Sneaky sleep stealers: 8 things keeping you up at night

CorbisCorbisBy Gail Belsky

When sleep disturbances persist for longer than a month, it's important to identify any underlying causes. Consider whether these common triggers could be contributing to your restless nights.

Pain
In one study, 15% of Americans reported suffering from chronic pain, and two-thirds also reported having sleep problems. Back pain, headaches, and temporomandibular joint syndrome (problems with the jaw muscles) are the main causes of pain-related sleep loss.

Health.com: The pain and sleep catch-22

Mental illness and stress
Insomnia is both a symptom and a cause of depression and anxiety. Since the brain uses the same neurotransmitters for sleep and mood, it's often hard to know which starts first. Stressful situations or events, such as money or marital problems, often kick off insomnia that can become a long-term problem.

Snoring
If you are one of the 37 million chronic snorers in the U.S., your buzz saw may be no big deal; an estimated 30% to 50% of Americans snore, most without consequence. But in some cases snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, a disorder linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Health.com: The health risks of snoring

Jet lag
Crossing over time zones throws off your internal clock, which tells your brain to sleep when it's dark and wake up when it's light. Your body can take up to three days to adjust to the new light/dark schedule in another time zone, and if you fly across time zones often, jet lag can cause chronic sleep problems.

Health.com: 6 tips for beating jet lag

Shift work
A schedule that's contrary to normal wake-sleep hours-like those of doctors, nurses, or other shift workers-can upset your body's circadian rhythm. People who work rotating shifts have lower levels of serotonin, a hormone and neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that helps regulate sleep, according to a 2007 study at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, in Argentina.

Hormonal changes
Menopause, menstruation, and pregnancy are some of the primary sources of sleep problems among women. Hot flashes, tender breasts, and frequent urination all interrupt regular sleep patterns. According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 40% of perimenopausal women (those who are in their menopausal transition years) have sleep problems.

Health.com: Common pregnancy advice examined

Medical illnesses
Often, sleep difficulties surface along with other medical conditions. With lung disease or asthma, for example, wheezing and shortness of breath can disrupt your sleep, particularly in the early morning. If you suffer from heart failure you may develop abnormal breathing patterns. Parkinson's and other neurological diseases count insomnia as a frequent side effect.

Drugs
Medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can disrupt your sleep, particularly if you take them close to bedtime or if your dosage is increased. If you notice sleep difficulties that coincide with a change in your medication regiment, ask your doctor about a possible connection.