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If you are looking to understand what causes insomnia, there are actually quite a few reasons for it that I will discuss over the next 2 weeks. I have already discussed one component – how anxiety can cause insomnia – but there are more pieces to the puzzle.

You may have gotten insomnia for an original reason like a temporary life stressor, but one of the reasons why it can still persist is triggers.

Triggers are things that happen throughout your day, or will happen in the future, that causes you to think “I won’t sleep tonight”. It can be an upcoming event that you are nervous you won’t sleep for, or small things that negatively affect your mood. It can even be something as irrational as superstitions.

How triggers start

It can actually be helpful to think of insomnia like a phobia. Phobias are triggered when the stimulus that causes fear is presented. It’s easy enough if you’re scared of heights – you just avoid high places.

Sleep isn’t something you can avoid, though. That’s why is so much harder yo get over insomnia. Just thinking of sleep can cause the same physiological mechanisms as someone who is panicking over spiders. You know exactly what triggers a fearful response in someone with arachnophobia- spiders. But to determine what causes insomnia, it can be much more difficult to identify.

There is something that is triggering you not to sleep, just like a spider triggers arachnophobia. For many, it is simply the thought of sleep or the act of laying in your bed with the intention to sleep.

It could also very well be an accumulation of past negative experiences with sleep. You went to work for the last few weeks/months/years of sleep, so it’s reinforced in your brain that sleep is hard. For me, it was knowing that I really wanted to be rested for an event. Knowing that I was meeting up with friends or important clients at work would be self defeating. If one night I watched a show and didn’t sleep, the show itself would become a trigger for me.

It is also important to note that insomnia can actually become a phobia called somniaphobia. You’ve essentially trained your brain to be scared of going to bed because you “know” it won’t turn out well. You fear you won’t sleep so you don’t.

A word on phobias

Even if you don’t have somniaphobia, you at least have behaviours and feelings that look a lot like a phobia. Every insomniac does. Let’s look at what all phobias have in common:

  • An intense fear of something that poses little or no actual danger
  • You know it’s unreasonable, but you still can’t control your feelings
  • Just thinking about your phobia causes anxiety
  • You go out of your way to avoid your fear
  • It impairs your ability to live a normal life

This sounds a lot like insomnia, doesn’t it? You might not always go out of your way to not sleep, but there may be days where you just don’t want to do this anymore and don’t even try. You want to figure out what causes insomnia it’s too stressful and anxiety inducing.

So what is your trigger? What causes insomnia?

Sometimes you just have to shake it up a bit. If your normal nightly routine is your trigger, switch it up. Instead of eating dinner, going on the computer, and then watching TV in your evenings, go for a walk after dinner then read.

Just like a phobia, it is important to try and address your triggers:

  1. Analyze what is happening as best as you can, and write it down if you need to. Ask yourself, am I making a big deal out of nothing? Will tomorrow be as difficult as I think? Your trigger can have a lot less power over you if you think of it in a rational way.
  2. Do not avoid events or experiences that can be triggers. In the example above where I was worried I wouldn’t sleep if I had to meet clients, I didn’t cancel or reschedule. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ve dealt with little sleep before. If you avoid, you reinforce that sleep is something to be fearful of.
  3. Ask yourself, what can I do right now to make myself feel better? Maybe it’s getting some fresh air, or watching a lighthearted show. Listen to some music that relaxes you. You can even eat your favourite food! Try to bring some joy back into your life, so insomnia and its triggers aren’t the only thing you’re focusing on.