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The 10 Main Causes of Insomnia in Males [Research-Backed]

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Apr 11, 2021

In general, men have a lower chance of developing insomnia than women, mainly because we don’t have to worry about hormonal changes around periods and pregnancy.

However, quite a few men still get insomnia (including me in the past).

And while many causes are similar between the gender, some risk factors are higher for men than women.

10 Causes of Insomnia in Males

Let’s take a brief look at the most common causes of insomnia for males, and specifically how they affect men.

1. Stress

Stress is the main cause of most acute (temporary) insomnia (1).

If you have trouble sleeping for a few days or weeks after a stressful event (e.g. work, school, money, grief, trauma, divorce), it will likely go away by itself in time.

SummaryMany men feel extra responsibility to provide for loved ones and pressure to achieve high status goals, which places a lot of extra stress on them at times, which can lead to acute insomnia.

2. Anxiety Disorders

If you’re stressed all the time, or someone who tends to overthink everything, that can easily lead to an anxiety disorder, which in turn is likely to cause insomnia.

As someone who’s brain hates to shut up, this was one of the main issues that I needed to overcome myself.

Note that the severity and frequency of sleep issues is tied to the degree of anxiety you feel (2):

The study shows that psychiatric history is closely related to the severity and chronicity of current insomnia.

In other words, even if you can’t fully fix your anxiety, learning to relax a bit will reduce the insomnia symptoms you suffer from.

SummaryMen who experience anxiety are likely to suffer some degree of insomnia. Men are more likely to be isolated and suffer social anxiety in many cultures, which is a risk factor to consider.

3. Poor Sleeping Habits

Sleep hygiene is incredibly important to both how fast you fall asleep, and the quality of your sleep (1).

Poor sleeping habits include:

  • Eating right before bed
  • Drinking water before bed
  • Watching a screen before bed (phone, TV, computer) due to blue light
  • Exercising intensely shortly before bed
  • Irregular sleep schedule (not your fault if due to shift work or travel)
  • Sleeping in hot temperature

Most of these can be easily fixed and made into good habits, which will clear up any sleep difficulties over time.

However, be aware that most people with insomnia have some poor sleeping habits, but those are not usually the sole cause of the insomnia.

SummaryIt’s pretty easy to tell if you practice poor sleep hygiene. Young men in particular are known for playing games into the night, which can lead to insomnia symptoms.

4. Caffeine

Some caffeine is okay, but too much is a strong predictor of insomnia.

One study found that if you stick to 0-2 cups of caffeinated coffee per day, your risk of insomnia isn’t increased (3):

Individuals who consumed on average >3 cups of coffee had the highest incidence of chronic insomnia.

Men are also much more likely to consume energy drinks, which can easily give you too much caffeine (4).

SummaryIf you’re drinking more than about 200 mg of caffeine per day, there’s a good chance it will cause some insomnia symptoms.

5. Lifestyle Habits

One of the ways that men are much more likely to develop insomnia than women is through lifestyle habits like alcohol and drug consumption.

In most countries, a guy drinking a lot is more “normal” and accepted than a woman doing the same.

Additionally, many men drink to cope with stress and negative emotions, because we typically suck at opening up and processing them.

Like caffeine, some alcohol is fine, just don’t overdo it (3):

Having 3 or more alcoholic drinks per day resulted in the highest risk of insomnia.

Harder drugs also often cause insomnia in even small amounts.

Note that stopping won't clear up issues immediately. For example, insomnia can last for 3-6 months after quitting drinking.

SummaryMales who over rely on alcohol or drugs for enjoyment or coping can benefit from limiting how much they drink.

6. Obesity

If you’re obese, you’re about 38.5% more likely to develop insomnia (3).

And in developed countries, men are more likely to be obese than women (5).

What’s defined as obese?

A BMI over 30 (it’s not a perfect measure, but it’s pretty good).

It's tough to make good diet and exercise decisions when you're tired from insomnia, but sometimes it's what you'll need to grind through in order to eventually get your sleep back in order.

SummaryMen are more likely to be overweight and obese. Losing weight generally helps with sleep difficulties for people who are obese.

7. Depression

Here’s a short summary from a paper about the link between depression and insomnia (6):

During the last decade, several studies have shown that insomnia, rather than a symptom of depression, could be a medical condition on its own, showing high comorbidity with depression

Basically, depression and insomnia go both ways. If you develop one, there’s a good chance of developing the other.

Up until recently, data suggested that women were about twice as likely to be clinically diagnosed with depression.

However, it’s recently become clear that this is mostly due to the stigma of male depression (7).

Most cultures tell us to “suck it up” and “man up,” which prevents many men from seeking help when they really need it. Not surprisingly, men have higher suicide rates.

SummaryThere’s a lot of things to be depressed about these days. It’s especially easy for males to become isolated and depressed, and feel like they are less of a man for feeling this way. People suffering with depression should get help from professionals. Everyone needs it when they are depressed, regardless of gender.

8. Hormones Related to Gender

Hormone levels can cause insomnia symptoms.

This is more common in females (pregnant women often get insomnia), but they can be an issue in males as well.

In particular, single men with high levels of arousal can find it hard to quiet the mind when trying to go to sleep. In a way, it’s related to stress (number 1 on this list).

9. Medical Conditions

Many medical conditions cause insomnia as a side effect (e.g. Restless leg syndrome).

Additionally, the treatment of some diseases frequently causes insomnia, most notably cancer.

Men in particular need to worry about certain types of cancer like prostate cancer (8).

SummaryThere’s not much you can do about this type of insomnia cause, but it can be helpful to be aware of it. A different treatment method may be a possibility.

10. Physiological Changes

Some things you just can’t control, like aging.

Recent studies have found that young adults (20-35 years old) and senior adults (60+) are at the highest risk of developing insomnia symptoms (3).

Young people typically suffer mostly from stress, while older people are more likely to take medication that can cause side effects.

There are also some biological changes as you age that can also contribute to sleep issues.

How Do You Know if You Have Insomnia?

There are a few different types of insomnia, we’ve already looked at acute insomnia earlier.

For chronic insomnia (what most people think of), you’ll need to meet these conditions to be clinically diagnosed:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, or waking up
  • Sleep difficulties have been present for at least 3 nights per week for 3 months
  • There’s no other medical condition that explains your insomnia
  • You’re not abusing drugs that could cause your sleep issues
  • You’re experiencing negative side effects of insomnia in your daily life

SummaryIn more practical terms, if you’re regularly losing sleep, you have some degree of insomnia that will likely affect your life in the short or long term. You will benefit greatly from trying to fix those sleep issues.

How Is Insomnia Treated in Males

While the causes of insomnia are slightly different between men and women, the treatment options are really the same.

For acute insomnia caused by stress, no treatment may be necessary.

Otherwise, you’ll need to identify the underlying issue and fix it, or else there’s a very low chance that the insomnia will disappear on its own.

Improve Sleep Hygiene

Some causes of insomnia are easier to correct than others.

Improving sleep hygiene is by far the easiest, you just need to change your routine before sleeping.

Or, if you drink too much coffee, you just drink less.

Most of the solutions are common sense.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive read on this topic, Sleep by Nick Littlehales is great.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

While it’s relatively new, there’s quite a bit of evidence that CBT is effective at treating insomnia (9).

CBT involves learning to identify thoughts that lead to negative outcomes (e.g. stress, anxiety), and then understanding and reframing them in a better way.

There are no side effects, and the benefits apply outside of sleep as well.

SummaryThe great thing about CBT is that you can apply it at home by yourself in many cases. If that doesn’t work, or you feel you need help, you can go see a professional to walk you through the process.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques like acupuncture, massage, meditation, and yoga have some evidence showing that they can reduce insomnia in certain situations.

Mainly, if you’re suffering from acute insomnia because of some extra stress in your life, they can help relieve it.

For chronic insomnia, they may still help, but likely won’t be enough on their own.

Medication

Sleep medication is the traditional way of treating insomnia, but it’s more of a quick fix than a long term solution.

There’s a few potential problems with this approach:

  • Medications often have side effects of their own
  • It can take time to find a medication that works for you
  • You’ll be reliant on the medication (possibly forever)

The preferred treatment plan for most people in my eyes is to use medication to treat severe cases of insomnia, but also incorporate CBT to hopefully find a long term solution if the issue is anxiety-based.

Finally, I wouldn’t consider melatonin to be a “medication,” but it is a sleep aid that often helps people who struggle to get to sleep. It’s available without a prescription, and has very little potential of any side effects.

Can CBD (Cannabis) Help Insomnia?

For now, there’s no conclusive research either way.

However, CBD’s effect on insomnia is starting to be studied at a faster pace, so we’ll have some answers in a few years.

It’s something you could try if it’s legal where you live, but I wouldn’t put too much hope in it. Instead, focus on the other treatment methods for insomnia above.

References

  1. Incidence and risk factors of insomnia in a population-based sample
  2. Place of chronic insomnia in the course of depressive and anxiety disorders
  3. Risk Factors for Incident Chronic Insomnia: A General Population Prospective Study
  4. Energy drink consumption by gender and age
  5. Global Gender Disparities in Obesity: A Review
  6. Comorbidity of insomnia and depression
  7. Stigma in Male Depression and Suicide
  8. Prostate cancer treatments and their side effects are associated with increased insomnia
  9. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia: A meta-analysis of long-term effects in controlled studies

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.