Poor sleep is a common problem for many people. Research suggests that an estimated 30% of all adults struggle to fall or stay asleep.
Unfortunately, troubles with sleep can lead to both mild and much more serious consequences. For example, lack of sleep is linked to short-term changes in mood as well as more serious issues such as depression and anxiety.
If you’re struggling to get enough sleep each night, there might be a number of different factors contributing to your difficult slumber. In some cases, there are things that you may need to do and others that you need to avoid in order to get a good night’s sleep.
Some of the top signs that you are not getting sleep in the quantity or quality that you need include:
- Daytime fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble falling asleep at night
- Waking up more than once in the night
- Staying awake for longer periods during the night
Understanding some of the common reasons for poor sleep may help you identify the factors that are interrupting your rest. By addressing the problem as soon as possible, you can better prevent some of the detrimental short-term and long-term consequences of sleep deprivation.
Poor Sleep Habits
Sleep problems often stem from poor bedtime and nighttime routines. Too much stimulation at bedtime, watching television or playing on your phone right before bed, staying up too late, and drinking excess liquids in the late evening can all make it more difficult to fall or stay asleep.
If poor sleep habits might be to blame for your disrupted sleep, there are a few things you can do that may help:
- Establish a sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Take a bath, read a book, or do some deep breathing and light stretching. The key is doing something each night during those 30 minutes before you go to bed that will help signal to your mind and body that its time to go to sleep.
- Don’t work in your bedroom. You might be tempted to work on your laptop in your room, but doing this can make it harder to associate your room with sleep. Try keeping daytime activities out of the bedroom.
- Avoid heavy or fatty foods in the evening. That slice of greasy pizza can do a number on your digestive system, making it hard to rest. Stick with lighter foods that contain a good mix of complex carbs and proteins.
- Keep your bedroom dark. Too much light coming from a window, a lamp, or even a bedside clock can interfere with your sleep. Turn off electronics in the room and dry some room darkening curtains or shades to provide better light control. Be sure to limit your exposure to your phone or other devices; the light emitted from such devices can make it more difficult to fall or stay asleep.
Problems With Room Temperature
Not being comfortable in your sleeping space can have a serious impact on your ability to fall or stay asleep. Room temperature is one example of an environmental discomfort that can make getting enough shut-eye difficult.
Experts often recommend that the ideal room temperature for optimal sleep is between 19 degrees celcus.
Sleeping in a room that is too warm or too cold can be a serious sleep disruptor. There are a few reasons why lowering room temperature can aid in sleep. First, keeping the thermostat turned down helps ensure that you aren’t waking up overheated in the middle of the night. Also, your body temperature decreases as you fall asleep, so lowering the room temperature can aid in this process and help you fall asleep more readily.
Research has shown that room temperature is one of the key factors that determine whether you sleep well each night. One study found that exposure to increased heat decreased the amount of slow-wave and REM sleep.
It is important to remember that your personal comfort level and sleep habits also play a role in your ideal room temperature. If you sleep with pajamas and heavy bedding, you will probably want to lower the thermostat setting. Those who sleep with lighter bedding or less clothing may be more comfortable in a slightly warmer room.
Pay attention to how you feel each night and experiment with different heat settings to see how it affects your sleep. If you find yourself waking up in a sweat in the night, consider setting your thermostat at a lower setting. If you have a “smart” or programmable thermostat, you can change the settings so that it automatically drops to a lower temperature each night at a specific time.
Too Much Caffeine
Having a cup of coffee right before bed is obviously a bad idea, but caffeine consumed hours earlier may make it harder for you to sleep well. Caffeine has a half-life of approximately five to six hours, although this number is highly variable and research suggests that the individual half-life can range anywhere from two to 12 hours.
The half-life is how long it takes for half the amount of a substance to be processed and excreted from the body. This means that if you consume a large amount of caffeine in the late afternoon, it might still be working in your body well into the night.
Try limiting your caffeine consumption to early in the day, preferably avoiding caffeinated substances after 2 PM. Be on the lookout for hidden sources of caffeine. It may be easy to limit your intake of coffee, tea, and soda, but there are also many other foods and beverages that contain varying amounts of caffeine as well, including chocolate. Also, try to avoid eating right before bed.
Chocolate, protein bars, ice cream, pain killers, and even some flavored waters can contain caffeine. Watch out for de-caffeinated beverages as well, since the amount of caffeine they actually contain can vary.
Too Much Stress
Stress and worry are a common reason why people struggle to fall asleep. If you are lying awake worrying about things you need to do the next day or stressing about bigger issues you are facing, sleep isn’t going to come easily.
Research also suggests a connection between anxiety and insomnia and people who experience insomnia also often have a comorbid mental illness.
This can be troubling because studies have also shown that there is also a bidirectional relationship between sleep and some mental illnesses, including anxiety disorders. This means that anxiety may be contributing to your anxiety and your resulting insomnia may then worsen your anxiety.
There are some things that you can do to help control stress and prevent worry from keeping you up all night. For example, a technique known as progressive muscle relaxation, which involves progressively tensing and then relaxing muscles throughout the body, has been shown to be an effective treatment for insomnia.
If you are struggling with anxiety and insomnia, be sure to talk to your doctor. Other approaches including psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and medication can also be effective.
Getting your cardio during the evening hours might just be wreaking havoc on your sleep. While finding time in your day to fit in a heart-pumping workout can be difficult, try to keep from doing any intense, heart-pumping exercise at least three hours before bed.
However, regular exercise is important for sleep quality. Being active each day means that you will probably sleep better, and sleeping better and night means that you may be more likely to have the energy to get regular exercise.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, 75 minutes of intense activity, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Try keeping your heart-pumping cardio workout to the morning or early afternoon hours and use the evening hours for light activities like casual walking or yoga.
Alcohol Before Bedtime
A glass of wine in the evening can often make you feel sleepy, but drinking too much before you go to bed can interrupt your sleep. While alcohol initially leads to feelings of drowsiness, it tends to impair the sleep cycle by disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is the “master clock” that regulates your body’s activities, including metabolism, energy levels, immunity, and sleep.
In one study looking at the effects of alcohol on sleep, researchers found that moderate alcohol intake reduced sleep quality by 24% and that high alcohol consumption lowered sleep quality by as much as 39.2%.
This doesn’t mean you need to avoid alcohol altogether, but you should be aware that even moderate intake can take a toll on your ability to sleep well and feel rested the next day. Moderate alcohol intake as two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Restricting your alcohol consumption to two or three drinks per week may help you get more rest.
A Sleep Disorder
If sleep has become a struggle, a sleep disorder may be the culprit. Some common sleep disorders include sleep apnea, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, and parasomnias.
While sleep disorders are not uncommon, research also suggests that they tend to be underdiagnosed. For example, one study suggested that less than 20% of people with insomnia are properly diagnosed and treated for the condition.
Sleep apnea is a common condition in which people stop breathing multiple times during the night due to upper airway obstruction. Because people briefly stop breathing, sometimes for 10 seconds or longer, their heart rate increases, blood oxygen levels drop, and sleep is briefly disrupted as the person wakes in order to breathe.
If you suspect that a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea is affecting your sleep, talk to your doctor. You may be referred to a sleep specialist who may suggest lifestyle changes or special devices that may help you breathe and sleep better at night.