What Causes Insomnia? The Science Behind Your Sleep Troubles (and How to Treat Them Naturally)

There’s nothing worse than lying in bed, in the dark, desperately trying to fall asleep but knowing you won’t — not for at least another hour, anyway.

Insomnia can develop for a number of reasons. It can happen occasionally (at the most inconvenient times, of course) or it can occur time and again, night after night. At first, its effects are inconvenient. But they can turn into major problems if sleep issues continue.

Whether it’s a serious sleep disorder or a side effect of something else, there may be something you can do about it. Here’s what really causes insomnia to develop, how sleep deprivation affects your body, and how you can get a handle on your sleep problems at home.

What is the main cause of insomnia?

Sleep disorder

Sleep disorder | YakobchukOlena/Getty Images

Sleepless nights can be frustrating — and make the following day almost unbearable. But the good news is, having a hard time falling or staying asleep usually has an underlying cause. Sometimes, more than one factor contributes to insomnia. In many cases, one main cause can trigger side effects.

The most common causes of insomnia include:

  • Poor sleep habits
  • Eating too late in the day
  • Alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine use
  • Stress
  • An inconsistent work or travel schedule
  • Mental health disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Certain medications
  • Certain medical conditions (e.g., chronic pain).

Going too long without at least five hours of sleep a night might not seem like that big of a deal. But if you keep letting it happen, your health could seriously suffer.

What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?

Sleep deprivation doesn’t do your body many favors. In the short-term, it can affect your ability to concentrate, remember new information, and make simple tasks like driving much more dangerous.

Chronic sleep deprivation can also increase your blood pressure — as well as your risk for illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. And though mental disorders can lead to sleep problems, not getting enough sleep can also increase your risk of conditions such as depression.

Because insomnia can negatively impact your health in the long-term, it’s important to get a handle on it before it starts causing problems at work or at home. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start taking medication to improve your sleep.

Insomnia remedies: How to cure insomnia without medication

Sleep remedies

Sleep remedies | twinsterphoto/iStock/Getty Images

Some people fare better with medications that help them get enough sleep every night. But many people are able to manage their sleep-related issues without a prescription or even a supplement.

The following tips and tricks might be able to help you get your sleeping habits back under control — even if it means shifting your schedule a little bit.

  • Don’t eat before bed. Large quantities of food or even drinks before you go to sleep might interfere with your ability to fall or stay asleep.
  • Keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule. Wake up and go to bed around the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Stop taking naps. They may seem like a rite of passage into prime adulthood, but any sleep you get during the day can offset your rhythm and make it harder to sleep at night.
  • Get moving. Regular physical activity promotes better sleep and can even help relieve anxiety and stress.
  • Mind your alcohol and caffeine intake. If you’re having problems sleeping, you might want to cut back on your caffeine and alcohol consumption to see if that helps you better manage your symptoms.

You can — and will — get a good night’s sleep again. If you deal with your stressors, adjust your diet and fitness routine, and say goodbye to naps and you still have trouble sleeping, a doctor can help. But in many cases, a few small changes can make all the difference.

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