If you’re not getting a good night’s rest, you’re not alone. In fact, according to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health, about 30-40% of adults say they have some symptoms of insomnia within a given year, and about 10-15 percent of adults say they have chronic insomnia. Furthermore, insomnia is the most common sleep complaint of Americans. But when sleep disruptions persist for over a month, it’s important to address underlying causes.
Some of the most common causes of insomnia include pain, stress, and drug use (including prescription, over-the-counter, and excessive consumption of caffeine). In addition, there are several other causes of insomnia, that while difficult to deal with, can be addressed and subsequently resolved.
- Pain: 15% of Americans complain of chronic pain including back pain, jaw pain (TMJ) and headaches. Chronic pain can obviously keep you awake, but if you tell your doctor about these problems you can address the pain and get some sleep.
- Mental illness and stress: insomnia is both a cause of depression and anxiety as well as a symptom of mental illness and stress. It is a chicken-and-the-egg situation: since the brain uses neurotransmitters for sleep and mood, it’s often hard to know which starts first. Stressful situations such as money or marital problems can kick-start insomnia and turn it into a long-term problem. Again, visit your doctor for help with stress-related insomnia before it turns into an ongoing problem.
- Snoring: 30-50% of Americans saw a log at night without consequences. However, in some cases snoring is a sign of sleep apnea, a disorder linked to heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. While it is difficult to diagnose sleep apnea, with repeat office visits doctors can usually identify the problem. Lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery, and/or breathing devices can successfully treat sleep apnea in many people.
- Jet lag: crossing over time zones throws off your internal clock that tells you when to sleep and wake up. It can take up to three days to adjust to a new time zone, and if you fly across time zones often, jet lag insomnia can become a chronic problem. Nevertheless, there are ways to beat jet leg.
- Shift work: People who work rotating shifts have lower levels of serotonin, a hormone and neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that helps regulate sleep. Thus, those who work uncommon schedules such as doctors, nurses, or other shift workers can fall victim to insomnia.
- Hormonal changes: menopause, menstruation, and pregnancy are some of the primary sources of sleep problems among women.
- Medical illnesses: often, sleep disorders arise with other medical conditions such as asthma or lung disease. Moreover, Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders can interrupt sleep.
- Drugs: prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause insomnia, particularly if you take them close to bedtime or if you increase your dosage. If you notice problems with sleeping after changing your medication routine, talk to your doctor.