Common Causes of Sleep Problems

While many sleep problems and disorders seem to come from nowhere or have an unknown cause, scientists have noticed several common factors among people experiencing sleep problems.

If you’re experiencing sleep problems, it’s important to understand the underlying cause so you can find ways to manage your sleep and build healthy sleep patterns.

Here are the most common causes of sleep problems:

Shift work: Working shifts disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythms. You have to work while your body tells you it’s time for sleep, and you will usually struggle to sleep during the day because your body wants to be awake. Because shifts are often an irregular mix of night/day, it’s hard to train your body into a different rhythm.


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Age: According to WebMD, almost half of all adults over the age of 65 experience some sort of sleep disorder. This may be a result of the natural aging process, a symptom of other health problems commonly experienced by older people, or a side-effects of medications taken by the age group.

Food and drink: Eating too much or too little, or eating too close to bedtime, can cause digestive issues that keep you awake. Drinks caffeine or other stimulants in the evening can also cause you to struggle to sleep. Alcohol can leave you feeling drowsy and help you fall asleep, but research at the Sleep Foundation has found it contributes to poor quality sleep.


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Pain and illness: Maybe you have toothache, asthma, or other conditions that make you feel uncomfortable in bed. This can prevent you from being able to fall asleep or wake you up in the middle of the night.

Stress and anxiety: If something in your life is stressing you out, or you suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety, it may be difficult for you to shut your mind off and relax into sleep.  

Environment: Maybe you’re sleeping next to a noisy neighbour, or your bed is uncomfortable, or you’re too hot/too cold. Environmental factors such as these are often the easiest to fix as they’re usually somewhat within our control.


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Medications: Many common medications have insomnia or other sleep problems as symptoms. Blood-pressure medication and cold medicines are two common culprits.

Pregnancy: Many pregnant women struggle with discomfort during pregnancy, which can lead to sleep problems. There are certain sleeping positions that may help, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Genetics: Many sleeping disorders – including narcolepsy – have a genetic component. This means they can be passed down through the generations of your family. Ask other family members if they experience sleep problems and you may discover a genetic link.

Often, your sleep problems may lead back to a number of factors. Understanding how you sleep and what’s within your control to change can help you find ways to manage your sleep problems.