Insomnia is a common sleep condition that can make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep and can disrupt your sleeping pattern. Many people will experience this condition at some point in their life, but what are the causes of insomnia?

What are the causes of insomnia?

Insomnia is often associated with other health conditions, but there are some main causes that might have caused your insomnia. If it is as a result of an underlying problem it’s important to get in touch with your doctor, as if you treat this issue the insomnia will also be lessened.

Common causes of insomnia:

  • Stress

    We all experience stress in our daily life but constant worries or fears about work, school, health, finances or family can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep. Stressful life events or trauma also may lead to insomnia.

  • Travel or work schedule

    Disrupting your body’s circadian rhythms can lead to insomnia. Your circadian rhythms act as an internal clock, guiding such things as your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and body temperature. Shift workers who frequently work late or change shifts and those who suffer jet lag from travelling across multiple time zones would be prone to insomnia for this reason.

  • Poor sleep habits

    If you have an irregular bedtime schedule, nap during the day or take part in stimulating activities before bed you are practising poor sleep habits. If you have created an uncomfortable sleep environment, and have been using your bed for work, eating or watching TV and interacting with your smartphone this can interfere with your sleep.

  • Mental health disorders.

    If you suffer from anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder your sleep may be disrupted. Awakening too early and finding it hard to awaken can be a sign of depression. Mental health conditions can affect your sleep in a number of ways, each is individual to the sufferer.

  • Medications.

    Some prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, such as antidepressants and medications for asthma or blood pressure. Something you may not know is that many allergy and cold medications and weight-loss products can contain caffeine and other stimulants that interrupt your sleep.

  • Medical conditions.

    If you suffer from chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), overactive thyroid, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease you are more susceptible to developing insomnia.

  • Sleep-related disorders.

    If you suffer from another sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea, this can disturb your sleep. Restless leg syndrome causes unpleasant sensations in your legs and an almost irresistible desire to move them, which may prevent you from falling asleep.

  • Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

    Coffee, tea and soft drinks contain caffeine and are stimulants. If you drink them in the evening or late afternoon, they can interfere with your sleep. Tobacco contains nicotine which is also a stimulant and can keep you up. While you may think that alcohol can help you fall asleep it prevents you from entering deeper stages of sleep which can cause you to wake up during the night and rise the next morning feeling less refreshed and rejuvenated.

Insomnia and ageing

As we age we find that we are more susceptible to experience insomnia.

This is for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Changes in sleep patterns.

    When we age our internal clock often advances, so you get tired earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning.

  • Changes in activity.

    Being less active can interfere with your sleep. The less active you are, the more likely you’ll be tempted to take a nap during the day which can affect your sleep at night.

  • Changes in health.

    As you get older you might experience health conditions associated with ageing such as prostate and bladder problems that can increase urine frequency at night. You might also be suffering from chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis. Sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome also can become more common with age.

  • More medications.

    Older people tend to use more prescription drugs which increases the chance of insomnia associated with medications.


Sleep is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. Whatever your reason for developing insomnia it can affect you both mentally and physically. People with insomnia report a lower quality of life compared with people who are sleeping well.

Complications of insomnia may include:

  • Lower performance at work or school
  • Slowed reaction time while driving
  • Mental health conditions, such as depression or an anxiety disorder
  • Increased risk of long-term diseases or conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart disease. 1

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