What causes insomnia?

Posted on 8 October 2013

‘Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together,’ said Thomas Dekker four decades ago. Neera Bhikha, a neurophysiologist at Mediclinic Sandton, explains why.

Why is insomnia so difficult to deal with?
Sleep would be a pharmaceutical gold mine if could be bottled and sold! It restores and rejuvenates our bodies, and once you experience the difficulty of falling asleep or staying asleep, the battle to get a good night’s sleep becomes consuming.

How many people does insomnia affect?
It affects about one-third of the South African population. Symptoms of insomnia include fatigue, emotional distress, impaired mental ability, poor concentration and memory.

What are the causes of insomnia, particularly in women?
As modern-day women, we allow stress, anxiety and depression to rule our sleep cycles. Minor stressors like traffic, meetings and work deadlines all create anxiety. Unfortunately the vicious cycle of performance disrupts our sleep patterns due to heightened anxiety levels. Major life events like a break up of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or a sudden acute medical condition will almost always trigger a sleep disturbance. Heartache has an adverse effect by creating low mood and appetite changes. Often your social, emotional and physical wellbeing is also disrupted.

What should I do for a good night’s sleep?
We should practice self-nurturing and manage our daily stressors. Here are a few tips to get you started:
•    Make your bedroom your sleep sanctuary, used for sleep and intimacy.
•    Invest in a good pillow that is able to support your head and neck, airways and spine.
•    Establish a pre-bedtime ritual – have a warm bath, drink warm milk, use lavender scents on your pillow, as examples.
•    Practise relaxation techniques and meditation.
•    Listen to calm, soothing music.
•    Stay away from electronic devices like iPads and cellphones.
•    Steer clear of stimulants and intoxicants.
•    Try cognitive behaviour therapy – it’s a form of sleep focused therapy that corrects behaviour patterns.

It’s very important to remember that you mustn’t deprive yourself of sleep – instead take charge and restore your sleep rhythm. And if need be, seek medical help from your doctor.


The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Healthy Life

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