As a chronic insomnia sufferer, I know what triggers periods of having a hard time getting to sleep. You probably know the common ones, too: some are in our control, like too much caffeine, and some are often out of our control, like a thrown-off sleep schedule and hormone changes. Sometimes, though, surprising things can cause insomnia, so if you can't figure out what's causing your sleeplessness, it's time to pay attention to what your body's trying to tell you when you can't fall asleep.
First, a quick recap of insomnia facts, because insomnia actually is not always caused by a related problem. Per WebMD, there's two kinds of insomnia: secondary insomnia, which is caused by all the triggers mentioned above, plus others like medications and health problems; and primary insomnia, which is "not directly associated with any other health condition or problem." To judge whether you're experiencing primary or secondary insomnia, you should speak to a healthcare professional who can help you check your health and look at your habits to see which type you may have.
For our purposes, though, we're focusing on secondary insomnia — insomnia that may be caused by something going on in your body. Per the Mayo Clinic, if you're having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, if you're waking up too early, if you're waking up feeling like you haven't actually slept, and if you're groggy during the day, you've likely got insomnia, and it can wreak havoc on your daily routine. The Mayo Clinic says you absolutely need to see a doctor if you notice your insomnia interfering with your everyday life.
Also according to the Mayo Clinic, there are some things that increase your chances of having insomnia that don't necessarily mean your body is out of whack. Menopause and pregnancy are commonly associated with insomnia, and if you're over 60 or don't have a regular schedule (say, if you're a shift worker), you can expect to deal with insomnia.
But if you don't tick any of those boxes and you've suddenly started experiencing insomnia, there's a high chance your body is telling you you need to relax. The fact that it's telling you this by keeping you from snoozing may seem strange, since sleep is supposed to be the ultimate relaxation, but, well, that's how it works. If you're stressing out about something going on in your day to day life, you may struggle to sleep, and getting yourself back in order is going to involve some purposeful relaxation, and maybe even looking at removing the source of stress in your life.
While stress can seem like more of a psychological cause of insomnia, there are many medical conditions that can cause insomnia. The National Sleep Foundation lists many potential roots of sleeplessness, including sinus allergies, acid reflux, arthritis, neurological conditions, and chronic pain. All of these should be checked out and treated by a healthcare professional, which can help treat your insomnia. But whether you have a medical condition or you're overstressed, you can do some things to help manage your sleep schedule on your own.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends a few simple ways to cut down on insomnia's chances of striking: Keep your sleep schedule regular, make sure you're getting some exercise, check that your medications don't cause sleeplessness, limit the amount and length of naps you take, limit your caffeine and alcohol use, make sure you're looking out for yourself if you're experiencing chronic pain, and don't eat or drink big meals before bed.
Above all, make sure you're listening to your body. If you've got secondary insomnia, it's for a reason, and helping yourself get back to a regular sleeping routine will involve working to make sure you and your body are as healthy and happy as possible.