You hear it on the news all the time... we're a nation of sleep-deprived insomniacs. The National Sleep Foundation claims over 70 million Americans suffer from symptoms of insomnia like the inability to fall asleep, waking up frequently throughout the night, and waking up too early in the morning. According to the Mayo Clinic, insomnia is one of the most common medical complaints, with more than one-third of adults experiencing insomnia at some time, and 10 to 15% reporting long-term (chronic) insomnia.

One thing is for sure, lack of sleep ages us faster and has been linked to many serious health problems ranging from depression, weakened immune systems, skin issues, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and more. As if that wasn't bad enough, sleep deprivation experiments reveal that a tired brain is more likely to forget information associated with positive emotion than information linked to negative emotion - which may explain in part how it leads to depression in some people.
Is it any wonder that so many people reach for some kind of sleep aid to help them cope? Unfortunately, prescription sleep aids don't address the underlying causes of insomnia. They merely provide sedation to knock you out. That may be sufficient for treating a short-term or temporary form of insomnia, but if you have a chronic problem or sleep disorder, as soon as you stop taking the meds the insomnia will recur. In addition, prescription drugs are often habit-forming, and have their own serious side effects to consider.

The thing about insomnia is that it's not really a condition that exists on its own, but rather a symptom of another condition like stress or pain. With so many possible sources of stress and pain, trying to unravel the source of your specific sleep issue can be a lot like trying to find a needle in a haystack... Here's a brief run down of the top seven causes or sources of insomnia:

1. Stress
Stress is probably the biggest contributor to sleeplessness, and it can come in many forms - both physical (i.e. chronic pain) and emotional (i.e. excessive worrying). The important thing is to get your stress hormones under control because too much Cortisol (the main hormone that our body produces when we're stressed), can wreak havoc on everything from digestion, restoration, repair, immune function, energy expenditure, and energy storage, to mood and sexual responses. It can also contribute to weight gain - especially around your waistline.

2. Chronic Illness or Pain
In some cases, stress can be the result of chronic pain or a condition like Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), which makes it difficult to relax or remain in a relaxed state throughout the night. In extreme situations, a chronic condition like Sleep Apnea - a potentially serious disorder in which breathing stops and starts during sleep, if left undiagnosed and untreated, could kill you.

3. Poor Diet & Digestion
This is often overlooked as a cause of sleep issues. A diet with too few nutrients and too much fat and sugar not only leads to additional inches around the waist, but also keeps the body from producing adequate serotonin and melatonin, both of which are critical to good sleep, and general brain and body health.

Eating the wrong foods (i.e. heavy, sweet, or overly spicy), and eating too much prior to sleeping will cause sleep disturbances. Sleep is a time for rest and recovery both on the physical level and on the cellular level. If the body has to be busy digesting food, recovery is slowed and you may not sleep well.

4. Over-Consumption of Stimulants
Some of the worst offenders are caffeinated coffees, alcoholic drinks, and sugary sodas. When consumed close to bedtime these can seriously interfere with sleep patterns and your ability to get some real rest. Ironically, caffeinated beverages are the ones we frequently turn to during the day to help fight fatigue and stay more alert. Unfortunately they work against us at bedtime and our regular consumption of them during the day perpetuates the cycle of tiredness. Alcoholic drinks are problematic too. While alcohol may help you fall asleep fast, it can disrupt the sleep cycle later in the night.

5. Poor Sleep Environment
A poor sleep environment is one in which there are many distractions or disruptions that can wake you up during the course of the night. Things like too much light in the room, too much noise coming from outside, or the constant comings and goings of a pet, are the most common. Other sources of distraction can come from too many electronics in the room, which emit electromagnetic fields that can interfere with your melatonin levels while you sleep. Your bedroom should be as dark and as quiet as possible to ensure restful sleep.

6. Poor Sleep Posture
Sleeping in the wrong position for your spine can often lead to chronic low back or neck pain, numbness in your arms and fingers, and shallow breathing (which in turn leads to fatigue). All of these can cause problems for you during the day as well as at night.

The ideal position for your spine is flat on your back without a pillow. If you must have a pillow, make sure it is not a very thick one otherwise it will push your head forward putting your neck in the exact opposite position of its natural curve, which can also cause headaches and neck pain. The worst position to sleep in is on your stomach.

7. Disrupted Circadian Rhythm Cycle
The pineal gland manages our "internal clock" (circadian rhythm cycle) and controls when we rise in the morning and turn off at night. It translates information from the environment (like light or temperature) into signals that are transmitted to various parts of the brain and body.

To keep us asleep, this gland secretes melatonin in response to darkness, peaks in the wee hours of the morning, and then trails off at sunrise. Once melatonin production stops, the pineal gland produces the mood-supporting serotonin, which keeps us alert. Your circadian rhythm cycle can be disturbed by stress, crossing time zones, or changing work shifts. These disruptions can usually be modulated with some form of light therapy or melatonin supplementation.

Uncovering the real source or sources of your sleep troubles and recognizing whether they are transient, short-term, or chronic in nature, is the only way to find the right natural solution to address them - hopefully for good.

© Copyright 2010 Dropwise Essentials

Author's Bio: 

Donya Fahmy is the founder and owner of Dropwise Essentials, a San Francisco-based green business specializing in pure aromatherapy and organic plant-based personal care products that enable people to safely and effectively relieve stress, increase vitality, improve confidence, or manage their emotional state any time or place. An experienced writer, content producer, and Internet consultant, Donya transformed her avid interest in alternative health and aromatherapy into a business committed to making clean, safe, and sustainable products, as well as educating and empowering people to create low-stress, low-impact, toxin-free lifestyles.

Donya researches and personally creates all the products and unique essential oil blends that make up the Dropwise product line. She is an expert on safety in personal care products, green beauty and living, alternative health, and using aromatherapy to achieve maximum health and wellness. If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it please subscribe to the Dropwise Health & Beauty News Ezine by visiting You can also find interesting and valuable information by visiting the Aroma Zone blog at