Symptoms, Causes and Effects of Insomnia and Other Sleep Disturbances

Symptoms, Causes and Effects of Insomnia and Other Sleep Disturbances

Sleep deprived manOn average, humans spend one-third of their lives sleeping.

This shows how important sleep is to our health and well-being.

It’s not only the length of sleep that matters; sleep quality also has a huge impact on our lives.

If you have trouble sleeping, you may want to know the causes of sleep disturbances and the effects they have on your mental and physical health.

Sleep disorders affect millions of people in the USA alone.  Some of the most common sleep disturbances include insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea.

When people find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep, they might suspect that they could have insomnia especially when the condition persists for weeks and months.  In the USA, insomnia affects one in three people.  The most common sign of insomnia is lack of sleep but there are many other symptoms of this sleep disorder.

Signs of Insomnia

The signs of insomnia vary from person to person.  Someone with insomnia may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Trouble falling asleep – A person with insomnia may have difficulty falling asleep.  He or she can lie in bed for hours, tossing and turning, trying to fall asleep.
  • Disturbed sleep.  Insomnia sufferers may wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep.
  • Waking up too early.  Some people with insomnia sleep early but they wake up earlier than desired, leading to lack of sleep.
  • Daytime sleepiness.  This is one of the most common signs of insomnia.  People who are sleep deprived often feel sleepy all day.
  • Waking up tired.  Instead of feeling refreshed upon waking up in the morning, individuals who have insomnia feel tired, as if they didn’t get enough rest.
  • Feeling tired, anxious and irritable all day.  Sleep deprivation makes people feel tired and stressed out.  Insomnia sufferers may feel grouchy and easily irritated.
  • Frequent headaches.  A person’s well-being is affected when he or she does not get enough rest.  Headaches and gastrointestinal disorders are symptoms of insomnia.
  • Difficulty concentrating.  People who do not get enough sleep have trouble focusing on the task at hand.  They have impaired mental abilities and cannot think clearly.  Insomnia increases the risk for accidents and injuries due to lack of concentration.

Insomniacs suffer from lack of sleep and poor sleep quality.  People who do not get enough sleep may feel tired and sleepy all day.  This leads to many of the symptoms associated with insomnia, including anxiety, stress, depression, and impaired concentration.

Insomnia has a negative impact on your daily activities and quality of life.  You should consult a doctor if you think you have this sleep disorder.  Don’t forget that poor sleep may be a symptom of other health or medical problems.

Causes of Sleep Disturbances

Causes of sleep disorders can be broadly classified into clinical disorders, biological factors, lifestyle, and medication side effects.  Determining appropriate treatment options often depends on the underlying cause of the disorder.  For example, medications that cause sleep disorders may need to be changed.  Lifestyle habits that cause sleep problems can be altered.

  • Clinical disorders.  Medical conditions and health problems can cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances.  Sleep apnea, asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure and depression often lead to sleeplessness.  If left untreated, they can cause more serious physical and mental health problems.
  • Biological factors.  Age, gender and life stages can affect a person’s sleep.  In women, pregnancy and menopause cause hormonal fluctuations that may affect sleep.  Elderly people sleep more lightly and are more likely to experience sleep disorder symptoms than younger people.
  • Lifestyle.  Lifestyle choices have a direct impact on the quality of your sleep.  Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants can cause sleep deprivation.  Working the night shift can lead to abnormal sleep patterns.
  • Medications.  Certain medications are known to cause sleep disturbances.  Stimulants, blood pressure medications and weight loss drugs can interfere with sleep.  Even sleeping pills can be the culprit.  People can develop drug tolerance and find it more difficult to fall asleep naturally.

Effects of Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disorders lead to sleep deprivation.  People who lack sleep may suffer from any of the following:

  • Impaired alertness and decreased performance.  If you do not get enough restful sleep, you will be less alert the following day.  Your performance will also suffer.
  • Memory impairment.  Because you are less mentally alert, your memory and ability to think will be impaired.  You will find it more difficult to process information.
  • Stress.  Stress is a major cause of sleep disturbances but it is also one of the effects of sleep disorder.
  • Accidents or injuries.  Excessive daytime sleepiness from lack of sleep leads to higher risk for accidents at work or while driving.
  • Medical conditions.  Sleep disorders contribute to a number of illnesses such as high blood pressure, stroke, and excessive weight gain.  Severe cases of sleep disturbances are also associated with mental impairment, depression and other psychiatric problems.
  • Poor quality of life.  Daytime drowsiness, stress and other negative effects of sleep deprivation can keep you from participating in many activities.  If you find it difficult to stay awake or pay attention, you will not be able to enjoy playing games, going to the movies, or seeing your child in a school play.


If sleep deprivation is making it difficult for you to function well during the day, you should see a doctor to find out if you have insomnia and determine its cause.  In addition to a physical exam, your doctor will want to know about your medical and sleep histories.  The doctor may also recommend a sleep study at a sleep center.

Your doctor will want to know if you have any existing health problems and if you are taking medications or supplements, either prescription or over-the-counter.  He or she will also ask if you have a history of depression or anxiety.  Expect questions about your diet, exercise routines, use of caffeine and alcohol, personal problems and other stressors, long-distance travel, and work schedule.  All of these will help the doctor determine what is causing your insomnia so that he or she can prescribe the best treatment for your sleep disorder.

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Garth is a writer and publisher of information on health and fitness, small business development, and other approaches towards personal empowerment.

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