Insomnia Home > Insomnia Causes

While some behaviors and medical conditions can result in short-term insomnia, others are more likely to cause chronic insomnia. Stress, environmental noise, and jet lag can all lead to short-term insomnia. Causes of long-term insomnia can include depression, chronic stress, and irregular sleep/wake schedules.

What Causes Insomnia?

Many different things can cause insomnia. Some factors are more likely to result in short-term insomnia, while others are more likely to cause chronic insomnia.

Causes of Short-Term Insomnia

Short-term insomnia (acute or transient) lasts only a few days and is usually not a reason for concern. Several things can cause this condition. These types of insomnia generally occur in people who are temporarily experiencing one or more of the following factors:
  • Stress
  • Environmental noise
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Change in the surrounding environment
  • Sleep/wake schedule problems, such as those due to jet lag
  • Medication side effects, particularly of medications that treat the following:

Causes of Chronic Insomnia

Chronic (long-term) insomnia is diagnosed when a person has insomnia at least three nights a week for one month or longer. This condition is more complex and often results from a combination of factors, including underlying physical or mental disorders. One of the most common causes is depression.
Other medical conditions that can cause insomnia include:
Chronic insomnia may also be due to behavioral factors, including:
  • Experiencing chronic stress
  • Expecting to have difficulty sleeping and worrying about it
  • Ingesting excessive amounts of caffeine
  • Drinking alcohol before bedtime
  • Smoking cigarettes before bedtime
  • Excessive napping in the afternoon or evening
  • Irregular or continually disrupted sleep/wake schedules, as may occur with shift work.
These behaviors may prolong existing insomnia, and they can also cause it in the first place. Stopping these behaviors may eliminate this condition altogether.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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