June 1

Insomnia: What causes it?

There are five main causes of insomnia:

  • medical conditions
  • prescription drugs
  • stress
  • behaviours surrounding sleep
  • beliefs about sleep

Medical Conditions

If you have any of these medical conditions, they are likely affecting your ability to getting a good night’s sleep:

  • urination problems such as incontinence or enlarged prostate
  • kidney disease
  • stomach problems, such as indigestion, acid reflux, or ulcers
  • chronic pain, such as arthritis
  • headaches
  • epilepsy
  • hyperthyroidism
  • allergies, congestion, or coughing
  • lung issues, such as emphysema, asthma, or bronchitis
  • hypoglycemia, diabetes
  • angina
  • dementia, Alzheimer’s disease

Prescription Drugs

The following prescription drugs can affect your ability to sleep:

  • corticosteroids
  • prescription diet pills
  • nasal decongestants that contain stimulants such as caffeine
  • pain killers with caffeine, such as Anacin and Exedrin
  • beta blockers
  • drugs for asthma that contain stimulants
  • thyroid hormones
  • drugs for Parkinson’s disease
  • some antidepressants

If you don’t have any of these medical conditions and are not taking any of these prescription drugs, then there are three additional causes of insomnia that may be affecting you.


Insomnia is usually triggered by a stressful event, such as the death of a loved one, a job loss, or a breakup. It’s normal not to be able to sleep after a stressful event because our minds are racing, trying to figure out what we will do next, how we will deal with the devastation.

It’s common to be prescribed sleeping pills after a stressful event. However, some people continue to take them even after the initial shock has subsided. They become convinced that they cannot sleep without taking a sleeping pill. In addition, we develop various bad habits surrounding sleep after the stressful event, as well as negative thoughts. The eventually outcome is insomnia.

Behaviours Surrounding Sleep 

Some behaviours that are not conducive to sleep that can lead to insomnia include

  • using the bed for activities other than sleeping, such as working or watching TV
  • drinking caffeine or alcohol shortly before going to bed
  • lying in bed when you can’t sleep
  • going to bed too early when you’re not feeling sleepy or sleeping too late
  • not exercising or not getting any sun exposure

Beliefs About Sleep

Your thoughts and beliefs about sleep have a powerful effect on your ability to sleep. Negative thoughts about sleep that could be affecting your ability to sleep include:

  • “I have to take a sleeping pill, otherwise I can’t sleep.”
  • “I won’t be able to function tomorrow if I don’t get a good night’s sleep.”
  • “No matter how hard I try, I can’t fall asleep.”
  • “If I wake up at night, I won’t be able to get back to sleep.”

If you believe these statements to be true, then they will be true for you.

If you don’t have any medical conditions and are not taking any prescription drugs that adversely affect your sleep, then reducing stress levels and changing your current negative behaviours and beliefs about sleep will have a profound effect on your ability to improve your sleep quality.



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