What causes insomnia?

Insomnia is very common.  Most everyone experiences it at one point or another.   Insomnia is also widely misunderstood, particularly the commonly-held misconception that it is some kind of a disease.  It is not.  Instead, insomnia is invariably only a symptom.  It is a symptom of something else going on deeper, of some other underlying condition or disorder that is causing the sleep problems.

Reduced to its simplest, broadest terms, the true underlying roots of insomnia can be found in two broad categories:  medical and nonmedical.

Insomnia caused by an underlying medical condition is known as secondary insomnia.  These underlying issues can be physical or psychiatric.   Obstructive sleep apnea, allergies, arthritis, and pain are all examples of underlying physical conditions that can cause sleep problems.

Medical problems can also be psychiatric, or having to do with the mental state.  Post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and substance abuse disorders are all examples of underlying psychiatric conditions that can disrupt sleep.

All of these medical conditions can be successfully treated, and often cured.  Sleep normally improves as a result.

In contrast, the second broad category of insomnia is the nonmedical variety, also known as primary insomnia.  The vast majority of insomniacs fall into this category.  Most insomnia has no true medical basis, either physical or psychiatric.  Instead, primary insomnia typically results from some nonmedical combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about the idea of sleep.  Normal stress and anxiety, meaning not sufficiently excessive to be considered a psychiatric disorder, also play a role for many if not most insomniacs.

Unfortunately, many of those afflicted with primary insomnia seek a medical cure through sleeping pills, which cannot address the true nonmedical roots of the problem.  All pills can do is unnaturally force sleep, while leaving the true underlying issues unaddressed and capable of causing ongoing problems.

There are better ways to improve sleep than creating a lifelong dependence on pills.

If you have insomnia, the first step in making it better is to truly understand what you’ve got, keeping in mind sleep is only the symptom.  We suggest a checkup with a healthcare professional to get an accurate diagnosis.  But don’t be surprised if  no underlying medical basis can be found.

In that case, look into CBT for sleep — cognitive behavioral therapy specifically designed for insomnia.  This is the gold standard for treating primary insomnia as recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.  CBT, which is really a combination of very effective methods to improve sleep, will help you comprehensively identify and address the nonmedical root sources for insomnia.  CBT helps most people who try it, and many become normal sleepers again.

Moreover, even in situations where there is a legitimate medical issue disrupting sleep, there often is a significant overlap with primary or nonmedical root causes.  CBT, used in conjunction with a healthcare professional responsible for your care, is also recommended in these cases.

Regardless of the type of insomnia, sleep should improve by staying focused on treating the root causes.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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