Explore the various root causes of insomnia and get expert-sourced treatments for overcoming it.
David Mann started struggling with sleep in 2000. He had moved into an apartment near the front door of the building, and he attributed his frequent awakenings to hearing people coming and going at all hours. When he later moved into a house and the problems continued, he blamed his bedroom’s lack of darkening curtains. Then it was the nighttime disturbances of a new baby.
“One thing replaced the last thing as the explanation, and it kept going on and on,” he recalls.
Now, 20 years later, he still struggles to get an uninterrupted seven or eight hours of sleep most nights, despite taking a variety of over-the-counter sleep aids, participating in a sleep study, and seeing several sleep specialists.
Mann is far from alone. According to the Sleep Foundation, up to 30 percent of American adults suffer from chronic insomnia. That clinical diagnosis is based on specific symptoms: frequent difficulty falling or staying asleep, resulting in daytime impairment or distress.
“Insomnia comes from the three Ps,” explains Phyllis Zee, PhD, a Northwestern University circadian-health researcher and insomnia specialist. “A biological predisposition; a precipitating factor, such as a traumatic event or shift work, which causes short-term insomnia; and a perpetuating factor — attitudes and behaviors that make the insomnia chronic.”
Insomnia is often conflated with sleep deprivation, but there are important distinctions between them. Insomnia is chronic (at least three nights of impaired sleep per week for three months or longer) and occurs despite ample sleep opportunity.
It’s a daunting diagnosis, but identifying and addressing its root causes can help you start to put the issue to bed.