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Health & Wellness Articles  ›  Rest & Relaxation

What Causes Insomnia?

Learn Which Risk Factors You Can Control

-- By Liza Barnes & Nicole Nichols, Health Educators
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Controllable Risk Factors
Controllable risk factors are behaviors and factors that you can modify to lower your risk of suffering from insomnia.
  • Your diet. Eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep. To ensure you get plenty of shut-eye, try a light snack before bed, but avoid protein-rich and caffeine-containing foods and beverages. Consuming dairy products before bed can be helpful to some, since milk contains the sleep-inducing amino acid, tryptophan.
  • Your caffeine intake. Caffeine is found in beverages (coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks), foods (chocolate, for example) and even medications. As a stimulant, it can keep you awake and alert during the day, but if consumed in large quantifies or too close to bedtime, it will keep you awake when you'd rather be sleeping. Discontinue your consumption of caffeine-containing products at least 4 hours before you go to bed for optimal sleep.
  • Your exercise routine. Following a consistent exercise program can help you increase your energy levels during the day, and regulate your sleeping patterns at night. Just make sure you don't work out too close to bedtime, because it can make it harder to fall asleep. Aim for morning or afternoon workouts instead. If you must exercise at night, finish at least three or four hours before you need to go to sleep. Wake Up to the Importance of Exercise offers more details on the exercise-sleep connection.
  • Your stress levels. People with uncontrolled, chronic stress, including those who are overworked at the office or at home, are more prone to developing insomnia. Taking time to relax and relieve stress through exercise, meditation, yoga or other techniques can help.
  • Your outlook on life. A pessimistic outlook on life (negative thoughts, beliefs and attitudes) can significantly increase your risk of experience insomnia. People who focus on the positive tend to sleep better and experience better health in general. Changing your thoughts can change your life!
  • Your sleeping environment. It's more difficult to fall and stay asleep in a room that is too bright, noisy, or extreme in temperatures (hot or cold). Wearing a sleeping mask and closing blinds and curtains can help diminish light, while ear plugs and white noise (like a fan or CD of rain sounds) can block out disturbing sounds.
  • Your medications. Both prescription and over-the-counter medications can result in side effects such as insomnia or sleep disturbances. Common culprits include asthma, allergy and cold medicines; sedatives; and beta blockers. If you think your medication may be contributing to your symptoms, talk to your doctor about finding an alternative medication for your condition that doesn't have this negative side effect.
  • Your sleep routine. When your sleep routine is disrupted (from traveling, jetlag, staying up late, or sleeping in) you're more likely to suffer from insomnia. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule—going to bed and waking up at the same time—every day, including the weekends, will help you better regulate your sleeping patterns.
  • Your use of tobacco products. Tobacco products all contain nicotine, a powerful stimulant that can interfere with sleep. Don't smoke or use tobacco before bed, but even better—take steps to quit today. Using tobacco is a serious risk factor for many health conditions.
  • Your drinking habits. Many people think that having a drink of alcohol will help them fall asleep since it's a depressant. While this is initially true, you're more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and experience nightmares and night sweats due to withdrawal of alcohol clearing from your system. Avoid or limit your use of alcohol at least a few hours before bedtime.
Some risk factors for insomnia can’t be modified, but many can. Lifestyle changes alone may help you sleep better, but talk with your health care provider if you continue to experience problems—especially those related to factors that you can't control. Every small lifestyle change you can make, in conjunction with the treatment plan laid out by your doctor, can help you sleep soundly and improve your health and energy levels.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • ISAIAHALON
    I am also facing the same problem but not getting the solution for it but hopefully i will try the above things.

    http://www.coom
    berlaw.com/ - 3/6/2013 6:10:48 AM
  • I 've tried lots of things to sleep and now that I'm trying spark people to improve my health,bad habits and lengthen/strength
    en my life.
    - 5/23/2012 12:50:42 PM
  • I have sleep problems, on and off and currently find myself waking in the night a lot. I am in many of the catagories who you say are at risk; I am a shift worker and my shifts change from night to days every week. I have a chronic ill health condition and some of my medications hold insomnia as a side effect.. I'm older- in my 40's and so it looks like I'm stuffed!! However, as a positive, I drink a lot of caffeine (probably to get me through my shifts and stay awake), but because of your article - I'm giving it up slowly and turning decaf instead! - 6/21/2011 10:23:04 AM
  • Thanks for this article. I have been battling this issue for quite some time and have never taken the time to research it or talk to a doctor due to lack of health insurance. I used to sleep an average of 4 hours at a time and since being unemployed I have slept a full 8 hours! However, this past week, I would go to sleep at 8pm and be wide awake at midnight to fall back to sleep anywhere between 2 and 6am. I am in my late 30's not quite 40 but still close. - 1/4/2011 10:00:33 PM
  • As a 50+ former shift worker I have to disagree with the statement that you can't change your hours of work. I was always on the lookout for day jobs, especially when I found I could not sleep in the daytime anymore, as I used to be able to do when I was younger. I had to accept a temporary reduction in hours, and give up shift premiums, but now a few years later I'm at last starting to sleep better through the night, and my wallet is no worse off. - 9/9/2010 8:29:24 AM
  • Appreciated the article. Now I have several additional issue I can observe to improve the quality of my sleep. Thanks.

    Ken - 2/12/2009 7:53:14 AM