What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia may be more than just the inability to fall asleep one night. It frequently is a condition that disrupts your sleep for extended periods.  Acute insomnia is short-term insomnia. It involves disrupted sleep for less than three months. Long-term insomnia, or chronic insomnia, lasts longer.

While insomnia might seem innocuous and only harmful if you fall asleep at the wheel or on the job when operating large equipment, it's far more dangerous than most people can realize. There are also far more reasons for insomnia than most people realize.

What Causes Insomnia?

There are a number of psychological factors that can cause insomnia, particularly acute or short-term insomnia. Stress and anxiety are causes most people attach to insomnia. Stress can be from the job, the loss of a loved one or other life-changing event. Anxiety may come from real or imagined dangers. Either way, they'll both keep you tossing and turning all night.

Depression is also a cause of insomnia. The chemical imbalance caused by depression may keep you up all night or make you lie in bed for hours. Other types of mental disorders or conditions also cause insomnia.

Medications and prescription drugs can cause insomnia. Some allergy medications act like stimulants and interfere with sleep. Several types of corticosteroids, antidepressants, blood pressure medications and heart medications also can interrupt your sleep. Weight loss products that contain stimulants and decongestants can be the source of insomnia.

If you'd ask most people what causes insomnia, they often point to coffee and caffeine products. However, nicotine and alcohol also can keep you pacing the floor at night. Alcohol prevents the natural progression of sleep to the level of deep sleep. This means that you might wake up in the middle of the night unable to fall asleep again. Nicotine stimulates and while many feel a cigarette relaxes, it does quite the opposite.

Medical Conditions

When questioning what causes insomnia, you can't rule out a medical condition. Many medical conditions such as chronic pain, arthritis, cancer, lung disease, frequent urination and difficulty breathing can cause you to fall asleep and reawaken frequently. Acid reflux or GERD is also another cause of chronic insomnia as well as an overactive thyroid. Sometimes Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease can cause insomnia as well as heart and lung disease.

Circadian Rhythm and Learned Habits

If you've found yourself bombarded by bouts of insomnia, look around at your environment and ask, "What causes insomnia and is it part of my life?" You might have a fluctuation in work schedules that interrupt your internal clock, your circadian rhythm. You also may have learned poor sleep hygiene or sleep habits. Some of these include watching television or playing on a laptop in bed, maintaining an uncomfortable sleep area, or simply a learned habit of staying awake.

You also might find that eating late at night can keep you awake or not eating enough supper earlier. Many people have a problem with acid reflux or heartburn. This condition occurs when the stomach acid backs into your throat when you lie down. If you don't have enough food, it also can be a reason you have a difficult time sleeping.

What Causes Insomnia in Older People?

As you age, your body changes and sometimes those changes affect your sleep patterns. Many people find they tire earlier and awaken earlier due to the changes in their circadian rhythms that occur with aging.

Older people tend to be less active. Exercise earlier in the day helps the body to get a good night's rest. However, you should avoid it near bedtime as it stimulates you and keeps you awake.

Older people also have health changes and conditions that cause pain such as arthritis that keep them awake at night. In addition, many elderly people take medications that can create insomnia.

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