That is a good question because often people think of insomnia as just something in its own right (primary insomnia) whereas insomnia often has a cause (secondary insomnia). From the question, you are probably thinking of physical causes but also remember that insomnia may be a reflection of extreme stress, and can be associated with depression, anxiety, hypomania (excessive energy) and other psychological problems. It may not be easy to know which came first - the mood disorder or the insomnia as both are inter-related.
An “easy” one is too much caffeine. It is surprising how much better people sleep without lots of caffeine, and the less the better; as a coffee drinker, though, I would be realistic and suggest 2 cups of fresh coffee per morning (last cup by 1-2pm) is OK. Alcohol also lessens sleep quality.
Medications can contribute to insomnia.
Physical causes may be obvious such as pain from arthritis, getting up at night to pass urine more than a couple of times, hot flushes or night sweats and coughing. Although these seem obvious enough, it's suprising how often people do not associate their arthritis pain or urinary frequency with insomnia.
Two important and common causes of insomnia are sleep apnoea and movement disorders. Sleep apnoea is something most people have heard of nowadays, and often people have large neck diameters, snore, their partner may notice they stop breathing at night for a few seconds, and people affected are excessively tired in the day time. This is diagnosed by sleep studies.
An important and commonly overlooked cause is restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder; despite the fancy names, these are amazingly common and often go hand in hand. Restless legs syndrome often is not felt as restless legs, though, and can feel very different in different people (such as discomfort) but the main feature is that the symptoms in the legs are worse at rest in the evening and relieved by moving around so people may not get off to sleep easily. Periodic limb movement disorder also disrupts sleep and the main feature is involuntary leg movements during sleep, and daytime sleepiness. Both can be treated with medication that is not addictive.
Finally, reading about sleep hygiene can really help, as poor sleep hygiene can easily be sorted out.
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