Causes & Risk Factors
What causes insomnia?
Insomnia is the body’s way of saying that something isn’t right. Things that may cause insomnia include:
- Too much caffeine, alcohol or nicotine
- Pain from medical conditions, such as arthritis
- Changes in work shifts
- Poor sleep habits, such as an irregular sleep schedule
- Worrying too much about not being able to sleep
Some medical conditions (such as depression) and certain medicines (such as heart and blood pressure medicines, allergy medicines and corticosteroids) can also cause insomnia.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder. If you have it, you may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. As a result, you may get too little sleep or have poor-quality sleep. You may not feel refreshed when you wake up.
Symptoms of insomnia include:
- Lying awake for a long time before you fall asleep
- Sleeping for only short periods
- Being awake for much of the night
- Feeling as if you haven't slept at all
- Waking up too early
Your doctor will diagnose insomnia based on your medical and sleep histories and a physical exam. He or she also may recommend a sleep study. A sleep study measures how well you sleep and how your body responds to sleep problems. Treatments include lifestyle changes, counseling, and medicines.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Diagnosis & Testing
Diagnosis & Tests
What can my doctor do to find out why I'm not sleeping?
Your family doctor may ask you some questions about your sleep habits (such as when you go to bed and when you get up), what medicines you take, and your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Your doctor may also ask if you smoke.
Your doctor may ask how long you've been having insomnia and if you have any pain (such as from arthritis). If you have a bed partner, your doctor may ask him or her if you snore while you sleep. Your doctor may also ask about events or problems in your life that may be upsetting you and making it hard for you to sleep.
What is a sleep diary?
If the cause of your insomnia is not clear, your doctor may suggest that you fill out a sleep diary. The diary will help you keep track of when you go to bed, how long you are in bed before falling asleep, how often you wake up during the night, when you get up in the morning and how well you sleep. A sleep diary may help you and your doctor identify patterns and conditions that are affecting your sleep.
Learning good sleep habits may help treat insomnia. Behavior therapy can teach you about good sleep habits, and is often just as effective as prescription sleeping medicines. Behavior therapy for sleep usually includes learning ways to relax and not worry as much about sleep. You can also learn muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises to help you relax.
If a medicine is causing your insomnia, your doctor may be able to prescribe a different medicine for your condition to help you sleep better.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- Could my insomnia be a sign of another condition?
- How can exercise help with insomnia?
- Are there herbal supplements that help with insomnia? Are there any side effects to be aware of?
- What types of over-the-counter medicine can help me sleep.
- Are there prescription medicines that treat insomnia?
- Does insomnia run in families?