Most Commonly Overlooked Causes of Insomnia

Chronic insomnia is a fairly common problem, but it is often addressed by prescribing a sleep medication instead of finding Lady with Insomniaand addressing the cause of the insomnia. In my opinion, it is imperative to identify and address the cause of sleep disturbances instead of merely patching the symptom. I support the use of sleep medications on a short-term basis during times of insomnia and if other remedies have not been effective, but most of those medications have serious side effects and should only be used when absolutely necessary.

We’re all familiar with transient insomnia caused by excess caffeine consumption, stress, grief, pain, etc. Chronic insomnia is characterized by insomnia that lasts for at least a month but which may stretch on for years. Per the National Institutes of Health, most cases of chronic insomnia are side effects of other health problems which may or may not have been diagnosed and addressed.

There are a wide variety of issues that can cause prolonged bouts of insomnia. The list that follows describes some of the most commonly missed causes of insomnia. When possible, I discuss how to identify these causes and how to address them.

The following causes of insomnia are rarely considered when someone has insomnia:

  • Blood Sugar Fluctuations:  The body has an amazing desire to maintain stable blood glucose levels. Its desire to maintain normal blood sugars is strong enough that it will not allow someone to fall asleep who has a low or high blood sugar. It is also very normal for people with a low or high blood sugar to wake up and not be able to fall back asleep until their sugar is at a normal level. Eating a snack before bed that contains low glycemic carbohydrates combined with protein can sometimes help avoid overnight blood sugar drops. Those who struggle with high glucose levels should work with your doctor to find the perfect insulin dose and eating style to avoid high or low overnight sugars.  
  • Hormonal Imbalances:  This issue is most commonly experienced by women. Progesterone is a reproductive hormone that is known to induce sleep. The highest levels of progesterone occur in the days immediately preceding menstruation. This is why sleeping more is a normal part of PMS for many women. Women who have a progesterone deficiency or estrogen excess often experience insomnia. Depending on the severity of the deficiency or excess, their insomnia may only occur during specific days of their cycle or may occur every night. The best way to identify this type of imbalance is with a saliva hormone test. My favorite can be purchased online: Hormone Level Saliva Test Kit. After identifying any existing imbalances, steps can be taken to bring hormone levels back into balance. Please work with a trained practitioner to address any imbalance identified.
  • Neurotransmitter Imbalances:  Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers the brain uses to send signals throughout the body. Imbalances in neurotransmitters can have a broad range of effects, but often include sleep disturbances. Neurotransmitter imbalances can be identified via Neurotransmitter Testing. It is important to work with a trained professional to bring neurotransmitter levels back into balance.
  • Adrenal Fatigue:  The adrenal glands are the body’s “fight or flight” organs. They spring into action anytime the body is exposed to stress. Stressors can result from external environmental sources or from internal, physical challenges. If the adrenals are exposed to stress over a long period of time, they sometimes become fatigued and stop producing normal levels of adrenal hormones. The adrenals secrete over 400 different hormones, so any deficiency will be felt in a wide variety of ways. The most common symptom of Adrenal Fatigue is extreme fatigue, but insomnia can also be an unfortunate symptom. Although saliva hormone testing can be used to test for deficiencies in some adrenal hormones, there is no definitive test to identify Adrenal Fatigue. The most common method of identifying Adrenal Fatigue is identification of symptoms and ruling out other potential physical issues. Adrenal Fatigue is best addressed via changes in eating style, rest, and herbal supplementation.
  • Thyroid Imbalance:  Many people know that excessive thyroid activity (hyperthyroidism) interferes with sleep, but many people do not realize that insufficient thyroid activity (hypothyroidism) may also cause insomnia. Unfortunately, hypothyroidism is rarely suspected in cases of insomnia and correct testing is rarely ordered. Please read How to be Your Own Thyroid Advocate for more information on how to identify a thyroid imbalance.
  • Prescription and OTC Medications:  Many medications cause insomnia. Medications for coronary issues, blood pressure, pain, high cholesterol, antidepressants, allergies, stimulants, steroids, decongestants and products for weight loss may interfere with sleep. if insomnia develops, discuss the medications you are taking with your physician.

Have you suffered from chronic insomnia? What was the cause?

In my next post, I’ll discuss natural ways to address insomnia. Thanks so much for reading!

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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