The Cleveland Clinic

Sleep Disorders: Causes of Sleep Problems

Sleep problems can be caused by various factors. Although causes may differ, the end result of all sleep disorders is that the body's natural cycle of slumber and daytime wakefulness is disrupted or exaggerated.

Factors that can cause sleep problems are:

  • Physical (for example, ulcers)
  • Medical (for example, asthma)
  • Psychiatric (for example, depression and anxiety disorders)
  • Environmental (for example, alcohol use)

Short-term or acute insomnia can be caused by life stresses, such as job loss or change, death of a loved one, or moving; an illness; or environmental factors, such as light, noise, or extreme temperatures.

Long-term or chronic insomnia (insomnia that occurs at least three nights a week for a month or longer) can be caused by factors such as depression, chronic stress, and pain or discomfort at night.

Other factors that can interfere with sleep include:

  • Genetics: Researchers have found a genetic basis for narcolepsy, a neurological disorder of sleep regulation that affects the control of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Night shift work: People who work at night often experience sleep disorders because they cannot sleep when they start to feel drowsy. Their activities run contrary to their biological clocks.
  • Medications: Many medications can interfere with sleep, such as certain antidepressants, blood pressure medication, and over-the-counter cold medicine.
  • Aging: About half of all adults over the age of 65 have some sort of sleep disorder. It is not clear if it is a normal part of aging or a result of medications that older people commonly use.

Reviewed by The Sleep Medicine Center at The Cleveland Clinic.




Edited by Michael J. Breus, PhD, WebMD, September 2004.

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2005


Last Editorial Review: 6/20/2005




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