physical and psychological reasons for insomnia.
Put simply, insomnia means that you want to sleep, and you have the opportunity to sleep, yet for some reason you can’t fall asleep.
Sometimes with insomnia, you can’t fall asleep at all. Other times, you can fall asleep, but you can’t stay asleep. You may wake up earlier than you need to and be unable to fall back asleep despite feeling tired. Or you may wake repeatedly throughout the night.
People can have acute insomnia, which is a short-term problem. Alternatively, people can suffer from chronic insomnia which means trouble sleeping at least three nights per week for at least three months in a row.
Inability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep is the definition of insomnia. However, insomnia also includes other common symptoms:
- Inability to perform up to usual standards at work or school
- Lack of energy
- Mood changes including irritability
- Preoccupation with sleep
- Problems with memory
- Slower reaction time and more accidents
- Trouble concentrating or focusing
- Waking up feeling unrefreshed
What Causes Insomnia?
There are different types of insomnia. There are also different reasons for insomnia.
Acute insomnia, which is the temporary kind, is usually environmental. If you’re under a great deal of stress and can’t sleep because you’re worried about something specific, then you have acute insomnia.
Pre-wedding jitters and restlessness the night before an exam are examples of acute reaosns for insomnia. Acute insomnia typically resolves itself once the stressor has passed.
However, other types of insomnia generally have underlying medical causes, which may be physical health issues or mental health conditions. Sometimes there are also behavioral or environmental reasons for insomnia.
Medical Reasons for Insomnia
There are many different physical health conditions that can lead to insomnia.
Any physical condition that includes chronic pain, particularly when in the sleeping position, can lead to insomnia. Therefore, if you have arthritis or chronic back pain, then you might find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Likewise, if you have gastrointestinal issues that flare up at night then it’s hard to sleep through them. GERD, IBS, and heartburn all affect sleep.
Some other common medical health issues that may cause insomnia include:
- Asthma and OCPD
- Bladder and prostrate problems
- Heart disease
- Thyroid problems
Finally, there are other sleep disorders that cause insomnia. Restless Leg Syndrome and sleep apnea are the two most common culprits.
Psychological Reasons for Insomnia
Many people suffering from insomnia are struggling with a mental health disorder.
If you look at the criteria to diagnose most mental health issues, you’ll see that a change in sleep is often one of the symptoms or warning signs. Sometimes people oversleep as part of their condition but oftentimes they have insomnia.
Any condition that causes rumination of the mind can lead to an inability to sleep. Therefore, depression and anxiety are common reasons for insomnia. You’re lying there thinking, tossing and turning, and it feels like your mind just can’t turn off enough to let you sleep.
Typically, people with depression will be able to fall asleep but not stay asleep. In contrast, people with anxiety have trouble falling asleep at all.
Mania in bipolar disorder is a symptom characterized by high energy, which naturally leads to insomnia. You may not even feel like you need to sleep.
Anything that causes stress in your mind can cause insomnia. Therefore, trauma causes insomnia. You may experience insomnia in the immediate aftermath of a trauma but it can also be a symptom of PTSD.
Behavioral Reasons for Insomnia
Sometimes, the reason that you have insomnia relates to something that you’re doing or something directly in your environment. This may or may not be tied in to additional health issues.
For example, if you compensate for mental health symptoms by self-medicating with substances then the drugs that you take may have the side effect of insomnia. Even if you’re taking prescription medications, insomnia can be a side effect.
Likewise, if you travel a lot and throw off your sleep cycles with jet lag then you might develop insomnia. Similarly, many people who work nights have trouble sleeping.
It’s important to look carefully at your diet, exercise, and habits to determine if they are among your reasons for insomnia.
Insomnia Risk Factors
Anyone can develop insomnia. It’s a very common condition. However, some people are more at risk than others. Obviously, if you have one of the aforementioned physical or mental health issues, then you’re at greater risk. Other risk factors include being:
- A woman, especially during pregnancy and menopause
- Age 60+
- High stress in your life or job
- On a non-traditional sleep schedule due to work or travel
How to Cure Insomnia
In order to resolve insomnia, it’s almost always best to resolve the underlying condition.
For example, if you have insomnia secondary to sleep apnea, then you should work with your doctor to cure your sleep apnea. Likewise, if you have insomnia as a symptom of depression, you should work to cure the depression. You may also want to work with your doctor to determine if any of your medications are causing insomnia so that you can switch meds or change the time of day when you take them.
That said, there are many things that you can do to cure insomnia itself so that you can start getting good sleep despite underlying problems. There are sleep medications available as a short-term solution although they tend to have risks and side effects that are negative for long-term use. Instead of sleep meds, you might want to try CBT-I, which is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.
Plus, you can adjust your behavior and environment to facilitate sleep. Some of the most helpful tips include:
- Be careful what you eat, avoiding caffeine, nicotine, sugar, and alcohol.
- Watch when you eat; avoid large meals and drinking anything too late at night.
- Practice good sleep hygiene including turning off your gadgets well before bed.
- Use mindfulness, meditation, and/or prayer to enter a relaxed state each night.
It’s particularly important to take steps to treat insomnia if you also have a mental health condition. While insomnia is a symptom of the condition, it can also cause or exacerbate the condition. For example, depression causes insomnia but then insomnia can make the depression worse. Therefore, seeking treatment for insomnia is a critical part of overall wellness.