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Causes, Incidence and Risk Factors

Insomnia is trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night.

Episodes may come and go (episodic), last up to 3 weeks (short-term), or be long-lasting (chronic).

Sleep habits we learned as children may affect our sleep behaviors as adults. When we repeat these behaviors over many years, they become habits. 

Poor sleep or lifestyle habits that may cause insomnia or make it worse:

  • Going to bed at different times each night

  • Daytime napping

  • Poor sleeping environment, such as too much noise or light

  • Spending too much time in bed while awake

  • Working evening or night shifts

  • Not getting enough exercise

  • Using the television, computer, or smartphone in bed

The use of some medications and drugs may also affect sleep:

  • Alcohol or other drugs

  • Heavy smoking

  • Too much caffeine, especially late in the day

  • Getting used to certain types of sleep medications

  • Some cold medications and diet pills

  • Other medicines, herbs, or supplements prescribed by a health care provider or bought on your own

Physical, social, and mental health issues can affect sleep patterns, including:

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disease

  • Feeling sad or depressed. Often, insomnia is the symptom that causes people with depression to seek medical help.

  • Physical pain or discomfort

  • Stress, whether it is short-term or long-term. For some people, the stress caused by the insomnia makes it even harder to fall asleep. 

With age, sleep patterns tend to change. Many people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep, and that they wake up more often.

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