• Insomnia is a sleep disorder that prevents someone from getting enough sleep to feel fully replenished the next day.
  • Insomnia arises from a variety of issues and is often reinforced behaviorally—someone who can’t sleep because of stress may start to become accustomed to sleep deprivation, doom-scrolling or binge watching to kill time.
  • Warning signs that insomnia might be developing includes a bedtime that is becoming gradually later and later, increased caffeine consumption, bedtime anxiety, and more.
  • Insomnia comes in a handful of presentations: Onset insomnia, middle insomnia, and early morning awakening insomnia.
  • Working with a therapist and/or psychiatric provider to find solutions such as cognitive behavioral therapy or a sleep medication is often vital to recovering from insomnia symptoms.

Imagine a night spent tossing and turning under the covers. You check the time on your phone and squeeze your eyes shut after turning off the screen—only to have its outline still flashing behind your eyelids as you try to adjust to total darkness once again.

Slowly, the hours tick by… until your alarm goes off and it’s time to get ready for a long day, even though you’re running on empty. Every once and awhile, this is normal. But when insomnia becomes a repeat occurrence, this can cause major issues in someone’s ability to function on a daily basis.

So how does insomnia develop? And how can mental health professionals help people get the rest they need? 

What Is the Main Cause of Insomnia?

Typically, there is a root cause of insomnia and other behavioral or life circumstances that make sleeping (and staying asleep) more difficult—smaller, reinforcing behaviors that make insomnia develop. For example, the root cause of insomnia could be: 

  • Financial stress
  • The end of a relationship
  • Substance use
  • Caffeine consumption—which may have benefits, but these aren’t sleep-related
  • Mental health-related, such as depression or anxiety 

And while these more major issues might be the root cause of someone’s insomnia symptoms, the condition fully develops due to smaller habits or behaviors that make the situation worse, including: 

  • Late night electronics usage, due to boredom and an inability to sleep
  • Stress or anxiety related to one’s frustration with being unable to sleep
  • Staying up late performing routine tasks and activities
  • Working nights or evenings

While the circumstances may vary wildly, the main takeaway is that a multitude of issues are usually part of the problem. Because these causes are so varied, it really requires finding the root cause first, in order to successfully treat insomnia symptoms.

What Are 5 Major Insomnia Symptoms?

The 5 major insomnia symptoms are: 

  • Having a hard time falling asleep
  • Waking up in the middle in the night
  • Waking up earlier than desired
  • Bedtime anxiety, because you predict you’ll not be able to sleep
  • Can lead to grogginess during the day, which is dangerous for complicated tasks like driving

Sleep challenges arise from all different circumstances, but before insomnia fully develops, there are warning signs (red flags) that one might observe. 

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What Are Red Flags for Insomnia?

Red flags for insomnia include:

  • Bedtime starts to become later
  • Bedtime starts to become anxiety-inducing
  • Energy levels decline during the day but peak at night
  • Caffeine consumption dramatically increases in order to stay awake
  • Using alcohol to try to stay asleep—which actually can lead to insomnia symptoms

It depends on the sleep schedule but really, anyone from a child to the elderly can develop insomnia. There’s no age range; it matters more what the root problem is and what functional impairments it’s causing.   

Why Won’t My Body Let Me Sleep?

It’s actually the other way around: Your mind isn’t letting you sleep, not your body. Sleeping naturally is challenging for people with insomnia or bedtime anxiety because you must allow the sleeping process to happen. It can’t be forced.  

What Are the 3 Types of Insomnia?

There are 3 types of insomnia or insomnia presentations. These include

  • Onset insomnia: This type of insomnia occurs when someone has a hard time falling asleep at night.
  • Middle insomnia: This variation of insomnia causes someone to experience difficulty staying asleep once asleep—known as tossing and turning. 
  • Early morning awakening: This presentation of insomnia causes someone to wake up in the middle of the night, without being able to go back to sleep. 

Insomnia can start organically, but it can become behaviorally reinforced over time, as mentioned in the above section. It’s also worth noting that insomnia can become biologically reinforced over time, as well—because our body’s circadian rhythms are quite sensitive to change. 

If you keep waking up early, getting up to do things in your day, looking at your phone, and more, your body will eventually believe that you’re supposed to wake up at this time.

How Much Sleep Do People with Insomnia Get Each Night?

It depends on their experience with insomnia, their sleeping habits and schedule, as well as the onset of their symptoms. People with insomnia may wake up during the night or fall asleep during the day. 

The point is that their sleep cycle isn’t regular, and the structural factors involved are making matters worse. 

How Can I Stop My Insomnia?

To find a lasting solution to insomnia and insomnia symptoms, it’s best to talk to a clinician who specializes in sleep-related issues. If you’ve experienced insomnia symptoms lasting a week or more, it’s important to begin seeking assistance so that you do not reinforce your insomnia symptoms with behaviors that can make the condition more severe. 

A behavioral therapist or psychiatric provider can help you by offering therapeutic modalities, or prescribing sleeping medications if they are qualified. However, such medications are typically a second line of defense, as they aren’t a permanent solution.

If you can learn to sleep without sedation, through lengthening your REM sleep (rapid eye movement), adjusting your sleep hygiene, daily habits, caffeine consumption and other lasting solutions, you will likely be able to curb your insomnia and recover your old sleep schedule. 

Why Can’t I Sleep Even Though I’m Tired?

You might not be able to sleep even when you’re tired for a variety of reasons. Consider:. Are you worried about something—is your mind running? Perhaps about what might happen tomorrow? Let it be—and begin by writing down what’s troubling you. 

If you’re so wound up from the day that you can’t sleep, take a warm shower to lower your body temperature and make yourself tired. Have you made a habit of going to sleep very late in the night? Maybe start by winding back your bedtime by 15 minutes every couple days. 

Do you spend too much time in bed? Do you associate bed with anything other than sleep? 

Start turning off screens, adjust the temperature (the colder the better, but not too cold), turn down the noise: Find those “x-factors” that are keeping you awake. These might be things you’ve never considered.

But as mentioned before, work with a therapist to start addressing the issues that are affecting your sleep hygiene and causing your insomnia symptoms.