What Causes Insomnia?

What causes insomnia? There are seven big sleep killers – some you might never suspect. Fortunately, they are all things you can control with natural remedies and natural treatments.

Discover what causes insomnia...
7 Big Reasons You Can't Sleep

1. Sleeping pills can cause insomnia!

According to James Balch MD, people who regularly take sleeping pills have WORSE insomnia in up to 50 percent of cases!

Up to 50% of people who take sleeping pills have worse insomnia. © Karen Alison

A big problem with sleeping pills is that they wreck your REM sleep, so that you don’t get a good night’s rest.

Dr. Balch also mentions that sleeping pill users die in accidents 50 percent more often than non-users.

Read about the other causes of insomnia on this page and then decide if sleeping pills are really your best choice.

You'll find natural sleep remedies in this article.

2. Stress and PTSD

When you look at what causes insomnia, stress is probably the most common reason after lack of magnesium.

Stress makes it hard to sleep or to stay asleep. © Karen Alison

Stress makes it hard to sleep or to stay asleep. That’s because your body responds to stress by flooding your bloodstream with cortisol – a stay-alert hormone.

In the past, when our lives had a slower pace, there was enough time for all that cortisol to leave the bloodstream before another stressful situation came along. So our bodies got a chance to relax. But with today’s fast-paced lifestyle, there can be so many stresses in your day that your body has no time to get rid of the extra cortisol.

No wonder you have insomnia! And what’s worse is that the cortisol from chronic stress doesn’t just keep you awake.

It affects your immune system, your ability to absorb calcium and your bones (think osteoporosis), digestion, insulin resistance (excess weight, diabetes), memory, and blood pressure, to name a few. In fact, some researchers think stress is the cause of most illnesses.

To significantly reduce your cortisol levels and relieve insomnia, use EFT Tapping.

3. What causes insomnia in the food world?

Not enough magnesium

A lack of magnesium is the number one nutritional cause of insomnia. Magnesium is incredibly important for good sleep and for your health in general. Yet only about one in five of us get enough of this crucial mineral. 

Lack of vegetables and other whole foods

Vegetables and some fruits are also good sources of magnesium and potassium – two anti-insomnia minerals. © Karen Alison

Vegetables, especially mineral-rich green leafy veggies, help to keep your blood in a healthy acid-alkaline balance (they are alkaline.) When your body is in this balanced state, it will relax into sleep much more easily.

Vegetables and some fruits are also good sources of magnesium and potassium – two anti-insomnia minerals.

Diuretic foods and beverages

If you consume these foods and beverages in the evening, they have the potential to wake you up one or more times per night to urinate.

  • Coffee, tea, soft drinks
  • Almonds and hazelnuts
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries and cranberry juice
  • Cabbage, Carrots, Celery, Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Ginger
  • Lemon
  • Oats
  • Parsley
  • Raw tomatoes
  • Watermelon

Foods that contain tyramine
Your body makes this the amino acid tyramine from tyrosine and it triggers the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine. These two stimulate your brain, so they are not so great when you’re trying to sleep! Some researchers think tyramine is a cause of migraine headaches.

Fermented and pickled (processed) meats, soy products and most cheeses contain tyramine, along with several fruits and vegetables. Here’s a list. (Read the section called “Occurrence.”)

Beware of too much caffeine 
I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that what causes insomnia is too much caffeine. Coffee, tea, carbonated beverages, sports drinks and energy drinks contain caffeine. Drinking them all day can make you jittery and sleepless.

Coffee, tea, carbonated beverages, sports drinks and energy drinks contain caffeine that can cause insomnia and anxiety. © Karen Alison

If you suffer from anxiety along with insomnia, check into how much caffeine you’re actually consuming before you decide you need anxiety treatment.

Caffeine can make you excrete magnesium and potassium – two minerals your body needs to help you sleep.

If you like tea and coffee, have a cup or two early in the day, so the caffeine will exit your system by bedtime. And you’ll be less likely to wake in the middle of the night to answer the call of nature.

By the way, if you’re a chocoholic, the theobromine in chocolate is just as stimulating as caffeine, so eating chocolate may be what causes your insomnia. Try having it earlier in the day.

Or give it up and take magnesium instead. Chocolate contains magnesium and some chocolate craving is probably your body’s attempt to get more of this crucial mineral.

4. Too much light at night

Having light on 24 hours a day is actually used as a form of torture, yet we unknowingly do this to ourselves!

What causes insomnia from light is this…

Humans evolved with darkness at night. Now instead of the moon and stars in the night sky, we have halogen, fluorescence, incandescence, L.E.D.s, floodlights, headlights, streetlights… even your dog can wear a lighted collar.

But for sleeping, your optic nerve needs full darkness to relax completely. If it is stimulated by light – even a tiny amount of light – it keeps your entire nervous system awake. And if your nervous system doesn’t relax, three things can happen…

  • you won’t get to sleep or
  • you won’t stay asleep or
  • you’ll sleep, but you’ll wake up tired, feeling as if you’ve been busy all night.

Maybe you think your room IS dark. So what light sources am I talking about?

  • Night lights
  • Indicator lights on clock radios, computers, TVs, phones and other devices
  • Light shining in from outside your window from streetlights and buildings
  • Television and computer screens

Obviously you won’t be able to turn off all these lights, so here’s what to do…

Don’t use nightlights
If you need to get up in the night, keep a small flashlight beside your bed. The less light that gets into your eyes at night, the more easily you’ll go back to sleep.

Put all light sources that can't be switched off out of your bedroom.

Cover up indicator lights
If you can’t move some of them, cover the indicator lights with black electrician’s tape. You can also cover them temporarily with a piece of black, closely-woven fabric, like a couple of layers of black felt or raw silk.

Buy or make black-out curtains or blinds for your window.

The reason it is so important to remedy the light situation in your bedroom is because the human eye is very sensitive to light – even when you have your eyes closed.

In earlier times, we woke when the faint light of dawn began to drive away the blackness of night. Your body is still attuned to this schedule. So, faint light signals you that it’s time to wake up.

Switch off the TV and computer earlier.
When you watch television or work on the computer until the minute you go to bed it’s like shining a light directly into your eyeballs. Not very relaxing!

Do something non-electrical at least for the half-hour before you want to fall asleep, like quiet conversation, listening to low-key music, reading a book, meditating, or palming – ah, yes!

Palming is great for calming your nervous system and a very useful natural sleep remedy. © Karen Alison

Palming is great for calming your nervous system and a very useful natural sleep remedy. You can palm while you're lying in bed, to help yourself fall asleep.

5. What causes insomnia? Your bedroom!

Surprised to learn your bedroom could be what causes insomnia? Most people are. Yet it’s one of the most common reasons people have trouble sleeping well.

For a good night’s rest, your bedroom needs to be a peaceful, toxin-free sanctuary where your body can do all its repair work while you sleep, so tomorrow you wake up energized and feeling great. Without these repairs – and some rest from the stresses of the day – you end up sick and you shorten your life.

Your bedroom can ruin your sleep in sneaky ways that may shock you!

Here’s what you DON’T need in your bedroom…

Chemical and scented products - even if your bottles of scented products have tight lids, they are leaking molecules into your bedroom air.

Freshly dry-cleaned clothes – perchloroethylene, the most common dry cleaning chemical, is a carcinogen.

Fabric softener and scented laundry detergent in bedding and nightwear. Mercury, formaldehyde, and chemical scents in these products are neurotoxins that can keep you awake.

Mould – including the mould that’s in the soil of houseplants or aquariums. Makes you cough and interferes with breathing.

Excess electricity – keep clock radios, cell phones, tablets and other electrical gear at least 3 feet (one metre) away from your body. Don’t use electric blankets or heating pads – they interfere with brain waves and your body's cellular processes.

Television – watching TV before bed over-stimulates your brain, causing insomnia, unless it's Slow TV.

Synthetic wall-to-wall broadloom – every square foot grows billions of molds and bacteria that can affect your breathing, make you cough and keep you awake.

Plastics – plastic bags and other soft plastics release petrochemical molecules that interfere with your body’s natural hormones.

All these things fill your bedroom air with toxins that your body has to spend all night trying to neutralize to keep you alive and in homeostasis, so it has no chance to rest. Some toxins excite your brain and nervous system (in a hyperactive, anxiety-causing way.) No wonder you can’t sleep.

6. Drugs and alcohol

Drugs containing amphetamines, caffeine or other stimulants can be a problem for sleep.

Not sure about your prescription? Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects, particular if you’re taking beta blockers, thyroid replacement or anti-seizure medication. (Do not go off prescription medications without consulting your doctor.)

A few to watch out for…

  • Stay-awake drugs like Modafinil which can keep you up for 40 hours.
  • Diet pills (appetite suppressants)
  • Decongestants containing pseudoepinephrine for colds or allergies
  • Some anti-depressants (check with your doctor or pharmacist)

If you are taking unnecessary medications such as diet pills or stay-awake drugs, STOP! These drugs have some very serious effects far beyond having a dry mouth,  speeded up heart rate, or diarrhea.

Not only are they part of what causes insomnia, but diet pills may permanently damage your liver and heart. The stay-awake drug, Modafinil, has a long list of scary side effects ranging from difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep to thinking about killing yourself!!!

If you want to lose weight, instead of taking drugs, start by loving and appreciating yourself just the way you are. You can’t bully yourself into losing weight. (Well, you can try it but the weight loss won’t last.)

The challenge of weight loss is to deal with the emotions that drive overeating. EFT Tapping will help with this. Eat Paleo foods, exercise, and get more sleep with natural remedies. Sleep itself helps you shed the pounds.

Although alcohol sometimes will put you to sleep, it ruins your deep sleep, so you wake feeling tired. Because it speeds up your heart rate, you may even wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Body, says that if you drink more than two glasses of wine during the four hours before you go to bed, they will interfere with your sleep. Another good reason to keep your alcohol consumption light.

If you are drinking to deal with anxiety, stress, or emotional problems rather than just having an occasional social drink or a glass of wine with dinner, do some EFT tapping. It is one of the best natural sleep remedies because it will help you release your stress AND deal with the immediate symptoms of insomnia.

7. Tired but wired

Do you mostly sit at your desk all day at work, listen to loud music or news in the car or on the bus, spend your spare minutes texting, then watch TV or surf the web all evening?

If so, what causes insomnia for you may be:

  • Your nervous system is in overdrive and won’t calm down.
  • Your body is not tired even though your nervous system is maxed out.

Nervous System in Overdrive

Whatever you do in the evening before you go to bed, your brain spends the whole night reviewing it over and over again.

So, if you watch the late news or a violent movie, that’s what replays in your mind all night and puts your nervous system into overdrive. Could that be what causes your insomnia?

At night, your brain and body are trying to gear down so they – and you – can relax into restful sleep. But all that stimulation puts you into fight-or-flight mode and raises adrenaline levels.

Nature is the classic natural remedy for calming your nervous system. © Karen Alison

Try a quiet activity like reading a book, meditating or doing some yoga before bed to calm your nervous system. Or go for a walk in nature after dinner. Nature is the classic natural remedy for calming your nervous system.

So what if you miss the late news? If something really important happens, you’ll hear about it in the morning.

Your Body’s Not Tired

If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’ve probably noticed this: when Spot doesn’t get out for his walk or run, he fidgets, behaves badly, gets anxious, maybe even aggressive. But if you take him out for daily exercise, he’s calmer. And when he gets home (unless he’s really young and wired), he goes to sleep.

The same goes for us. When you're not sleeping, your body is made to move. Too much sitting is what causes insomnia – and many other health problems – for millions of us.

If you can’t sleep, try moving more during the day – dance, run, walk, swim – ANY kind of movement is better than no movement at all! Movement is one of the best natural sleep remedies ever.

The rebounder is a fast, easy way to exercise. You can even put it in front of the TV. © Karen Alison

Are you on a tight schedule or can’t bear to miss your favourite TV show? Put a rebounder (mini-trampoline) in front of your television and jump while you watch. I even bounce while I’m reading.

Even if you sit or lie on the rebounder and bounce gently, you’ll still get benefits. The rebounder is a fast, easy way to exercise and one of the most amazing natural remedies for all sorts of health problems, not just insomnia.

And it definitely helps me to sleep better.

Related Articles

Top 10 Natural Sleep Remedies to calm your brain and body and combat insomnia.

Palming - A unique and surprisingly effective way to relax. Learn this simple technique to help you sleep better.

Natural Remedies for Insomnia - How to eat your way to a good night's sleep.

Magnesium - The amazing mineral that helps you sleep.

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