What Causes Insomnia: The Occurrence of Sleep Problems

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Insomnia is a disorder characterized by a lack of sleep. People with insomnia often have a difficult time getting or staying asleep or do not have restful sleep. According to a survey from the National Sleep Foundation, about 40 percent of adults have difficulty sleeping sometimes.

People who have frequent sleeping problems suffer from chronic insomnia. Individuals who have insomnia often have a hard time concentrating, develop headaches, experience pain in their stomach and other parts of their gastrointestinal system or frequently feel tired. Insomnia can have an impact on people’s ability to perform tasks in their daily lives, especially at their jobs. People could fall asleep at inopportune or dangerous times, such as when they are driving; have slower reflexes; get infections and illnesses more easily or gain weight as a result of insomnia.

Patients who frequently suffer from insomnia often do not perform up to their usual standards at school or work, which can affect their grades or put their jobs in jeopardy. People may wonder what causes insomnia, but different conditions and factors can lead to the disorder, which is often recurring.

Personal and Psychological Causes

People regularly have problems sleeping because of psychological conditions or events going on in their lives. When they are stressed, adults often have a hard time sleeping. They may feel stress over a death in the family, a relationship, financial problems, their children’s general welfare, schoolwork or their jobs that cause them to have a difficult time relaxing. Depression, a psychological disorder that causes people to feel moody or sad for extended periods of time, affects chemical levels within the brain, which can in turn interfere with regular bodily functions such as sleeping.

Drugs and Medical Conditions

Certain drugs and medications can interfere with people’s sleep, often causing them to have a difficult time initially falling sleeping. Caffeine, which is found in coffee and soda, and nicotine, which is in cigarettes, often cause insomnia. People feel more awake and alert after taking these stimulant drugs. Prescription drugs used for certain conditions, such as high blood pressure, depression or heart disease, can affect people’s brain functions, which can in turn have an impact on their ability to sleep. When people have chronic conditions, such as lung disease, cancer, heart problems, Alzheimer’s disease or gastrointestinal problems, their symptoms often cause them to have a difficult time sleeping. They may experience painful or uncomfortable sensations within different parts of their bodies that make it hard for them to relax.

Treatment and Prevention

Doctors can treat some of what causes insomnia, but some causes are best cured with lifestyle changes. Having a set routine, only using a bed for sleeping, no longer taking naps during the day and exercising can help people to develop better sleeping habits. People with insomnia often have a difficult time sleeping because they do not feel tired at the times of the day or night when they want or need to go to sleep. Performing certain activities, such as listening to music or taking a bath, before going to bed can also help people to get in the mood for sleeping.

Therapy can often help people to work through personal problems that are causing their problems. When medical problems cause insomnia, physicians often treat patients using medications or surgeries specific to those conditions. Sometimes doctors prescribe sleep medications, such as zolpidem or eszopiclone, to patients with severe forms of insomnia. Some people feel overly tired, perform actions while they are sleeping or become easily flustered when using these medications.


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“Depression,” National Institute of Mental Health, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/complete-index.shtml

“Self-Help: Insomnia,” University of Texas at Dallas, https://www.utdallas.edu/counseling/insomnia/

“Insomnia,” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/insomnia/DS00187

“Stimulants,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.nida.nih.gov/researchreports/prescription/prescription4.html

“Sleeping Pills, Natural Sleep Aids and Medications,” Help.org, https://www.helpguide.org/life/sleep_aids_medication_insomnia_treatment.htm

“Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, and Consequences,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1978319/

“Insomnia,” Womenshealth.gov, https://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/insomnia.cfm