Falling asleep at night sounds like the easiest thing in the world, but sadly that’s not the case for many of us. No matter how tired you are, sometimes you just can’t drift off, or if you do you can’t stay asleep. Insomnia can have a negative impact on your health, as well as interfering with your work performance, concentration and hormone balance. And worrying about not sleeping just adds more stress to the situation, making everything worse. If you occasionally have trouble sleeping, here are some possible causes and easy suggestions to get your sleep pattern on track again.
Top Ten Causes of Sleepless Nights (and what to do about them)
When you’re having trouble sleeping, take a look at your habits, routine and home environment to try to pinpoint what is interfering with your sleep. You need to make rest and sleep a priority because it can affect all other aspects of your daily life, such as physical and mental health, and even safety. You probably already know that lying in bed fretting about not being able to sleep is the opposite of helpful, and just makes you more anxious (not to mention exhausted the following day!) Here are some common culprits and easy tricks you can use to overcome them and start getting a better night’s sleep.
Note: If you’ve been having trouble sleeping for more than a month, or if you think you may have a condition such as GERD or sleep apnea, see a doctor! This article is not meant as a substitute for medical advice.
If you eat a big meal late in the evening, it can seriously interfere with your sleep, especially if you consume spicy foods, high fat or high protein. All of these ingredients can keep you awake as your body works hard at digesting them. These foods can also be responsible for acid reflux (as can acidic foods). When you’ve got indigestion or even if you just feel too full, it can be uncomfortable to lie down and try to sleep. Caffeine in tea, coffee and soft drinks can contribute to insomnia if you drink them in the evening or even the afternoon. Alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, but it can also make you wake up during the night.
Suggestion: Have your dinner a minimum of three hours before you go to bed. Don’t drink caffeine within 6 hours of your bedtime. If you get hungry, WebMD suggests a small, carb-rich snack. A piece of fruit, some crackers and cheese, a slice of toast, a small serving of cereal or oatmeal, or some nuts are all good evening snacks.
Not Enough or Too Much Light
Your circadian rhythms and melatonin production respond naturally to light. Phones, tablets, laptops and TVs can all interfere with your ability to get sleepy. Even the tiny lights from chargers, your alarm clock or street lamps can be enough to throw off your sleep cycle.
Suggestion: Use dimmer lighting in the evenings. Switch off the television and other electronics before you go to bed. Use good blinds or heavy drapes to keep out street lighting. You can use tape to cover little lights, or if necessary (when traveling for example) wear an eye mask.
Too much light causes problems for some people, but the opposite can also be true. Many people fear the dark (although they might never admit it). If a too-dark room makes you uneasy, you will have trouble sleeping.
Suggestion: Use a small night light, or leave a door ajar to a room with some dim lighting. This can help you relax without disturbing your circadian rhythm.
Too Noisy or Too Quiet
For some of us, it’s impossible to get to sleep unless the environment is silent. Even the smallest sounds can keep some people awake. Outdoor sounds, and noise caused by heating and plumbing systems or even partners can be a problem.
Suggestion: Often you have little or no control over noise. In this case, try using noise cancelling headphones, earplugs, or even a sound conditioner. Some curtains can also help to muffle outdoor sounds.
Most people see noise as something that interferes with sleep, but paradoxically a too-silent room may also cause sleep problems. When there’s no background noise to filter sounds, even the slightest bump or rustle can disturb you.
Suggestion: Soft music, a white noise generator, or a fan will make it easier to sleep if a too-quiet room has you on edge.
Too Hot or Too Cold
The temperature of your room can make it hard for you both to drift off and to sleep through the night. Most of us sleep best in a room that is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, although babies and the elderly may prefer it a bit warmer. Lower than 54 degrees or higher than 75 degrees is probably going to cause problems. When you’re cold, you use energy to maintain your body temperature, disrupting your sleep cycle. When you’re too hot, often you’ll wake up sweaty, or keep tossing and turning to try to find a cool spot.
Suggestion: Change the thermostat setting. If you get too warm, make sure your pajamas and bedding are moisture-wicking and breathable natural fabrics (cotton, silk or wool). If it’s too cold, add some blankets and switch to warmer pajamas. Cooling or heating pads (such as ChiliPad) or heated blankets can help you adjust the temperature of your sleep environment if resetting the thermostat isn’t enough.
Cold Hands and Feet
Your extremities may be too cold even when the rest of you is comfortable at a cool room temperature. Hands and feet lose heat faster than the rest of your body, and this can make it hard for you to relax and go to sleep.
Suggestion: Use a heating pad or hot water bottle near your feet to help keep them warm. If you like sleeping in a cool room, wear warm cozy socks and keep your hands under the blankets.
The lunar cycle and changing seasons are a bigger cause of sleep problems than many people realize. Maybe it’s the additional light of the full moon, or maybe something more mysterious, but many people find it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep and feel rested when the moon is full. The lengthening days of summer, and the longer hours of darkness in the winter can also affect sleep patterns. Also, staying indoors more in the winter can reduce your activity level overall and limit your sun exposure.
Suggestion: Again, window coverings and shades that block light can help with full moons and early sunrises. In the winter, make a point of spending time outside in the sunlight as much as you can to maintain your natural circadian rhythms. Light exercise and staying in a routine also ensure that when it’s time to go to bed, you’re tired enough to sleep.
If you sleep late on the weekend you may feel rested in the short term, but you’re wreaking havoc with your body clock. It’s almost like giving yourself jet lag, because your circadian rhythm is unbalanced and disrupted, making it hard to return to the sleep schedule of your work week. A scientific study with young women found a link between erratic sleep schedules and increased body weight, which is another good reason to stay on a regular schedule.
Suggestion: Find a schedule that allows you a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night, and stick reasonably close to it even on your days off.
Many of us love to cuddle up with our partner or even with a pet when we sleep. Both human and animal companions in your bed can move around or snore at night. Even if you don’t wake up fully, your mind still registers these little disturbances and you don’t feel as rested. By some accounts, couples who share a bed can experience 50 percent more disturbances in sleep than if they sleep alone, which is one reason why many couples sleep in separate beds. Day in and day out, having your sleep disturbed by your partner can leave you exhausted and resentful.
Suggestion: Buy your pets beds of their own. If you sleep with a partner, try using separate blankets so you can each move around and cocoon as much as you like. Make sure that you’re sleeping on a mattress that is comfortable for both of you. Pocketed coil spring mattresses, latex foam and memory foam are all designed not to transfer motion between partners. If you have a partner that snores excessively or sounds like their breathing stops at times, tell them so that they can see a doctor about it.
There are so many possible sources of stress in life – relationships, children, work, health, finances and current events, to name just a few. You may be exhausted by the stresses in your life by the day’s end, but when you go to bed you stare at the ceiling unable to fall asleep. Exhaustion does not always make it easy to sleep. You might have body pain and stiffness, and your mind might be racing a mile a minute, keeping you awake and only adding to your exhaustion. Stress can be among the biggest causes of sleep problems, so it’s worthwhile learning some relaxation techniques.
Suggestion: If possible, talk through any interpersonal issues long before it’s time to go to bed. Write in a journal so you can unburden yourself of disruptive thoughts and clear your head before sleeping. When your responsibilities are keeping you awake, make a list of all the things you have to do, as well as a plan for time management. Otherwise you may lie in bed turning all of these things over and over in your mind. Hot baths, mindful breathing practices, relaxing music, and gentle yoga can all be helpful in lowering your stress level before bedtime.
An Uncomfortable Mattress
When you’re constantly moving around in bed, trying to get comfortable or ease painful pressure points, it might be because of a bad mattress. If you wake up every morning with a sore back, maybe your mattress is just not supportive enough anymore. If you’ve got a new bed and still feel pain, maybe the mattress is too soft (lacking support), too firm (causing pressure points), or you’re just still adjusting yourself to it. This adjustment period can be as long as a month, particularly if you’ve changed your mattress type.
Suggestion: The average mattress will last for 7 to 10 years, varying according to quality and materials. If your mattress is more than 10 years old, or if it’s sagging noticeably, it’s probably time to replace it. More than 1 inch of sagging is likely to cause you an increase in pain. If you have a mattress that’s in good shape but it feels too hard, add a mattress topper to relieve some of your pressure points. You can also walk on a firm mattress to break it in a bit when it’s new. If you have an overly soft bed, try a firmer latex topper or a firm foundation to give you more support.
Getting to sleep and sleeping through the night are often problematic for many people. If you know some of the causes of sleep problems and how to address them, you can get a better night’s sleep. Getting enough rest is crucial to our everyday lives, affecting our school, family and work (to name just a few). Try not to stress about it if you’re not sleeping as well as you’d like. There are often easy solutions and good sleep hygiene habits that will help you get back to a normal, restful sleep schedule in next to no time. If you have trouble getting to sleep, take a look at your diet, stress level, lifestyle, environment and even the seasons to see if you know what might be causing your problem. Make some adjustments and chances are you’ll be getting a good night’s sleep again soon.