What are the medical causes of insomnia?

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TL;DR

There are many medical conditions (some mild and others more serious) that can lead to insomnia. In some cases, a medical condition itself causes insomnia, while in other cases, symptoms of the condition cause discomfort that can make it difficult for a person to sleep.

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Table of Contents

There are many medical conditions (some mild and others more serious) that can lead to insomnia. In some cases, a medical condition itself causes insomnia, while in other cases, symptoms of the condition cause discomfort that can make it difficult for a person to sleep.

Examples of medical conditions that can cause insomnia are:

  • Nasal/sinus allergies
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as reflux
  • Endocrine problems such as hyperthyroidism
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Low back pain

Medications such as those taken for the common cold and nasal allergies, high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disease, birth control, asthma, and depression can also cause insomnia.

An estimated 10 percent of the population has restless legs syndrome.

In addition, insomnia may be a symptom of underlying sleep disorders. For example, restless legs syndrome – a neurological condition in which a person has an uncomfortable sensation of needing to move his or her legs –can lead to insomnia. Patients with restless legs syndrome typically experience worse symptoms in the later part of the day, during periods of inactivity, and in the transition from wake to sleep, which means that falling asleep and staying asleep can be difficult. An estimated 10 percent of the population has restless legs syndrome.

Sleep apnea is another sleep disorder linked to insomnia. With sleep apnea, a person’s airway becomes partially or completely obstructed during sleep, leading to pauses in breathing and a drop of oxygen levels. This causes a person to wake up briefly but repeatedly throughout the night. People with sleep apnea sometimes report experiencing insomnia.

If you have trouble sleeping on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to review your health and think about whether any underlying medical issues or sleep disorders could be contributing to your sleep problems. In some cases, there are simple steps that can be taken to improve sleep (such as avoiding bright lighting while winding down and trying to limit possible distractions, such as a TV, computer, or pets). While in other cases, it’s important to talk to your doctor to figure out a course of action. You should not simply accept poor sleep as a way of life—talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist for help.

Insomnia & Depression

Insomnia can be caused by psychiatric conditions such as depression. Psychological struggles can make it hard to sleep, insomnia itself can bring on changes in mood, and shifts in hormones and physiology can lead to both psychiatric issues and insomnia at the same time.

Sleep problems may represent a symptom of depression, and the risk of severe insomnia is much higher in patients with major depressive disorders. Studies show that insomnia can also trigger or worsen depression.

It’s important to know that symptoms of depression (such as low energy, loss of interest or motivation, feelings of sadness or hopelessness) and insomnia can be linked, and one can make the other worse. The good news is that both are treatable regardless of which came first.

Insomnia & Anxiety

Most adults have had some trouble sleeping because they feel worried or nervous, but for some it’s a pattern that interferes with sleep on a regular basis. Anxiety symptoms that can lead to insomnia include:

  • Tension
  • Getting caught up in thoughts about past events
  • Excessive worrying about future events
  • Feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities
  • A general feeling of being revved up or overstimulated

It’s not hard to see why these symptoms of general anxiety can make it difficult to sleep. Anxiety may be associated with onset insomnia (trouble falling asleep), or maintenance insomnia (waking up during the night and not being able to return to sleep). In either case, the quiet and inactivity of night often brings on stressful thoughts or even fears that keep a person awake.

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