7 Surprising Causes Of Insomnia

03/09/2015 08:28 am ET | Updated Mar 09, 2015
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We're all probably a little tired today, the first workday after springing the clocks forward for the start of Daylight Saving Time.

But today is also the second annual Insomnia Awareness Day, an initiative from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine aimed at helping those who are chronically tired.

Chronic insomnia is defined as disrupted sleep on three or more nights a week for a period of at least three months. It has been linked with a wide range of health risks, including anxiety, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, headache, heart attack and osteoporosis, according to a 2013 study.

However, treatment is available -- and often successful. If you have chronic insomnia, start by talking to your primary care physician. He or she may have some helpful tips, or be able to refer you to a sleep specialist. A specialist may suggest sleep-promoting medications, lifestyle changes, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or a combination of all three.

A sleep specialist will likely also try to help you get to the root of your insomnia (if there is one). Many of us can recall the occasional sleepless night when stress kept us tossing and turning. But there are a number of other causes of insomnia. Here's a look at the few of the most common.

Chronic Pain
Any condition that leaves you in discomfort can understandably disrupt your sleep. Arthritis, low back pain, acid reflux, fibromyalgia -- these and many more painful conditions can keep you up at night. The National Sleep Foundation's 2015 Sleep in America poll found that just 36 percent of people with chronic pain said they consistently get good or very good sleep, while 65 percent of pain-free people said the same.

And losing sleep may make pain worse: In a small 2007 study, women who were woken up throughout the night had lower pain thresholds. Seeking treatment from a sleep specialist in addition to a doctor who manages pain can help.


Certain Medications
Drugs for conditions ranging from the common cold and high blood pressure to depression and asthma can cause insomnia. Even if you know to stop drinking coffee early enough in the day so as not to interfere with bedtime, several over-the-counter meds contain caffeine or other stimulants, according to the Mayo Clinic. Various prescription meds have been known to interfere with sleep either by disrupting REM sleep, blocking melatonin production, tampering with the body's natural levels of various enzymes or other pathways, according to AARP. Luckily, there are less disruptive alternatives to many insomnia-causing meds, so talk to your doctor if you're taking medicine and having trouble logging those Zzs.

Clinical Anxiety Or Depression
Our daily ups and downs can certainly keep us awake now and then, but an underlying anxiety disorder or clinical depression could be to blame if worries and concerns are consistently upsetting your sleep. To make matters worse, with anxiety disorders, worrying about sleep can make it additionally difficult to drift off.

As many as 80 percent of people with depression have trouble falling or staying asleep, according to WebMD. Some people with depression may also sleep too much.


Your Eating And Drinking Habits
Despite your best intentions, you may be consistently sabotaging your own sleep with what you eat and drink close to bedtime. Experts recommend cutting out caffeine at least six hours before hitting the hay. Keep in mind that caffeine is also present in surprising places, like chocolate and even decaf coffee. Alcohol, while initially helpful in falling asleep, can wake you up later in the night. And a big, heavy meal too close to bedtime can be too taxing on your digestive system for you to nod off easily or may also result in heartburn, which can certainly keep you awake.

Neurological Diseases
People with brain conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke often have problems sleeping as well, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. That may be due to changes in brain regions and chemicals that affect sleep or from medications used to control symptoms of these conditions.

Itchy eyes and stuffed-up noses can certainly steal shut-eye on a consistent basis. In fact, about 59 percent of people with nasal allergies reported trouble sleeping due to their symptoms in a 2013 Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America survey. A 2006 study suggested that sleep disorders and allergies may be related, since people with allergies were found to be more than twice as likely to suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia. Experts say that strict adherence to both the rules of good sleep hygiene (cool, dark, quiet bedroom; leaving electronics outside the bedroom) and allergy-symptom alleviation (showering before bed; regularly changing sheets and pillow cases) is key.


Another Sleep Disorder
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes sensations in the legs which can be so uncomfortable it can prevent sufferers from easily falling asleep. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of people have RLS. Even when people with RLS get treatment that alleviates the desire to move the legs, sleepless nights often continue. A small 2013 found that this may be due to abnormally high levels of a neurotransmitter involved in arousal called glutamate in people with RLS.

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