Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is defined by difficulties getting to sleep, staying asleep, or both. People with insomnia often have low-quality sleep and feel tired when they are awake.

What causes insomnia?

Often, the exact cause of insomnia is hard to pinpoint, though we know certain factors can increase your risk of having a poor night’s sleep, such as:

  • Having family members with insomnia
  • Sleeping in an environment that is too bright, noisy, hot, or cold
  • Having your normal circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) disrupted by working night shifts or traveling to other time zones
  • Napping or not being active enough throughout the day
  • Drinking beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Taking certain medications or supplements
  • Feeling stressed

These risk factors alone do not cause insomnia. However, when they are combined with pre-existing factors (e.g., chronic pain, anxiety disorders) they interact and begin the insomnia cycle. When weeks turn into months and you continue to struggle to sleep, the insomnia sleep cycle becomes your new norm.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom's profile picture
Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD

Dr. Colleen Ehrnstrom is a licensed clinical psychologist with a specialty practice in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Areas of expertise include insomnia and other sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.

Dr. Ehrnstrom is not a medical provider and is not providing any recommendations regarding medications. Rather, she is sharing and reviewing the research as it relates to education when learning how best to treat insomnia.

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