No discussion of what causes insomnia is complete without examining our behavior. And what do I mean by that? I mean, simply, your habits, routines, and daily activities that could be keeping you awake at night. When you go to bed, when you get up, how long you stay in bed, the activities and tasks you do before you go to bed, the food you eat and the type and timing of your exercise (or lack of exercise) — all this and more can affect the quality and length of your sleep.
So let’s get started examining some of this stuff now…
Inconsistent bedtimes and wake-up times
OK, I know you like to be in charge of your life. You’re a grown-up now and should not have to be TOLD–as you were when you were six years old–when to go to bed every night. Right?
Well… half right! I’m not going to tell you WHEN to go to bed every night, but I’m going to tell you this: What causes insomnia more than any other behavior is keeping an irregular sleep schedule.
If you are serious about getting rid of your insomnia for good, you must begin to take your sleep schedule very seriously. And that means going to bed at very nearly the same time every night.
And it also means getting up at pretty much the same time every morning.
This is what is known as a consistent sleep schedule but I like to call it “Insomnia-Free 101” because that’s how important it is. You could say it’s the foundation of all insomnia-help programs. Every sleep expert I’ve ever read (and I’ve read most) has this as a first priority. Read more about it, and how to get started, in this article.
Exercising at the wrong time of day, or not exercising at all
What causes insomnia isn’t just the total lack of exercise–though that may be number-one for you. But there are also a few things you should know about exercise and insomnia:
First, the time of day you exercise is very important.
Second, the kind of exercise you do can make or break any insomnia-recovery program. Read more about starting an insomnia-free exercise program here.
Engaging in mentally stimulating or energizing activities before you go to bed
Could your pre-bedtime activites play a part in what causes insomnia for you? Yes. It’s not just your body that needs to slow down before bedtime. Your mind needs to gradually switch into low gear as well.
How often do you watch exciting movies just before you go to bed? How about video games? Political debates with your roommates or partner? Personal arguments? Furiously typing comments on message boards and blogs? How about catching up on the work you didn’t get to during normal business hours? Talking with friends on the phone? Studying for an exam at the last minute?
Look, some people can sleep well no matter what they do before bedtime. Just plop into bed and they’re out. I’m assuming that isn’t you, or why else would you be reading this website with tired, bleary eyes?
This is precisely why recognizing, and more importantly, respecting, your unique sleep needs and requirements is Rule #1 in getting over insomnia. You’ll find all you need to know about mental stimulation–and how to avoid it–in the Insomnia Tips section.
Nutrition, diet, eating habits
Is there such a thing as an “insomnia diet?” Yes. Our eating habits can mess up our sleep, but if what causes insomnia are nutritional lapses, it’s quite simple to fix it. At least theoretically.
As everyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows, eating habits can be one of the hardest of all habits to change. Fortunately, the “insomnia diet” is kinder and gentler than the average weight-loss diets–and the payoff is much faster!
Are there other behavioral causes of insomnia? Yes, but these are the main categories–sleep schedule, physical exercise, mental activity and diet.
If you want your insomnia self-help program to be successful, don’t ignore these causes–face them squarely at the start and you’ll soon be on your way to peaceful, blissful sleep.
If just thinking about going to bed makes you depressed and anxious, negative conditioning might be the culprit. This article on conditioned insomnia tells you how to establish a positive pre-sleep routine.