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Insomnia - Symptoms

Insomnia - How to prevent?

Insomnia - Causes and Risk Factors

Insomnia is a symptom of another problem. It can be caused by any of a number of factors.

Psychological Factors

Tendency to insomnia

Some people seem more likely than others to have insomnia during times of stress.

Other people respond to stress by getting a headache or stomach ache. Knowing that you are likely to get insomnia, and that it will not last too long can be helpful in dealing with it when it happens.

Persistent stress

Relationship problems, a child with a serious illness or an unrewarding job may contribute to sleep problems. Learning to deal with stress may help treat your insomnia.

Psychophysiological (learned) insomnia

If you sleep poorly during times of stress, you may worry about not being able to function well during the day. You may decide to try harder to sleep at night. This usually makes things worse.

After a few nights, some of the things you do to get ready for bed may remind you of your trouble sleeping. Changing into your night clothes and turning off the lights will suddenly make you wide awake.

Some people with psychophysiological insomnia may fall asleep quickly when they are not in bed. They may drift off on the couch, while reading the newspaper, watching television or driving.

Even a few nights of poor sleep during a month can trigger psychophysiological insomnia.



Caffeine keeps people awake. If you have coffee in the evening, your sleep will be less restful, even if it does not keep you from falling asleep.

Nicotine also keeps people awake, and smokers may take longer to fall asleep than non-smokers. Many medications have stimulants in them. These include weight-loss, anti-allergy and asthma medications. Some cold remedies also have stimulants in them.


You may think having a glass of wine at bedtime will help you sleep. But alcohol, while it may help you fall asleep quickly, is likely to make you wake up briefly throughout the night.

Work hours

If you are a shift worker, you are more likely to experience sleep problems. This includes workers who have changing shifts. It also includes people who work nights or early mornings.

Keeping the same schedule, even on weekends, is important. It can help to programme your body to sleep at certain times and to stay awake at others.

Waking up at the same time every morning is one way to establish a stable sleep pattern. Having a routine is important.


You may think that resting and having a quiet lifestyle helps to prevent insomnia. In fact, people who get little or no exercise may find it hard to sleep at night.

Regular exercise helps people to sleep better. The best time to exercise is in the afternoon. Do not exercise close to bedtime. Leave at least two hours before your bedtime for your heart rate to slow down after the exercise.

Sleeping pills

Sleeping pills should be used as directed by your doctor. Some sleeping pills stop working after a few weeks if they are used every night.

If you stop using them suddenly however, your sleep may be worse for a time. This problem can be reduced, by cutting back slowly on the use of sleeping pills. Your doctor will help you with this.

Environmental Factors


Keep the bedroom as quiet as possible. Passing traffic, airplanes, the television and other noises can disturb your sleep even when they do not cause you to wake up.


Use shades or heavy curtains to keep your bedroom dark. Light comes through your eyelids even when your eyes are closed. Light can disrupt your sleep.

Physical and Psychiatric Illness

Many medical problems can disrupt sleep and lead people to complain that they have insomnia.

Psychiatric problems, other sleep disorders and physical illnesses may change your sleep in ways that can be easily mistaken for insomnia. Treating the medical disorder may treat the insomnia.

Medical illnesses

These include gastric reflux with heartburn, chronic obstructive lung disease, asthma, congestive heart failure, menopausal hot flashes, arthritis and other causes of chronic pain, and overactive thyroid.

Psychiatric problems

One kind of insomnia – waking up very early – is one of the most common complaints of people with depression.

If you have a psychiatric disorder, you may sleep poorly. Treatment of the underlying disorder can help to improve your sleep.

Sleep disorders

These include obstructive sleep apnoea, periodic limb movement disorder and a restless leg syndrome.

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The information provided is not intended as medical advice. Terms of use. Information provided by SingHealth