What causes insomnia?

If you’re unable to fall asleep or stay asleep as long as you would like, you’re not alone. One in three people will experience some form of insomnia during their lifetime, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Several factors can lead to insomnia including stress, medications, environmental factors and medical conditions among others. By understanding the main causes of insomnia, you can take steps to improve your sleep quality today and prevent insomnia from occurring in the future.

Stress

Too much stress is a primary cause of insomnia. The body’s autonomic nervous system (the branch that controls involuntary functions like heartbeat and digestion) has two primary modes: sympathetic – which triggers your fight or flight response – and parasympathetic – which controls rest-and-restore activities. When you’re faced with a stressful situation, your sympathetic response turns on. This can have some obvious physical manifestations, such as elevated heart rate or tightened muscles. Beyond these effects are less tangible shifts in brain activity and hormone levels that can affect sleep.

Alcohol

When people think of insomnia, they often forget to consider alcohol as a culprit. A study found that alcohol ingestion resulted in impaired sleep maintenance and increased time spent awake after sleep onset. This is because it takes time for alcohol to leave your system and can disrupt sleep for up to 12 hours. Therefore, if you’re having trouble sleeping it may be best to curb your drinking habits.

Sleep Apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a serious sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing for short periods of time during your sleep. This may happen as much as 30 times or more an hour, making it impossible to get a good night’s rest. And because it disrupts your normal sleeping pattern, you have trouble getting up in the morning and feel tired throughout most of your day. Sleep apnoea can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease, so it’s important to seek treatment.

Anxiety

Anxiety can be a trigger for insomnia, and anxiety disorders are often associated with poor sleep. According to a study published in February 2010 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, up to 85% of people with an anxiety disorder also have sleep disturbances. If you struggle with anxiety, talk to your doctor about ways to manage it, for instance by practicing meditation and yoga, which help bring balance and relaxation into your life. If you still experience symptoms, such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, discuss treatment options with your doctor.

Medications

Many over-the-counter pain relievers are common causes of insomnia. Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) interfere with deep sleep by affecting your circadian rhythm. Keep these medicines to a minimum if you have trouble sleeping, especially in late afternoon or evening hours.

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