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Insomnia: What Causes It, and What to Do About It

Feeling refreshed after a good night's sleep should not be a luxury, but for some it is. Tackling a day's worth of work, chores, family obligations, and hobbies can feel unbearably difficult after not sleeping well the prior evening. And if that poor sleep extends beyond just one night — into full-blown insomnia — life can feel downright impossible.

Insomnia is characterized by the "inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, resulting in unrefreshing or non-restorative sleep" and it is defined by "the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping—not the number of hours you sleep or how quickly you doze off," according to HelpGuide.org. Some people experience insomnia for a day or two, while others struggle with it for an entire lifetime.

Here we will look at the various causes of insomnia, how it affects our health, and what we can do about it.

Causes

Since insomnia is such a personal experience, these causes can result in insomnia in some people — and may have absolutely no effect on the quality of sleep in others:

  • Medical conditions such heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, brain lesions, or previous brain injury
  • Pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause
  • Exercise (working out too close to bedtime can keep you awake)
  • Caffeine
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Stress, fear, anxiety, depression
  • Pain
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Too much exposure to blue light (a.k.a. screen time) prior to bedtime

Effects on Health

Aside from feeling dreary and exhausted, prolonged insomnia can have very real effects on our health:

  • Unsurprisingly, accidents occur far more frequently when one is sleep-deprived
  • Insomnia can also wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system, resulting in conditions including stroke, heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and even diabetes.
  • Depression is also a common side effect of poor sleep
  • Dull skin is probably one of the first things you'll notice after not sleeping well
  • Lack of a sex drive can be an unfortunate side effect of insomnia
  • Not sleeping tends to result in an increase in hunger. As a result, we eat more (even when our bodies don't really need it), and obesity can result.