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  • Mariam Daneshgar

7 Most Common Triggers of Insomnia

Insomnia is a really common issue and almost anything can trigger it. Chances are, if you have not already experienced it, at some point in your life it may hit you.

Girl suffering from insomnia in bed
7 Most Common Triggers of Insomnia

There are two different categories of insomnia: one that it is unknown where it came from (and what triggered it) and the other that is associated with another issue(s).

The first category is referred to as Primary Insomnia, which shows up out of the blue and there is no obvious or clear reason as to why you are experiencing it. Those with this type of insomnia tend to start experiencing it at a young age and may be struggling with it for a long time, as it is very difficult to pinpoint the cause and to get treatment for it.

The other category of insomnia is Secondary Insomnia, which is the most common form, as about three-quarters of all cases of insomnia fall under this group. This is when the sleep difficulties show up in relation to another triggering factor, like when you are experiencing anxiety and it causes insomnia. Traditionally it was perceived that since the insomnia is caused by a separate issue, resolving the triggering cause will automatically resolve the insomnia. However, more recently it is understood that the relationship between insomnia and triggering factor(s) is bidirectional. This means that even though your anxiety may have triggered your insomnia, not being able to sleep is actually making your anxiety worse (the anxiety and insomnia make each other worse). In addition to this, it is now believed that in many cases, when it comes to chronic insomnia, even if the original triggering issue is resolved, the insomnia still remains as a separate independent issue of its own. This means that the insomnia requires separate treatment that focuses on resolving the insomnia itself and will not automatically disappear once the trigger is removed.

There are a number of common triggers that are associated with this type of insomnia and the 7 most common ones are:

#1 - Stress & Worry

Going through a highly stressful period in your life due to personal, relationship, financial, employment, or situational reasons can keep the mind going and keep you up at night. Often times the insomnia experienced during these situations is resolved once the issue is passed. But sometimes the insomnia becomes chronic either due to the chronic nature of the stress or due to alterations made to the sleep system.

#2 - Mental Health

The relationship between various mental health conditions and insomnia has been well-established, as there is about a 50% rate of co-occurrence. Many conditions such as anxiety and depression can also trigger insomnia. However, this relationship is also bidirectional, as sleep deprivation and low quality of sleep can also trigger and maintain mental health symptoms and conditions. Due to this reason it can be challenging to figure out which came first, the insomnia or the mental health issue. However, no matter the causal direction, each condition requires focused treatment that addresses its specific and unique challenges.

#3 - Medical Conditions

Medical conditions can disrupt sleep either directly by impacting the body’s physiology and/or by altering the sleep system, or through secondary physical or mental health symptoms. If the symptoms of the condition are interruptive they can lead to the inability to sleep, multiple waking, or the reduction in the quality of your sleep. These symptoms can be pain-related, breathing difficulties, disruptive gastrointestinal symptoms, or neurological in nature. In addition, in many cases the stress of dealing with a medical condition can also cause or make sleep issues worse.

#4 - Medications & Substances

There are several prescription medications that include ‘difficulty sleeping’ as their side-effect in the fine print. Some of these may include steroids, diuretics, and hormone replacements, amongst others. Some over the counter medications can also affect sleep, as they may contain sleep-disrupting ingredients. In addition, the consumption (or withdrawal from) caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs can trigger insomnia or worsen existing sleep issues.

#5 - Lifestyle & Habits

Certain personal lifestyle choices and habits can trigger and maintain insomnia. Some examples include eating and spending time on screens too close to bed, a low level of physical activity or exercising too close to bedtime, unhelpful sleep and bedtime routines and activities, disruptive work schedule, inconsistent sleeping patterns, and sleeping environment that is not optimized for sleep. Many individuals are not aware that some of their lifestyle activities may actually be contributing to their sleep issues and insomnia, so it becomes very confusing to understand why they are experiencing insomnia and are not sure how to treat it.

#6 - Aging

Sleep disturbances are a common occurrence among older individuals. One reason is related to normal age-related physiological changes to the body that can impact sleep and make it easier to wake up. There is also a higher rate of medical and psychiatric symptoms and medication use that can disrupt sleep. In addition, with aging many experience changes to their social and relationship status, undergo financial issues, and have a higher need for support, which can all be sources of stress leading to insomnia.

#7 - Menopause

Due to fluctuations in hormone levels, sleep disruptions are common during the perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopausal stages. The decrease in progesterone levels can affect sleep, as it is a sleep-producing hormone. Other symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, anxiety, and depression, can also lead to negatively impacting sleep and causing insomnia.

The impact of insomnia can be a very challenging experience. However, understanding where it came from can help in getting the right treatment. You may find that your insomnia may have been triggered by any of the above factors and you have been struggling with it for some time. The good news is that there are effective non-medicinal treatments to help you get your sleep back on track. If you have any questions about your insomnia or how to resolve it feel free to contact me.

Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor.


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