Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
What is the cause of insomnia?
If you manage to answer that correctly, you may as well be a millionaire.
Okay, perhaps not. But, I don’t believe I’m wrong in thinking that finding out the cause of YOUR insomnia probably drives you just as crazy as the many, many sleepless nights.
I’ll admit there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to insomnia, but hopefully you can take some comfort in the following statement:
The vast majority of cases of insomnia can be completely cured by changes you can make on your own, without the need for Doctor’s appointments, seeing a sleep specialist, or taking specific sleep-inducing medication.
My Explanation of Insomnia, Symptoms & Statistics
Firstly, allow me to explain what insomnia is in the simplest of terms.
Insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel when you wake up – it has nothing to do with the number of hours you sleep, or even how quickly you fall asleep.
The reason I say this is because I know people who can function perfectly normally, and even feel refreshed and energetic, on only 5-6 hours sleep a night.
I can guarantee that this would never work for me. I know if I get less than 7 hours sleep a night there are two words that describe me perfectly the following day – Grumpy and Useless.
With that being said, I have a friend who still requires 9-10 hours of sleep a night in order to function at optimum levels the next day.
So, this is why I state that the number of hours you actually sleep has very little to do with insomnia. People are different and they require differing amounts of sleep.
I would narrow down the symptoms of insomnia to the following:
- You have difficulty falling asleep at night even though you’re extremely tired when you go to bed.
- You wake up frequently during the night.
- If you do happen to wake up then you have a lot of trouble getting back to sleep.
- You need something to “help” (and trust me, it’s NO help) you fall asleep, such as alcohol or sleeping pills.
- When you wake up in the morning you feel unrefreshed even if you’ve been “asleep” for 8 hours.
- You find that you’re waking up far too early in the morning.
- You feel tired, drowsy, fatigued and irritable during the day, plus you have difficulty in concentrating.
I know what you’re thinking – “that sounds like me every single day”.
Well, as it turns out, you and me… we’re not alone.
There are various studies which suggest that up to half the world’s population suffer from insomnia.
Furthermore, stress, anxiety and depression accounts for 50% of all insomnia cases.
So, with the help of Google and a calculator (I didn’t actually need a calculator, but I didn’t want to show off) I have come to the following conclusion:
At the time of writing, there are 7.8 billion people in the world.
This means that 3.9 billion suffer from insomnia.
And 1.95 billion can attribute their insomnia to stress, anxiety, or depression.
Admittedly, my figures are “very exact”, but I hope you get my meaning – there are a lot of people around the world who struggle with insomnia.
What Is The Cause Of Insomnia? – The Facts
It’s true to say that insomnia in many cases is related to a temporary cause.
Some examples off the top of my head would include, the breakup of a relationship, jet lag, night-work, an upcoming job interview/presentation/wedding/special occasion, etc.
To be honest, I’m very jealous of you if this is the case – your insomnia will be gone as quickly as it came, once you have dealt with or overcome that specific scenario.
However, chronic insomnia is very different and can typically be linked to an underlying mental or physical condition.
Stress, Anxiety and Depression
I’ve already mentioned the role that stress, anxiety and depression play in insomnia.
Perhaps you’re under a lot of stress in your home or work life. This can cause you to constantly worry and feel anxious, and may lead to stress-induced insomnia.
Maybe you’ve recently gone through a traumatic experience and this is affecting how you sleep at night.
Do you feel emotionally flat, drained and hopeless? This could be a sign of depression.
The main problem with emotional and psychological issues (in terms of sleep) is that they create a vicious circle.
You can’t sleep because you’re constantly worrying or stressed and then the lack of sleep exasperates your mental and emotional problems. And this cycle goes on and on until you deal with one or the other.
Other Sleep Disorders
There are a wide range of sleep disorders in addition to insomnia, many of which I have discussed in detail on this website.
However, conditions such as snoring, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, circadian rhythm disorder can all impact on the quality of sleep you’re getting every night.
Once again, it may be a case of dealing with these specific sleep disorders, thus allowing you to finally get a great night’s rest.
Illnesses and Medical Issues
There are various medical conditions and serious illnesses that can affect how well you sleep. Acid reflux, allergies, asthma, cancer, chronic pain, heart disease, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease, and the list goes on.
If you are feeling pain and discomfort in your general life then this is bound to start causing problems with your sleeping patterns sooner or later.
You may find that certain prescription drugs you are taking are the cause of your insomnia. These include, high blood pressure medications, corticosteroids, ADHD stimulants, antidepressants, thyroid hormone, and even some contraceptives.
There are even some over-the-counter medications that could be related to your sleepless nights, such as cold and flu medications which contain alcohol, caffeine-based pain relievers, slimming pills and diuretics.
Once again, the list could go, and it is often wise to check the ingredients of your medications, as many contain stimulants of some kind.
Hold on one moment, allow me to prepare myself for the onslaught.
For my regular readers, I’m waiting, go on, give it to me with both barrels.
“Partha, why do you forever go on about lifestyle choices when talking about insomnia?”
Pure and simple – the reason I keep harping on about lifestyle choices is because they make a HUGE difference to how we sleep.
It took me a long, long time to finally understand that our minds and bodies are connected, and how we treat them makes a huge difference to how well we live our lives.
And it’s no different when it comes to insomnia.
Now I’m not asking anyone to become a saint here, I mean I’m definitely not one, so it would be hypocritical of me to suggest otherwise.
However, when I eventually realized that some lifestyle choices I was making were affecting how well I slept, I made changes.
So, what am I talking about?
Firstly, I mentioned alcohol and sleeping pills earlier – if you’re using either to “knock yourself out”, trust me, in the long run it’s not doing you any favors.
Remember I spoke of the quality of sleep, well neither of these will generally do anything to improve sleep quality. You may feel as though you’re falling asleep faster, but I can guarantee you’re not waking up refreshed and alert, and ready to have a wonderful day.
Caffeine is pretty much the same. Is your Starbucks habit the cause of your insomnia? In reality, you shouldn’t be drinking coffee after about 1pm in the afternoon.
Is your diet causing you sleepless nights?
Unhealthy, processed foods, a diet high in sugar, eating heavy meals just before you go to bed. All of these things can eventually lead to insomnia.
Exercise, both good and bad.
Being active during the day can actually help you to sleep better at night.
With that being said, over training or exercising too close to bedtime can play havoc with your slumber.
Not getting enough natural daylight during the day, using unnatural light (smartphone, TV, laptop, tablet, etc.) within an hour or two of going to bed, smoking, not having a “wind-down” routine to signify to the mind and body that bedtime is fast approaching, ignoring a regular bedtime and wake up time, using your bedroom for activities other than sleep or sex, your bedroom being too light, too hot, too cold, too dusty, too dry – all of these things could be the cause of your insomnia.
Here’s a weird “lifestyle choice” I made that I didn’t realize (at first) was affecting my sleep – we decorated the bedroom, and to keep the colors coordinated I bought some light blue drapes.
Perfect in the winter months, but during the summer the whole bedroom lit up at about 4.30am as the sun rose in the morning. This typically woke me up most mornings, even though I didn’t have to be out of bed for another 90 minutes.
Do you think I could go back to sleep again?
Anyway, I don’t want to go on about “lifestyle choices” too much, as I have covered these in plenty of other articles, but I hope you understand what I’m getting at here.
So, what is the cause of insomnia?
As you can see there is no ONE reason for insomnia, and therefore it is important for you to work out what is affecting YOUR sleep.
Something that I did try (and which opened my eyes to a lot of my habits) was to keep a daytime diary to see how my lifestyle choices were affecting me.
I simply listed all the factors I’ve mentioned above and marked off what I did and didn’t do on a daily basis.
Some of the things that I didn’t realize before were – I was drinking 4-5 large cups of coffee a day, and usually always had one before I went to the gym at around 5.30pm.
I cut back to just a couple of coffees in the morning, as well as working out in the morning before I went to work.
If I was stressed out from my day’s escapades, I would typically skip dinner in the evening in favor of a few beers. So, I generally went to bed hungry and a little worse for wear.
We regularly went for a meal on Friday nights, and this would be an extremely heavy meal, plus I’d always have a starter and dessert (Why not? Don’t judge me).
As I’ve mentioned, I’m no saint, and I still enjoy a few beers every now and then. I love eating out in restaurants, and will continue to do so.
However, I now pick-and-choose when I do this, and if I’m having a particularly bad week in terms of sleep, I avoid these “pleasures” for a while.
I guess you (and ONLY YOU) can decide how bad your insomnia is, and what you intend to do about it.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, stories, or any questions you have in the comments section below.
So, don’t hold back and drop me a line.