Every once in a while, we all have a night when we experience difficulty sleeping. Short-term stress can cause a few sleepless nights. If those sleepless nights stretch out into sleepless weeks or months, you could be experiencing a serious sleep difficulty such as insomnia. Over time, sleep difficulty such as insomnia can erode your good health and break down your feelings of overall wellness. Understanding where this sleep difficulty is coming from will help you determine which avenues to take when seeking treatment.

What factors put you at greater risk for sleep difficulty?

Psychiatric Disorders, Physical Illness and Sleep Difficulty

The number one cause of sleep difficulty is depression. In fact, 90% of people suffering with depression develop sleep difficulty. Other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and mania can noticeably increase your risk of sleep difficulty. Long-term stresses, excessive worry, and emotional disturbances such as grief over the death of a loved one are all possible causes for sleep difficulty.

Physical illness and discomfort is another major factor in cases of sleep difficulty. Migraines, arthritis, cancer, heartburn and acid reflux are just some of the medical conditions that can bring on sleepless nights. Sometimes the medications used to treat medical conditions also cause sleep difficulty.

Gender and Sleep Difficulty

Women are much more likely than men to suffer with sleep difficulty. Hormonal changes are the main reason that women are so much more susceptible to sleep difficulty than men. Pregnancy, pre-menstrual syndrome, menstruation, and menopause can all disrupt sleep. Women who’ve recently given birth often experience a heightened sensitivity to noise. It’s a natural built-in reaction designed to help them respond to their crying child, but it can also make them more sensitive to other noises as well. For some women who’ve had children, this sensitivity never really goes away, and they continue to have difficulty sleeping well after their children are grown. Interestingly, once a woman has gone through menopause, she actually sleeps better than noninsomniac men her own age.

Age and Sleep Difficulty

Sleep difficulty is a huge problem for the elderly. Older adults are more likely to live a sedentary lifestyle than younger adults. They are also more likely to suffer from depression, grief and anxiety—three of the most serious causes of sleep difficulty. Increased incidence of physical health problems such as arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s also put the elderly at an increased risk for sleep difficulty.

Because there are such a wide variety of risk factors for sleep difficulty, there are many different ways to deal with the problem as well. For those with depression or anxiety, it is important to treat the emotional disorder in order to get to the root of the sleep difficulty. If the problem is hormonal, the answer is often simply a matter of improved sleep hygiene. Whatever the cause, there is help available. If you or someone you love is suffering with sleep difficulty, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider to find out ways to treat your problem.

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