Most of us have at one time or another experienced the feeling of being tired all day. It’s a struggle to stay awake and difficult to concentrate and complete tasks. On days like this, all you can think about is climbing into bed and taking a very long nap. Yet, when you finally do lay down in bed and close your eyes at night, you just can’t fall asleep. Instead, you find yourself wide awake with your mind racing uncontrollably, thinking about the past and worried about the future. There is nothing more frustrating than this. So, why does this happen? How can you get to sleep better?
What Stops You from Sleeping?
While a combination of physical and/or emotional stressors is usually the cause of massive sleep disruptions, here are some individual components that go a long way toward affecting your sleeping patterns.
The Circadian Rhythm:
Our bodies and minds are hardwired naturally to work during the day and rest during the night. Sleep specialist W. Christopher Winter, MD, author of “The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How To Fix It”, explains the circadian rhythm as an “ internal timekeeper for everything our bodies do in a 24 hour period.”
The system uses light, darkness, and our biological clock to simultaneously regulate body temperature, metabolism, hormones, and sleep. Melatonin (the sleep hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone) initiate our body’s response to daylight or nighttime.
During daytime, melatonin levels are low and cortisol levels are high. Cortisol levels gradually decline as we approach the evening, while melatonin levels begin to rise. According to Healthline, “Our bodies produce more melatonin, with levels peaking between 2 and 4 a.m.”
If you’re tired and can’t sleep, your circadian rhythm may be off, which is usually caused by irregular sleeping patterns, staying up at night or working night shifts.
This causes the circadian rhythm to be disturbed. When you try to sleep later than what’s considered “normal” (around 10 pm to 12 am, when melatonin production is sufficient) it becomes difficult to do so, as cortisol levels start rising and melatonin starts declining. Likewise, waking up may also be exhausting.
Stress and Anxiety
This may be a huge contributor to sleep deprivation as people with mental health conditions like panic disorders or anxiety may find their minds racing uncontrollably. It’s called a state of mental arousal or hyperarousal, which sends our thoughts into several directions one after another. This alertness is caused by secretion of a hormone called cortisol.
The body naturally secretes the hormone cortisol throughout the day, which keeps us alert and stimulated, aiding us in our daytime tasks. People experiencing anxiety may have their 24-hour biological clock disrupted thereby mixing up the production of hormones. Increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone) during the night sends our minds into several directions uncontrollably. Your mind may become highly alert making you unable to fall asleep.
Stress and anxiety cause sleep deprivation which can also lead to more sleep problems as well.
Caffeine is widely consumed throughout the world. It is a stimulant that keeps you awake. Generally, caffeine extends the time it takes to fall asleep. Students, teachers, and adults consume this compound daily to be active, alert and efficient. Problems occur when caffeine consumption becomes irregular and excessive. Having a coffee post midday or drinking 4-5 strong coffees throughout the day may be the reason why most people find it difficult to sleep at night. Caffeine has a quarter life of twelve hours.” It can remain in your system when you go to bed as well which means you may feel tired yet unable to fall asleep.
Generally defined as a condition in which you may have trouble falling asleep with constant sleep disruption throughout the night. Insomnia is quite a common sleeping disorder.
There are two types of insomnia:
- Acute insomnia: It lasts a few days or weeks.
- Chronic insomnia: It may last longer than 3 months.
Insomniacs often feel tired at night and are unable to fall asleep, which can become psychologically frustrating. There are many causes of insomnia and they may vary from person to person. One common cause of sleep difficulties is due to too much screen time.
It’s common practice to use smartphones and laptops for hours on end, especially at night. But the blue lights emitted from screens are known to suppress melatonin production and decrease sleepiness. Our minds may become so preoccupied with the latest Netflix series that sleep eventually loses priority. Screen time tricks our minds into thinking that we should be awake and energized when we should be in the process of falling asleep. It is highly recommended to not use any electronic devices at least an hour before your bedtime.
Likewise, eating too much too close to your bedtime may also hinder your sleep. It is common for people to stay up at night, eating junk food and watching videos online. This is an unhealthy lifestyle that can lead to heartburn, fatigue, stress, and discomfort while lying down.
- Understand the effects of sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep impacts our physical, emotional, and mental health in a way which makes it hard for us to properly carry out everyday tasks. Plus, it can start a negative feedback loop of stress and further sleep challenges.
- Avoid using electronic devices that emit “blue light” an hour before bed. These are known to impact levels of melatonin production, making it harder for us to fall asleep.
- People often associate their beds as places where they eat, work, watch videos, and browse social media. Using your bed for anything other than sleep, rewires the brain into thinking it’s a place of leisure. Using your bed only for sleep rewires your brain into understanding that your bed and bedroom is a place of restful sleep.
- If you can’t fall asleep while laying down and feel like your mind is too alert then get up and do something. Walk around, drop down and do 10 pushups, read a book, or do something that will make you feel drowsy.
- Adopting healthier habits can significantly improve not only your sleep, but the overall quality of your life. Giving up mentally and physically draining activities like smoking and drinking and substituting them with healthier choices is a great way to turn your life around. Exercising every day, limiting nicotine and caffeine, and being productive are good ways to improve sleep.
The reason why so many people struggle with sleep is partly because of a combination of stressful events and individual lifestyle choices. These factors play a major role in determining not only a person’s sleeping schedule but their overall quality of life. Improving your lifestyle and substituting unhealthy options for healthier ones can drastically help improve your sleeping schedule.
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