Sleep Disorders

15 November 2010

7 causes of insomnia

Few things are as debilitating as a sleepless night. Here are seven things by which it may be caused.

Those who regularly suffer from insomnia will know how debilitating this condition can be. It may be caused by the following seven things: 

  • Emotional distress, especially from internalised anger or anxiety.
     
  • Overusing substances such as caffeine (in coffee, colas and some "energy drinks" like Red Bull), nicotine, certain medications and herbal remedies, and alcohol. Alcohol consumption may cause initial drowsiness, but this is usually followed by sudden wakefulness once the alcohol is metabolised. Paradoxically, insomnia may result from sedatives prescribed to relieve it. Some people, especially the elderly, develop an inverted sleep rhythm: drowsiness in the morning, sleep during the day and wakefulness at night.
     
  • Disturbances in your body clock or circadian rhythm. This may be the result of an irregular sleep schedule due to, for example, excessive daytime napping or late-night partying. Disturbance of sleep timing is common in people travelling by plane to different time zones, night shift workers and high school and university students doing "all-nighters" when cramming for tests.
     
  • Environmental factors – such as noise, extreme temperatures, bright lights and sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings – can cause transient and intermittent insomnia.
     
  • Medical conditions. Many illnesses, such as ulcers, depression, diabetes, kidney disease, heart failure, Parkinson's disease and hyperthyroidism, may lead to chronic insomnia. Shortness of breath from asthma or other medical problems, heartburn, frequent urination and chronic pain, say from arthritis or leg cramps, can also cause sleep problems. Insomnia may be associated with an underlying psychiatric condition, such as depression or schizophrenia. Early morning waking is common in some acutely depressed people. Other sleep disorders may also lead to chronic insomnia. Sleep apnea (snoring with numerous or prolonged breathing pauses during sleep), narcolepsy (inability to control staying awake or falling asleep), periodic leg and arm movements during sleep (the muscles twitch or jerk excessively), or restless legs syndrome (an overwhelming need to move the legs) can all interfere with sleep onset and maintenance.
     
  • Eating large meals close to bedtime.
     
  • Vigorous exercise close to bedtime.

(Health 24, updated January 2013)

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Sleep disorders expert

Neera Bhikha is a Neurophysiologist at SandtonMedi Clinic in Johannesburg. She specialises in Neurodiagnostic testing which includes EEG (routine and long term monitoring sleep studies), Polysomnograms, Nerve conduction studies/EMG studies.

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