Tossing and turning. Wondering how many minutes (or seconds) have passed since you last looked at the clock.
If you’ve struggled with sleep, you know how frustrating it can be. For some, it’s difficult to fall asleep, while others find it hard to stay asleep. However the issue presents, you want to find solutions ‒ because being overtired isn’t just bad for your beauty sleep but can also seriously affect your health.
Why is Sleep Health Important?
Although sleep plays an integral role in our health and wellness, the benefits of sleep are often overlooked. How much we sleep and our sleep quality will vary from person to person, and it may change, depending on our age and circumstances. During sleep, your brain is “cleaning up” from the prior day and preparing for the next. It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information, clearing out waste from cellular processes, and restoring your body’s energy. Without adequate sleep, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, and controlling your emotions. Sleep deficiency has even been linked to depression and suicide.
Sleep deficiency is also linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Studies have found that with each hour of sleep lost, the odds of becoming obese went up.
Eight Reasons You May Not Be Sleeping Well
Your lifestyle – that is, the things you do, the places you go, and everything else in your life – can have a paramount effect on sleep quality. What you do throughout the day contributes to how much sleep you’re getting and the quality of that sleep. Luckily, many of these are factors that we can address once we realize they may be contributing to poor sleep.
Coffee, green tea, energy drinks and even chocolate have varying amounts of caffeine that can be disruptive to sleep. Since some individuals are more sensitive to caffeine than others, it’s a good idea to be mindful of eating and drinking caffeine later in the day. Did you know that caffeine can stay in your bloodstream for up to 10 hours post-consumption? Experiment with swapping out your afternoon coffee for an herbal tea or savor that dark chocolate earlier in the day rather than right before bedtime.
Wine, beer, hard liquor and the like can all wreak havoc in the night hours. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adenosine (a chemical in the brain that acts as a sleep inducer) is increased while drinking. While this allows you to go to sleep quickly, this chemical quickly subsides, making you more likely to wake up during the night. If you choose to consume alcohol, do so in moderation and remember to hydrate with plenty of water.
Eating too close to bedtime
The adage of a “midnight snack” is actually a big no-no, according to experts. They suggest keeping three hours between your last meal and bedtime so that your body has time to digest before needing to focus on getting you to sleep. Ditch that late-night snack and see if your sleep doesn’t improve!
Travel or work schedules
Though sometimes your schedule is beyond your control, it’s important to note that not sleeping on a “regular” schedule can be disruptive to your circadian rhythm, which controls various physical, mental, and behavioral changes on a 24-hour cycle. These are natural processes that respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things—including humans.
Your circadian rhythm acts as an internal clock that runs in the background – and when we disrupt it (by not sleeping when it’s dark, for example), it gets thrown off. By sticking to sleeping when it’s dark and waking when it’s light, it helps keep these circadian processes in sync.
Some medications can cause sleep disturbances such as insomnia, exhaustion, vivid dreams, and lack of REM sleep. These medications could include:
- Cold medicines
If you suspect that your sleeplessness is attributed to a medication that you’re taking, speak with your doctor or medical provider.
This probably won’t come as much of a surprise: Stress and anxiety can often be the root causes of sleep disturbances. A heightened state of alertness, ongoing worrisome thoughts, and fear and anxiousness can drive a delayed onset of sleep. As this vicious cycle continues, not sleeping can, in turn, exacerbate your stress.
If you struggle with stress and feelings of anxiety, try meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and seeking help from a Health Coach. If your stress is making daily tasks difficult or even impossible, it’s best to work with a mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist.
Sleep apnea is one of the most prevalent sleep disorders. Loud snoring and brief awakenings during the night often indicate sleep apnea, which causes brief pauses in breathing at night and often results in daytime sleepiness. If you’re concerned about sleep apnea, see a sleep specialist; they can advise on further testing.
Poor sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers to practices that can positively improve your sleep. Some poor sleep hygiene habits include:
Keeping electronics in or near the bed. Many people use their phones as their alarms or even keep them close by “just in case.” Healthier sleep practices include turning on the Do Not Disturb function, setting up a recurring “sleep hours” setting, or simply removing the phone from the room.
Having lights on in the room. Any visible light while sleeping can cause disturbances. As the Sleep Foundation explains, when light enters the eye, it is sensed by a special group of cells on the retina and then sent to the brain and interpreted as information about the time of day. The brain then sends signals throughout the body to control organs and other systems in accordance with that time of day. Bright lights can throw off these systems, not allowing your brain to wind down for the evening. Try using blackout shades, wearing an eye mask, and turning off any unnecessary electronics that emit light.
Sleep Better, Live Better
Along with diet and exercise, getting enough quality sleep is one of the most important ways to take care of your body. Lack of sleep can be caused by any number of things, but there are also several ways to improve your sleep quality and quantity. When you start to sleep better, you’ll likely find that many other areas in your life may also improve!