Insomnia happens for many reasons. Short-term insomnia is often caused by:
- A life crisis or stress
- A room that is too hot or too cold
- Changes in surroundings
- Jet lag or other sleep-wake problems
The cause of long-term insomnia is not always clear. It can be caused by:
- Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Arthritis, fibromyalgia, or other long-term pain
- Heart disease
- Problems that affect breathing, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or sleep apnea
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or an ulcer
Both types of insomnia can be due to:
Behaviors such as:
- Using caffeine, alcohol, or other substances
- Sleeping on an irregular schedule—such as with shift work
- Problems coping with stress
- Napping too much in the afternoon or evening
- Certain medicines, such as:
- Antidepressants, stimulants, and pain relievers
- Steroid hormones, decongestants, and certain asthma medicines
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. The doctor will ask about your sleep, habits, schedule, and medicines.
If the cause is not clear, a sleep study may be done. This is done in a special lab. A technician will look at brain activity, breathing, and movement as you sleep.
The goal is to improve sleep. This may be done by treating underlying problems or behaviors. Other options are:
- Sleep medicines—usually for a short time
- Relaxation techniques and physical activity—to ease stress
- Herbs or melatonin
- Sleep restriction—a program that limits time in bed to sleeping time only
- Reconditioning—using the bed only for sleep and sex
- Cognitive behavioral therapy—talk therapy with a mental health counselor
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
National Sleep Foundation https://sleepfoundation.org
Sleep On It https://sleeponitcanada.ca/
Canadian Sleep Society https://css-scs.ca
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Insomnia. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/insomnia. Accessed February 25, 2021.
Insomnia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/insomnia-in-adults. Accessed February 25, 2021.
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