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Insomnia: Warning Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment

If you’ve ever tossed and turned trying to fall asleep at night, you know how frustrating sleeplessness can be. Even when you are exhausted, you wake up during the night and lie awake for hours; or, you wake way before your alarm and can’t fall back to sleep. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder affecting adults in the U.S. and makes it difficult to fall or stay asleep.

What Causes Insomnia?

The causes of insomnia depend on various factors. Insomnia can be acute, happening for a few days of the week for a short time, or chronic, lasting for months.

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Stress can keep you up at night, causing your mind to race and leaving you unable to wind down enough to fall asleep or stay asleep. Stress about relationships, work, money, or a traumatic experience like losing a job or going through a divorce can cause insomnia.

Health Conditions

Symptoms of various health conditions can make it difficult to sleep. Arthritis pain, back pain, heart disease, diabetes, and even heartburn can all disrupt sleep cycles; sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome can also disrupt quality of sleep. Hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can cause short-term insomnia in women, while prostate issues often cause men to wake frequently at night to go to the bathroom.


Traveling to different time zones can interrupt your body’s natural sleep rhythms, causing what is known as jet lag. It can take a week or more to fully adjust to time changes, and for people who travel frequently for work, this can be difficult. Working night shifts or having irregular work schedules can also interrupt your natural sleep cycles and make it challenging to sleep.

Behavior/Sleep Habits

Frequently changing your bedtime, taking naps during the day, receiving too much stimulation before bed—all of these habits can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Watching TV or using your phone or computer right before bedtime can impair your ability to fall asleep. Lack of physical activity during the day or exercising too close to bedtime can also cause insomnia.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression have strong links to insomnia. While insomnia can be a symptom of anxiety and depression, insomnia can also contribute to–or even cause–these disorders. Diagnosing and treating these conditions together is key to helping those who may have insomnia and anxiety or depression get better.

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