Causes of insomnia are many
It’s clear that poor sleep disturbs life in a very holistic way, because sleep is essential for effective brain functioning, concentration, memory, ability to learn, metabolism, mental balance and spirit and many other things. Furthermore, there’s no one answer or root cause for poor sleep and insomnia.
Insomnia is often a consequence of an obvious problem but sometimes it’s hard to understand the causes for poor sleep. About 15% of insomnia cases have unrecognised causes. We can speak about endogenous or idiopathic insomnia. If a cognitive tendency for insomnia is strong, more permanent insomnia can develop from temporary insomnia. Life changes can also change sleep rhythm: for example a new partner can be an owl/lark and one needs to adjust accordingly.
There can be plenty of causes for insomnia:
Life changes can trigger insomnia
Functional insomnia is the most typical form of insomnia. Life changes can trigger functional insomnia: we react so strongly towards something that sleep gets disturbed. Functional insomnia can also follow from stress, environment or life changes that cause tense, anxiety, bad sleep habits and depression. Functional insomnia is typically short-term. It’s assumed that we as start to tense up our bodies, worries, anxiety and stress take over. As a consequence it becomes difficult to fall asleep in our own beds. Ironically, we find it easier to sleep before TV or even when travelling. When we keep ‘stuff’ inside and don’t share/discuss/handle issues bothering our minds, we start to get somatic symptoms. Insomnia is such. Sensitive sleepers seem to have tendency to react strongly to problems and not to deal with them. We often feel that we can’t resolve the problems and they get unbearable. By time, step by step, insomnia will be related to specific places, such as our own bed.
It is also believed that poor and low-quality sleep can follow from light sleep and REM sleep when brains to work hard during the sleep to clear thoughts and solve problems.
Circadian rhythm disturbances
Sometimes the reasons relate to circadian rhythm disturbances. Every person has his own sleep-awake rhythm. Our internal clock manages several things, for example production of melatonin which impacts our sleep. Errors with our internal clocks can result from circumstances or illnesses. Also some people’s genes may make them predisposed to insomnia.
Our ‘internal clock’ takes care of various body system operations: body temperature daily changes, awakening and falling asleep, production of hormones, feeling hungry, metabolism, use of cell energy, cell division. Everyone’s internal clock is unique and is affected by genes, its activity is directly linked to health. Several things can cause disturbances such as illnesses, summer/winter times, jet lags, shift work, etc. Typical day is 24 hours but our body systems think it is 24 hours 10 minutes (in average), hence they are constantly checking up that synchronization is right.
As work life operates by the rules of larks and, as this is a socially accepted norm, it is challenging for owls to adapt. Especially when they have difficulties in processing feelings and stress. Furthermore, if natural sleep requirement exceeds 7-8 hours, people feel that there’s not enough time and life gets more problematic. NOTE: Larks have best brain activity 0600-1100 and 1600-2100. Respected times with owls are a couple of hours later 0800-1300 and 1800-2300. This is when you should plan your most important activities and meetings!
Causes for long-term insomnia
Long-term insomnia does not belong to normal life. Everyone sleeps poorly once in a while but if insomnia continues over 3 months it becomes chronic. It looks that long-term insomnia increases with the same pace as the structures of society change. There seem to be many reasons that are linked to each other even though one central cause seems to be an inability to manage emotions. Insomniacs seem to stress rather easily which stems from the inability to identify and manage feelings from work pressures and overload. Sometimes chronic insomnia can be endogenous or idiopathic insomnia or a consequence of continuous (ab)use of sleeping pills.
Causes for long-term insomnia
- Stress, personal crisis, life
- Worries, over-trying and ‘bad’ habits
- Psychiatric symptoms and illnesses, depression and anxiety disorders
- Use of alcohol and sleeping pills
- Side effects of medicine/drugs
- Restless legs
- Sleep apnea
- Upper airway resistance syndrome (UPRS), a sleep disorder characterized by airway resistance to breathing during sleep
- REM behaviour disorder (RBD)
- Parasomnias: sleep walking, bruxism, night terrors, etc
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS)
- Advanced sleep phase disorder (ASPD)
- Heart diseases
- Chronic lung diseases
- Reflux disease
- Thyroid gland hyper-function
- Allergies, rash
- Urological diseases
- Fibromyalgia and rheumatism
- Cluster headache, migraine and pains
- Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases
Emotional and physiological factors and cognitive overstimulation maintain insomnia. One critical moment is when we seek help. If – at that point- we don’t get support, help and information, insomnia can easily become chronic.