Insomnia is a common sleep disorder characterized by a lack of sleep or staying asleep. It’s common, with around 1 in 3 adults reporting they have insomnia at some point in their lives. The problem may be short-term or long-term, but it can lead to worse health issues down the road.

Insomnia can be caused by many factors, ranging from stress and over-stimulation to maladaptive behaviors like smoking, drinking caffeine, or eating sugary foods right before bedtime. It is important to address these reasons when looking to solve the underlying problem in order to prevent future insomnia-related symptoms.

This article discusses some of the most common causes of insomnia and how to treat them to help you get back on track with your sleep schedule.

1. Worry can cause Insomnia

We all worry from time to time, but if your worries are out of control, or you’re having recurrent nightmares or flashbacks, insomnia may be keeping you up at night. Insomnia related to stress and anxiety is called psychophysiological insomnia. In a study published in 2005 by McGill University in Montreal, researchers found that 60 percent of people with insomnia who visited a sleep lab exhibited signs of psychophysiological insomnia.

So you’re lying in bed, exhausted. But no matter how much you try to relax and calm your mind, it won’t let you rest. Does that sound familiar? If it does, it might be time to try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a psychological treatment that can help with insomnia by making changes to how we think about our thoughts so we can actually change them. The goal is not only a better night’s sleep but also improved mental health overall.

Anxiety, stress, and fear are some of our most common causes of insomnia. An inability to switch off can cause your mind to worry about both everyday things and life-changing events. If you’re plagued by anxiety, one way to lose weight safely is through meditation or by reaching out to a loved one or friend. Even talking through your worries can be effective in making sure they don’t interfere with a good night’s sleep.

2. Medication side effects

Many medications have side effects, some of which include insomnia. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any medication you are taking may be causing your insomnia. In addition to prescription and over-the-counter drugs, many dietary supplements can also interfere with sleep. Discuss these with your physician as well.

Over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatory drugs, can interfere with sleep. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Some medications have a side effect of drowsiness. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) is a common culprit. If you take it regularly and haven’t experienced any drowsiness, you might want to check with your doctor or pharmacist; they might be able to change your prescription or adjust your dose to minimize sleepiness. Ask if there’s an over-the-counter alternative you can try instead.

3. Menopause causes insomnia

One symptom of menopause is hot flashes. Hot flashes are a sudden wave of heat that rises from your core to your skin, causing you to sweat and feel flushed or warm. They can make you feel as if you have a fever. The reason they happen isn’t completely understood, but they may be caused by changes in hormone levels during menopause. Doctors think that hot flashes are linked to lower estrogen levels, which help regulate body temperature and blood flow through arteries and veins.

The drop in estrogen that comes with menopause can play a role in insomnia. When estrogen is low, you may be more likely to experience irritability, depression, and hot flashes, all of which can contribute to sleep problems. Menopause also raises your risk for sleep apnea (breathing problems during sleep), restless leg syndrome, and other conditions that can interfere with a good night’s rest.

4. Shift work disorder

If you’re a shift worker, then you know all too well that working at night can wreak havoc on your sleeping habits. Shift work disorder is classified as an insomnia disorder that occurs when an individual has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep during specific hours, usually in relation to their job. Anyone who works nights and struggles with chronic sleep deprivation can be diagnosed with shift work disorder—which means more than 10 million Americans are thought to have it.

A circadian rhythm disorder where a person is forced to be awake at times that are not their natural hours. Shift work disorder occurs when there is a misalignment between our internal clock and social or environmental cues. It causes significant distress or impairment in our normal daily functioning. According to sleep expert Michael Breus, 80 percent of adults suffer from shift work disorder during their lifetime.

5. Depression causes Insomnia

While some may think that lack of sleep has nothing to do with depression, a 2006 study found just that. Researchers discovered that people who slept more had a better mood and were less depressed than those who slept less or not at all. It’s thought that low serotonin levels cause insomnia, which leads to depression. In other words, treating your sleep disorder may be key in improving your depressive symptoms as well.

A lack of sleep has been shown to trigger depression in those who are already susceptible. A study from Harvard found that participants with major depressive disorder were more likely to relapse when they weren’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Studies have also demonstrated that there’s a link between a person’s risk for developing depression and his or her sleeping habits, specifically how often a person wakes up during the night.

6. Medications used for treating depression and anxiety disorders

These medications are classified as sedatives, meaning they make you sleepy. They include antidepressants, sleeping pills, sedatives, and muscle relaxants. If you take any medication that makes you drowsy or less alert (such as antihistamines), don’t drive a car or work around heavy machinery if you have insomnia caused by a health condition.

Insomnia can be caused by a variety of reasons, including taking medications. Most commonly, insomnia is due to taking medications that affect sleep, like antidepressants and those used to treat anxiety disorders. It is common to have difficulty sleeping while going through tough times or when experiencing a new or stressful event in life. Before changing your medication regimen, ask your doctor if it could be causing your insomnia and what alternatives are available.

7. Alcohol and other drugs

If you’re dealing with insomnia, alcohol is a no-no. The physiological processes involved in breaking down and metabolizing alcohol cause enough stress on their own—they definitely don’t need any help from sleep deprivation. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night after a few drinks, cut back on your intake or stop altogether to see if it makes a difference. You might also want to eliminate (or severely limit) caffeine and nicotine, as these stimulants can have similar effects on your sleep cycle.

Too much alcohol or other drugs (including nicotine) will disrupt your sleep. Experts recommend that you have no more than two standard drinks per day and no more than 15 cigarettes per day. Additionally, try to avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime, as it takes that long to wear off. It’s easy to do: Just switch from coffee to decaf.

9. An overactive mind at bedtime

An overactive mind is one reason why some people have trouble sleeping. If you’re lying in bed unable to sleep, try relaxing your mind by counting backward from 100 in increments of three, then repeat a phrase that has special meaning to you. My favorite color is red. My mother loves me. Over time, your brain will associate these thoughts with sleep and slow down as you slip into slumberland.

So you’re lying in bed, exhausted. But no matter how much you try to relax and calm your mind, it won’t let you rest. Does that sound familiar? If it does, it might be time to try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a psychological treatment that can help with insomnia by making changes to how we think about our thoughts so we can actually change them. The goal is not only a better night’s sleep but also improved mental health overall.

9. Not being active enough during the day

According to a study conducted at Stanford University, people who exercise regularly not only experience better sleep quality but also have less trouble falling asleep. Moderate exercise such as walking is just as effective in improving sleep and well-being compared to vigorous aerobic activity, says Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu, lead author of the study.

Exercising four to five times a week for about 30 minutes can help people with insomnia sleep better. If you’re not active, consider hitting the gym, taking a yoga class or walking more often. You should also try to fit in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. Start by increasing your activity levels by just 10 percent each week until you reach your goal.

10. Inflammation or pain from arthritis or another condition causes Insomnia

Pain is not conducive to sleep. Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines can help bring relief from pain, as well as medications prescribed by your doctor. If possible, speak with a medical professional about what’s causing your pain and how you can best address it. Certain types of surgery can also be helpful in reducing pain related to underlying conditions.

The pain itself, or even just its associated stiffness, can keep you from falling asleep. So can inflammation in your muscles and joints; studies show that nighttime levels of inflammatory chemicals (called cytokines) tend to be higher than normal in people with arthritis. Other research has shown that cytokines may decrease a person’s sleep quality over time, causing fatigue during waking hours as well.


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