What’s Causing My Insomnia

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation.


Chronic insomnia often occurs with (and could potentially be caused by) other health problems.

Insomnia. In short, it’s complicated. One of the most common medical complaints, insomnia itself is a complex condition that's often related to other serious issues. 

Defining Insomnia

Insomnia is defined as a sleep disorder that disturbs not only a person’s ability to sleep at night, but also his or her ability to function during the day. Someone who suffers from insomnia will find it difficult to fall asleep and/or stay asleep at night, and during the day he or she may struggle with concentration or memory issues.  It is also common to worry or experience anxiety about sleep.

Diagnosing Insomnia

There’s no definitive test for insomnia and it can be challenging to link it to a root cause. While insomnia can exist on its own, without another condition, it tends to go hand in hand with other medical, psychiatric, sleep, or neurological disorders. For example, insomnia may occur with thyroid problems, sleep apnea, asthma, or other breathing issues. It can co-exist with depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems, as well as with chronic pain conditions, acid reflux or GERD, restless leg syndrome, and conditions that make you urinate frequently, such as enlarged prostate. What’s more, there can be a chicken and egg situation: It can be hard to know which problem came first and triggered another, especially when arthritis or other chronic pain problems are involved.

Clarifying Contributing and Co-Existing Conditions

Your doctor can help you determine if there is one or more medical conditions contributing to your insomnia. Since multiple causes are common, diagnostic workups are done, typically, to determine which other disorders may be contributing factors. In addition to a physical examination, a workup may include:

  • Keeping a sleep log, consisting of your bedtimes and wake times, naps, activities, and how long you slept, over several weeks
  • A medical history
  • Blood tests
  • A sleep study called a [sleep_term id="1345"] (PSG)

Easing Chronic Insomnia Symptoms

Without treatment, chronic insomnia can worsen sleeplessness, as well as other issues such as anxiety. Fortunately, doctors and other providers don’t need to understand immediately what is behind your insomnia symptoms before they can start relieving it. Talk to your doctor to take a step closer to getting treated and feeling better.

Related Reading:

  • When Is Your Snoring OK?

    Nearly half of all American adults—or about 90 million people—are regular snorers. It is frustrating to bedmates and the source of marital tension. Although it’s common, it is not normal:…

  • How Depression Affects Sleep

    Sleep issues are a common symptom of depression. Our guide explains the relationship between sleep and depression and offers tips for sleeping better.

  • What Are Circadian Rhythm Disorders?

    Does your sleep schedule seem like it doesn't match up with others? Find out how to know if you have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder.