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What Are The Most Common Causes Of Insomnia?

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Feb 26, 2015

Most likely at one time or another, you have had a rough night of sleep. But if you consistently have difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night, then you might suffer from insomnia.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 48% of Americans report insomnia occasionally, while 22% experience insomnia nearly every night. Women are 1.3 times more likely to report insomnia, and people over the age of 65 are 1.5 times more likely to complain of insomnia than younger people. Divorced, widowed, and separated couples also report more frequent cases of insomnia. (Not sure how much sleep you should be getting? Check out this article from the National Sleep Foundation.)

So, what causes this sleep disorder?


Before we get into some of the most common causes of insomnia, let's first take a look at its definition.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a persistent disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or both, despite the opportunity for adequate sleep. With insomnia, one usually awakens feeling unrefreshed, which takes a toll on a person's ability to function during the day. Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood but also your health, work performance, and quality of life. 

What causes insomnia?

Obviously, what causes insomnia for one person may not be the same culprit for another. Common causes include:


Concerns about work, health or family can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep. Stressful life events - such as the death or illness of a loved one, divorce, or a job loss - may lead to insomnia.


Everyday anxieties as well as more serious anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, may disrupt your sleep. Worry about being able to go to sleep can also make it harder to fall asleep.


You might either sleep too much or have trouble sleeping if you're depressed. Insomnia often occurs with other mental health disorders as well.

Medical conditions

If you have chronic pain, breathing difficulties or need to urinate frequently, you might develop insomnia. Examples of conditions linked with insomnia include:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Heart failure
  • Lung disease
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Alzheimer's disease

Changes in your environment or work schedule

Travel or working late or early shift can disrupt your body's circadian rhythms, making it difficult to sleep. Your circadian rhythms act as an internal clock, guiding such things as your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and body temperature.

Poor sleep habits

Poor sleep habits include an irregular sleep schedule, stimulating activites before bed, and an uncomfortable sleep environment.


Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including some antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications, allergy medications, and stimulants (such as Ritalin). Many over the counter medications - including some pain medication combinations, decongestants and weight-loss products - contain caffeine and other stimulants. 

Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol

Coffee, tea, soda, and other caffinated drinks are well-known stimulants. Drinking coffee in the late afternoon and later can keep you from falling asleep at night. Nicotine in tobacco products is another stimulant that can cause insomnia. Alcohol is a sedative that may help you fall asleep, but it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes you to awaken in the middle of the night. 

Eating too much later in the evening

Having a light snack before bedtime is OK, but eating too much may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down, making it difficult to get sleep. Many people also experience heartburn and acid reflux which may keep you awake.

If you think that you may have insomnia, contact our Sleep Care Center. You shouldn't have to struggle to get a good night of sleep.

Topics: Sleep, Insomnia