Lying awake at night is no fun and, if it's happened to you, you may have spent some of those long hours of wakefulness wondering "Why?" You might well have been feeling tired, possibly very tired . . . so why couldn’t you fall asleep when you needed to?

There are many causes of insomnia, quite a few of which are short-lived. Most of us have experienced sleeplessness the night before an exciting or potentially stressful event. It’s not easy to sleep if you’re going off on the holiday of a lifetime the next day . . . or if you’re about to take an exam or need to confront someone at work. But, once the stress - or the immediate excitement - is over, your sleep patterns should return to normal.

Other transient causes of insomnia include noise (it’s hard to sleep if the neighbours are having a wild party), being too hot or too cold, or changes in your sleeping/waking schedule (as happens with jet lag, or changing from a day shift to a night shift). Some medications can also cause insomnia.

If you suspect that a medication that you’re taking is interfering with your sleep patterns, speak to your physician about it. However, unless the neighbours are whooping it up every night or there’s no way to regulate the temperature in your bedroom, this type of insomnia should be easy to deal with.

Chronic insomnia (defined as sleeplessness over a period of six months or more) can be more of a problem. Sometimes it is due to a vicious cycle which needs to be broken . . . a short spell of insomnia caused anxiety and, even when the original cause of the insomnia is long gone, the anxiety remains . . . and perpetuates the insomnia. Long-standing stress, too, can be responsible for continued sleepless nights.

Other causes include chronic pain (such as that caused by arthritis) and other medical conditions (particularly if they interfere with your ability to breathe freely). Women are particularly susceptible to insomnia both before the menopause when the premenstrual syndrome may interfere with sleep patterns, and after the menopause when hot flashes and night sweats can result in restless nights. And during pregnancy, particularly in the last three months, heartburn, back pain, leg cramps, and the need to pass water frequently may make it very hard to get a good night’s sleep.

There are also a large number of drugs and other substances that can cause insomnia. Large amounts of alcohol, ‘recreational’ drugs and excess caffeine are probably the commonest culprits. Among prescribed medications, beta-blockers (used to treat high blood pressure, heart problems, migraine and, occasionally, anxiety), some antidepressants, steroids (sometimes used to treat asthma or arthritis), various pain killers (which contain caffeine), and decongestants can all cause insomnia.

The treatment of insomnia is much easier if a cause can be found so, if you’re having difficulty sleeping, take a little time to see if you can pinpoint the cause (or causes). In this way, you may be able to prevent the problem - for example, by learning a relaxation technique to combat anxiety, making sure your bedroom is at the right temperature, cutting down on your coffee intake, or seeing your physician for a change of medication - rather than having to search for something more drastic which will just treat the symptoms.

Author's Bio: 

To learn more about how you can treat insomnia successfully using orthodox, complementary or self-help methods, go to The Better Sleep Site.
Dr. Ruth Lever Kidson is a qualified physician, medical hypnotherapist and best-selling author who has trained in a number of complementary therapies.