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How does a person get insomnia?

Insomnia can be triggered by a number of factors. During your consultation, our doctor will work out which of these potential causes is responsible, in order to prescribe the most effective treatment.

It could be a single issue, or a number of different problems contributing to your sleepless nights.

Here are just a few of the possible reasons behind your insomnia:

Mental health

Mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression can all contribute towards insomnia. If you’re spending a lot of time feeling anxious or worried, this can make it very difficult to get to sleep.

Problems that affect your mental wellbeing, such as the loss of a loved one, are among the biggest causes of acute insomnia. This is a short bout of sleeplessness that passes once you have had a chance to process the traumatic event.

However, long term stress or depression, as well as serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, can also lead to chronic insomnia. This can cause months, or even years of difficulty sleeping.

Other sleep problems

While insomnia is a sleep disorder in itself, it can sometimes be caused by a separate sleep-related problem. These include:

Snoring

Some people suffer from a serious sleep disorder known as sleep apnoea. This is when your throat muscles relax and block your airways, interrupting your sleep and often resulting in very loud snoring as air is forced through.

Sometimes people may even seem to stop breathing, so its important that someone observes your snoring pattern.

Of course, your insomnia could also be caused by someone else’s snoring keeping you awake!

If your (or your partner’s) snoring is keeping you awake at night, see a doctor for ways to deal with it.

A poor sleep environment

It’s important that your bedroom provides the most comfortable environment for sleep. This may not be the case if:

  • You live in a noisy building or neighbourhood.
  • You have thin curtains that allow a lot of light into the room.
  • You have a lot of electronic devices in your room.
  • You have an illuminated alarm clock that makes it easy to constantly check how long you’ve been awake.
  • Your room is too hot or too cold.
  • Your bed is uncomfortable.
  • You allow pets to share your room.

Fortunately, these are all things that you can easily change. Try our handy guide to getting a good night’s sleep.

Nightmares

Nightmares can affect anyone, at any age. For some people, they can be so bad that the person will make a conscious effort to stay awake for as long as possible.

Sleepwalking

It’s thought that up to a third of us will experience sleepwalking at some point in our lives. While some sleepwalkers return to bed without waking up, others may wake up during an episode and find it difficult to get back to sleep.

Narcolepsy

As narcolepsy can cause you to sleep a lot during the day, it can sometimes mean that it’s harder to sleep at night.

 

Lifestyle and habits

Your lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on how easy it is to get to sleep. You should pay particular attention to what you do in the hours leading up to a bedtime.

The following factors can all make sleep more difficult for people with insomnia:

Smoking

Nicotine is a stimulant that upsets your circadian rhythm. It also increases your chances of developing sleep apnoea.

Drinking alcohol

Alcohol disrupts your natural sleep pattern, so it may cause ‘maintenance insomnia’, a form of insomnia where you find it difficult to stay awake for your full night’s sleep.

Also, if you have been drinking heavily and stop drinking, you may get withdrawal which may present as agitiation, night sweats and make it difficult to sleep. It's important you speak to a GP if you think you drink too much and get their advice before contemplating stopping drinking.

Caffeine

As you probably know, caffeine is a stimulant. It actually stays in your system for several hours after it’s consumed, so it’s best to lay off the coffee after lunch.

Large evening meals

If you eat a large meal too close to bedtime, your body will still be digesting it by the time you go to bed. Lying down on a full stomach can cause issues such as indigestion and acid reflux, which can disrupt sleep.

Exercise

While we all know that exercise is good for you, hitting the gym too close to bedtime could be a factor in your insomnia.

Exercise releases endorphins and gives you a bit of a buzz, which isn’t what you’re after just before bedtime. If you prefer to exercise after work, try to do so in the early evening, so that your body has time to wind down.

Electronic devices

Watching TV, using your laptop or looking at your smartphone in bed can all make it hard to nod off. That’s because they give off something called ‘blue light’, which tricks your body into thinking it’s still day time.

Physical health conditions

Your physical health can certainly have an impact on your sleep. If the problem is particularly serious, it can lead to insomnia. Any of the following conditions could be a cause:

Heart problems

If you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, its symptoms can sometimes cause insomnia. For example, you may be prone to sleep apnoea or find it difficult to catch your breath when you’re lying down.

Additionally, the stress of having a serious health condition can make it difficult to get to sleep. The medication given to patients with heart problems can cause side effects that affect sleep too, such as making you need to pee more often.

Respiratory problems

Anything that affects your breathing can make it hard to relax when you’re trying to get to sleep. Allergies such as asthma are a common reason for this, so make sure you invest in hypoallergenic bedding, keep pets out of your room and dust regularly.

Urinary incontinence

This can occur for a number of reasons, from old age to the side effects of medication. If it’s keeping you up at night and stopping you from getting to sleep, you should see a doctor about it.

Joint pain

If you suffer from a chronic condition such as arthritis, it can be difficult to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. Ask our doctors about ways you can cope with your symptoms during the night.

Insomnia can also be a problem for people with an injury to their neck, shoulder, back, knee, or any other joint. However, this is likely to be a short term issue and you shouldn’t experience any sleep problems once the injury has healed.

An overactive thyroid

This can stimulate your nervous system and cause symptoms such as night sweats, which can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.

Work patterns

Sometimes, your job can be to blame for your insomnia. This is particularly true if:

  • You work an irregular shift pattern that means your bedtime is different from week to week.
  • You travel abroad for work and have to constantly deal with jet lag and adjust to different time zones.