What causes insomnia?

phone usage in bed
Why can't I sleep?

Treating your insomnia can help set you on the path to a more enjoyable, energised life. But first you need to pin down the reason for your insomnia, then you'll be able to figure out why you're not getting the good night's rest you need and deserve.

The cause of insomnia can be difficult to pin down
Worry
Worrying about not being able to sleep, and how you’re going to cope with the day ahead (after so little sleep) are common problems in people with recurring insomnia.
Being Overtired
Jet lag and shift work can both cause changes in your natural sleep-wake cycle so your body’s natural built-in clock gets out of step with your sleep needs.
Medication
Poor sleep habits, stress, medications, age, or too much coffee are just a few other things that could be contributing to your insomnia.
Poor sleep habits
Medications
Stress
Medical conditions
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Woman using phone in bed

Are poor sleep habits contributing to your insomnia? Here are some of the bad habits that can interfere with a good night's sleep:

  • Ignoring your body clock and staying up past your normal bedtime
  • Sleeping in on the weekend to catch up on lost sleep during the week
  • Staying inside all day without being exposed to natural daylight
  • Not getting regular exercise during the day
  • Having an afternoon nap and then expecting to sleep the same length of time at night
  • Drinking coffee or caffeine-containing drinks after dinner
  • Watching TV, using your computer, phone or tablet in bed
  • Having a stimulating discussion or getting into an argument late in the evening
  • Doing vigorous exercise just before bedtime (with the exception of sex!)
  • Trying to sleep on an uncomfortable bed
Medications

A number of pharmacy medications and prescription drugs can affect your sleep if you take them at the wrong time of day. Some recreational drugs are known to prevent sleep as well.

Pharmacy medications that can contribute to insomnia include:

  • Cold, sinus and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine
  • Paracetamol + caffeine combinations
  • Supplements that contain caffeine or guarana


Some prescription medications may cause insomnia, particularly if you take them in the evening. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice about the right time of day and always stick to the correct dose of your medications. Always take them according to your doctor’s instructions and don’t stop taking them without first consulting your doctor. If you think a prescription medication may be contributing to your insomnia, talk to your doctor.

Woman in stress

Stress can make your mind hyper-alert so you have difficulty relaxing enough to fall asleep. This is one of the most common insomnia causes.1

You may also wake up in the night with your mind demanding that you pay attention to a problem or problems. In those dark, early hours, with nothing to distract you, it’s all too easy for a problem to get blown way out of proportion.

Woman clutching her tummy

Several medical conditions can affect sleep, either by causing discomfort or forcing you to wake up repeatedly during the night.

Some of these include:

  • Sleep apnea, where air stops flowing to your lungs for 10 seconds or longer – that is, you actually stop breathing. Sleep apnea is most often caused by your airway becoming blocked or partially blocked when you sleep, which may result in snoring and frequent waking.Learn more
  • Gastrointestinal reflux disease (or heartburn) may cause the contents of your stomach to wash up into your oesophagus when you’re lying down, causing heartburn pain and sometimes, a bad taste in your mouth.
  • Pain, particularly chronic pain. This may cause insomnia in people with other illnesses.

Other sleep disorders

Sleep apnea, snoring and bruxism can also be insomnia causes.
Snoring is a very common behaviour which not only affects your sleep but your partner’s sleep as well. The older and more overweight a person is, the more likely they are to snore. Men are twice as likely to snore as women. Snoring is often a sign of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that can have other consequences for your health. If you’re a regular snorer (or know someone who is), take the online sleep assessment.
Bruxism refers to grinding or clenching your teeth while you’re asleep. It’s often associated with stress and/or a poor bite. You may be unaware that you’re doing it unless someone hears the grinding sounds which can be quite loud. If left untreated, bruxism can permanently damage your teeth, causing them to wear and crack. Treatments for bruxism can include wearing a special mouth guard called a ‘night splint’. Injections into the muscles doing the grinding can also help.

Insomnia risk factors

Certain things are likely to increase your risk of experiencing a poor night's sleep.
  • Increasing age increases your risk of insomnia2 and also reduces the hours of sleep you need each night.3
  • Some medications and recreational substances, particularly when taken in the evening, can cause sleep difficulties.
  • Being a woman makes it more likely you’ll experience insomnia symptoms.4 Pregnancy, hormonal changes and menopause can all interfere with your sleep.
  • Worry is a key driver of insomnia, particularly when it comes to short-term insomnia.
  • Shift work can interfere with your sleep-wake cycle, making it difficult to sleep at the time when you need to.
  • Jet lag is caused by travelling through several time zones in a west-east or east-west direction. Your body clock becomes confused about the right time to sleep and it can take several days to adjust to your new location.

Good sleep is essential to good health

Awaken your best with the 14 night sleep challenge

Take part in this fun sleep challenge where you will learn some great tips and habits to help you improve your nightly routine and get a more restful sleep.
Ready to take the challenge?

Take the sleep challenge