Insomnia: Causes and Risk Factors

Insomnia is a condition where a person has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep for long periods of time. This often results in poor sleep quality and a lack of sufficient rest.

Most people experience insomnia at some point in their lives. According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 50 percent of the US adults report experiencing insomnia in their life.

Insomnia can affect people of any age and gender, but it is more common in adult females than adult males. The elderly are particularly at risk for insomnia.

Types of Insomnia

There are three types of insomnia based on the duration of the sleep disturbance:

Transient insomnia – This lasts for less than a week. This is one of the most common types of insomnia. Almost everybody experiences transient insomnia at some point. Fortunately, it’s a very minor case of insomnia and it’s easy to resolve by developing good sleep habits and reducing stress levels.

Short-term insomnia – This usually lasts from one to three weeks. This type of insomnia is commonly caused by medication side effects, ongoing stress, and medical conditions.

Chronic insomnia – This lasts for more than a month. It is the most severe form and can greatly impact your day-to-day life. Chronic insomnia is often a result of a combination of factors, including underlying physical or mental disorders.

What Causes Insomnia?

There are many possible causes of insomnia. In most cases, transient and short-term insomnia are caused by:

  • Stress
  • Travel
  • Noise and disturbances in the nearby environment
  • Changes in temperature
  • Uncomfortable beds
  • Side-effects of taking medication

Chronic insomnia is often more complex than transient and short-term insomnia, and the causes are usually underlying physical and psychological disorders. Some of the possible causes of chronic insomnia include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Mental health disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and asthma
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Substances abuse such as alcohol, tobacco, or drugs

Risk Factors for Insomnia

Anyone can get insomnia, but there are some factors that can increase your risk. These include:

  • Being a woman. Hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle and in menopause may play a role. During menopause, a women may experience night sweats and hot flashes which often disrupt sleep. Insomnia is also common in pregnancy.
  • Being age 60 and older. Your risk for insomnia increases as you age, especially after age 60 or older. This is probably because of changes in sleep patterns and health.
  • Suffering from mental health disorder or physical health condition. Many issues that impact your mental or physical health can disrupt your sleep.
  • Stress. A busy and stressful time can cause temporary insomnia. And major or long-lasting stress can lead to chronic insomnia.
  • Environmental factors. The environment where you work and live can cause insomnia as well. For example, changing shifts at work, changing in temperatures or noise.

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