When the Body Has a Mind of Its Own — Identifying Physical Causes of Insomnia

The root causes of insomnia are important to understand and identify. For simplicity’s sake, we can put all insomnia causes into four basic categories–physical, mental, behavioral and environmental.

Your own causes of insomnia may stem from a combination of categories. Insomnia caused by just one single thing is quite rare, but it does happen now and then.
For example, if you just started a new medication and can trace the start of your insomnia directly to your first dose, that’s a pretty clear-cut cause.

But usually it’s not that simple.Whether the causes of your insomnia falls under mental, behavioral, physical or environmental conditions can be hard to figure out sometimes. The categories tend to blend into one another.

headache or insomnia or both?For example, you may have headaches that give you enough physical discomfort to keep you awake at night.

But your headaches may be caused primarily by mental and emotional stress. So is your insomnia cause mental or physical?

Well, pain is physical, and emotions are mental… so what is really is going on? What are the true causes of insomnia in that case?

This is why you can’t get too hung up on categories.

I believe in the mind-body connection. It seems almost old-fashioned to me now to divide the human experience into separate physical, behavioral and mental realms when there is so much interconnection between them.
It’s crucial to recognize, honor, and nurture the mind-body connection when treating your insomnia, whether through you do self-treatment or seek outside help. It will help you cure your insomnia much faster if you face up to the importance of both your physical and emotional symptoms, along with your habits and behavior.
But for now, let’s talk more about some very real physical causes of insomnia and how you can deal with them. Most physical causes of insomnia cluster into these areas:

allergies and insomniaAllergy symptoms are some common physical causes of insomnia. These include asthma plus other respiratory and sinus conditions that make it difficult to breathe deeply and peacefully.
Often symptoms get worse at night or when lying down. You’re just too uncomfortable to get to sleep or stay asleep. These symptoms can come and go according to the seasons.
If you can get rid of these conditions, and your insomnia disappears altogether–you have a classic case of secondary insomnia. But then again, you may have primary insomnia or intermittent insomnia that is simply made worse when your allergies flare up.
painful cause of insomnia
Problems with pain, whether acute or chronic, are also comomon physical causes of insomina. This could mean muscular pain, back pain, arthritis, pain from fibromyalgia, headache pain, jaw pain, neck pain, and well, you get the idea.
During my own bout with chronic insomnia, I also had a chronic pain syndrome due to a repetitive stress injury. Pain radiated from the right side of my head all the way down to my lower back, with dull, steady aches in my upper back and shoulder, and often stabbing, sudden nerve pain in my neck and head! Fortunately I was able to treat both the pain and the insomnia together and was finally able to sleep. However, even after I got rid of much of the pain, I still had insomnia… a classic case of both primary and secondary insomnia mixed together. (I’m glad that’s over.)
Female hormonal changes and fluctuations are a few physical causes of insomnia that help to explain why women suffer from insomnia in greater numbers than men. Insomnia and menopause seem to be strongly linked for many women.

Whether it’s premenstrual and menstrual discomfort, early pregnancy, late pregnancy, premenopause and menopause… all can disrupt sleep and cause insomnia, both chronic and intermittent insomnia. Add to the fact that we are generally lighter sleepers than men, and you can see why the scenario of the wife tossing and turning while the husband is “out like a rock” is so common.

NOTE: This does not in any way dismiss the seriousness of insomnia in men, of course, who can suffer greatly with it–it is only to explain the insomnia-hormone connection which many women do experience frequently.

coffee is notorious cause of insomnia
Diet and exercise. What you eat and drink, including both caffeine and alcohol, and what kind of exercise (if any) you get can have a profound effect on your sleep.
Technically these are behavioral causes of insomnia, as they are habits that can be changed, though you might feel a bit resistant. It is a good idea to stop all caffeinated drinks if you really want to work on a long-term insomnia cure. Once your insomnia is under control, you can experiment with light caffeine to see just how much you can tolerate.
Medication side effects. You may be surprised just how many medications have insomnia as a side effect. Antidepressants are often culprits, as I discuss in this article on “antidepressant insomnia.” Read the inserts on all your prescriptions. Ask your pharmacist. Talk to your prescribing doctor. There may be an alternative that you can take and still get a full night’s sleep.
Thyroid conditions, especially hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) are often-overlooked physical causes of insomnia. Some long-term insomniacs should probably get a full checkup and blood screening just to make sure.
Digestive difficulties, including gas, heartburn, acid reflux (which can make lying down nearly impossible), irritable bowel syndrome, and so on, can be especially disruptive causes of insomia. Some dietary changes may be necessary to cure your insomnia.
Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are two health conditions that may include a distressing combination of fatigue and insomnia, so it seems like a never-ending treadmill of being sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) and similar “movement disorders” that can seriously interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Hormonal deficiences, imbalances and fluctuations. There are a variety of “insomnia hormones” — that is, hormones that affect sleep for better or worse. These range from the circadian rhythm disorders effected by melatonin, to menopausal issues to problems with adrenal, thyroid and other endocrine involvement.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects millions. It doesn’t always cause the restless tossing-and-turning type of insomnia that I’m discussing in these pages. If you have sleep apnea, you might not even be aware of how many times you wake up during the night due to your cessation of breathing. You just feel lousy when you wake up, and your quality of sleep is very poor. For more information on sleep apnea, try these sites:

The Sleep Zone offers information about sleep apnea and remedies.

The Sleep Apnea Guide explains the causes of this sleep
disorder and how it can be cured.

If you recognize more than one possible cause in this long list, do not despair. All of these conditions, along with many others that I discuss later, can be successfully treated or ameliorated by self-help methods, alternative methods and traditional medical treatments.
So don’t let anything discourage you from working on your insomnia. A good night’s sleep is within your reach if you never give up!

Related posts you may find interesting...

Read more about the difference between primary and secondary insomnia in this article.

Find out more about the insomnia hormones connection here in Part I of the series.

Here is Part II of the insomnia hormones connection.

Read more about the insomnia and menopause connection here…

Antidepressant insomnia can be a frustrating side effect of SSRIs and other medications designed to help anxiety and depression…

If you feel that your own causes of insomnia are a combination of physical AND mental, you can work on both at the same time. Why not start with the self-help tutorial?