Insomnia Causes, Symptoms and Risks

Insomnia Causes, Symptoms and Risks

What are some of the causes, risks and symptoms?

  • Transient and intermittent insomnia are usually caused by emotional distress. Internalized anger and anxiety are the most common reasons for insomnia. Depression may also trigger some forms of insomnia, such as waking too early.
  • Behavioral factors can also lead to insomnia. Overusing caffeine, alcohol or other substances, excessive napping, smoking before bedtime, chronic stress or disrupted sleep/wake cycles can produce sleepless nights. Environmental factors — such as noise, extreme temperatures, environmental changes or jet lag — can lead to transient and intermittent insomnia.
  • Chronic insomnia, by contrast, is usually caused by depression. Physical ailments, such as kidney disease, heart failure, asthma, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease or hyperthyroidism, may work with emotional factors to produce chronic insomnia. Other sleep disorders may also lead to chronic insomnia, including sleep apnea, narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome.
  • Individuals at risk for increased insomnia are the elderly, women and those with a history of depression. Women may be more likely to get insomnia because of their menstrual cycles. Studies have found that 50% of menstruating women reported bloating that disturbed their sleep for two to three days each cycle. Rising progesterone levels may cause some women to feel tired or fatigued, usually at the beginning of the menstrual cycle.
  • Individuals over 60 may be kept awake by leg cramps, frequent urination or arthritis.


  • Insomnia is the perception of poor-quality sleep.
  • Individuals with insomnia may have trouble falling asleep, maintaining sleep or waking up too early.
  • Frequently, individuals may wake up feeling unrefreshed or drowsy. In more severe cases, they may feel depressed, anxious or irritable because of a lack of high-quality sleep.

Brain and Mental Health

References and Sources: Medline, Pubmed, National Institutes of Health

last update: February 2009

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