That feeling of tossing and turning without any sleep is not only frustrating, but can have long-term negative effects. Not getting a good night’s sleep can not only affect your productivity, but it can affect your mood, health and dietary choices. That being said if you consistantly aren’t getting a good night’s sleep, it’s time to figure out the reason why and address it in order to avoid any irreversible damage.
Stats Around Insomnia in America
What exactly is insomnia? Insomnia can be difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep throughout the night and waking up too early in the morning. It is a complex condition that doesn’t stay confined to the boundaries of its definition. There is acute insomnia that is short term and can stem from stress over an event or current life situation. This type of insomnia usually sorts itself out without additional help. There is also chronic insomnia, that occurs at least three nights per week and lasts at least three months. There are many potential causes of chronic insomnia from medical conditions to lifestyle habits and even environmental changes. Insomnia that is chronic may require professional help in order to restore your sleep.
Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep, whether it’s only for a few nights in a row or over a long period of time, can leave you feeling irritable, exhausted and hopeless. But you are definitely not alone in your struggle to find good sleep. In fact, in a study conducted in six different countries, the United States, with 40 million suffering from sleeping disorders, came in second to last place, only ahead of Japan. Insomnia is so common that among adults, 30 to 35% have brief symptoms of insomnia, 15 to 20% have a short-term insomnia disorder, which lasts less than three months, and 10% have a chronic insomnia disorder, which occurs at least three times per week for at least three months. Insomnia has become such a problem in the U.S. that it causes an estimated $63 billion in lost work performance each year.
Lifestyle Habits Causing Insomnia
Often times people only look at their lifestyle habits right at bedtime to help them sleep but forget about their habits throughout the day and don’t think how it might affect their sleep quality. They’ll buy blackout curtains, turn on their noise machine, use humidifiers, turn on the fan, etc. But what about everything you did five hours ago? Were you thinking about sleep then?
One of the main culprits of insomnia is bringing stress home with you and not being able to unwind. Being the mobile society that we are, we can leave the office for the day and still constantly be answering emails and finishing up any incomplete tasks until the late hours of the night. While this is a great indicator of work ethic and probably gets you a gold star at work, it can wreak havoc on your sleep. Being keyed up at night causes your body to continue pumping out cortisol, which keeps your body from falling asleep.
Naps are a fickle friend when it comes to your sleep quality. On one hand, they are a great way to quickly rejuvenate yourself and increase mental alertness in the middle of the day. In fact, a 10-minute nap in the afternoon has been proven to increase alertness and productivity for up to three hours. However, as quickly as a nap can help you out in the daytime it can affect your circadian rhythm and hinder your sleep quality at night. If you take naps for longer than 30 minutes or nap too late in the day, you may suffer the consequences when you try to fall asleep at night.
Caffeine is consumed by people all over the world and is naturally found in over 60 plants. Any time we feel fatigue start to kick in, we reach for another dose of caffeine, whether it’s in the form of tea, coffee, an energy drink or sweet treat. Caffeine works by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production. This is great, however, if you’re consuming caffeine less than six hours before bed, there’s a very high chance that it is affecting how fast you fall asleep and your quality of sleep.
One of the most common misconceptions is that because a glass of wine or beer makes you drowsy, that drinking alcohol is beneficial for sleeping. In fact, at least 20% of Americans use alcohol to help them go to sleep at night. While you may fall asleep faster after a glass of chardonnay, it can wreak havoc on how well you sleep throughout the night. Alcohol has been shown to block REM sleep, your most restorative phase of sleep, causing you to feel drowsy and unmotivated the following day.
You know that overwhelming drowsy feeling after a big meal, like Thanksgiving? It’s this feeling that leads people to believe that eating a large meal close to bedtime helps us sleep. In reality, it’s quite the contrary; eating a large meal causes our metabolism to kick in, which can make it difficult to fall asleep if it happens less than 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Our electronic devices emit an artificial blue light that is beneficial to us during the day because it acts as mental stimulant by blocking production of melatonin, a sleep hormone. This helps us stay alert and productive during the day while at work. The problem is that we continue to use these devices late at night when we are at home. By scrolling through social media, checking our email or catching up on television as we’re trying to fall asleep, the blue light is causing us to be stimulated and not able to fall asleep.
We’ve heard over and over how Americans aren’t getting enough exercise, which has caused people all over the country to obsessively track steps, calories burned, heart rate and other health stats that help them determine if they reach a baseline achievement of physical activity that day. But this activity still isn’t enough; our ancestors were active from morning to night, which is what our bodies are built for. Those of us who sit at a desk all day, even the ones who make a concerted effort to hit the gym on a regular basis, are not burning the amount of energy that is needed for a good night’s sleep.
Medical Conditions Causing Insomnia
Those with Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) often can’t sleep because of the pain and “pins and needles” feeling in their limbs that can only be relieved by constantly moving their legs. Up to 10% of Americans are affected by this condition, which can cause severe sleep disruption. While there is no treatment for the disorder itself, there are ways to treat the underlying causes and relieve symptoms. To start, avoid substances like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, then talk to your doctor about possible medical conditions that can cause these symptoms.
When dealing with depression and anxiety, it can be tricky because they can both cause insomnia and be caused by insomnia. The stillness and inactivity of night time is the perfect storm for negative, anxious thoughts to make it hard to fall asleep. It is important to determine which came first, the depression/ anxiety or the insomnia. The good news is both are treatable, and one should talk with their doctor about a good treatment plan to help get their sleep quality back in check.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when someone’s airway becomes partially or completely blocked while they sleep. Because of the obstruction, breathing stops and oxygen levels drop causing the person to consistently wake up briefly throughout the night. This constant sleep interruption can cause a serious drop in sleep quality, and sometimes the person doesn’t even realize it is happening. Those suffering from sleep apnea often report daily fatigue and drowsiness. This sleep disorder can be treated with the help of a medical professional who can help determine the best course of treatment to help alleviate the breathing obstruction.
Those who don’t know much about arthritis probably don’t realize how much the joint problem can attribute to insomnia. In fact, studies show about 80% of those with arthritis report problems with sleep. While the pain keeps you up at night tossing and turning, the sleep deprivation that results can often lead to more pain because the body is not able to get enough restorative sleep throughout the night.
Effects of Consistent Poor Sleep
Everyone knows that run-down feeling after a night of tossing and turning that comes with constant yawning, irritability and drowsiness. Not getting sufficient sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits. For example, when you’re fatigued, your body craves energy and can lead you to indulge in a high-calorie carb fiesta. Not only may your diet not be as up-to-snuff as it usually is, but 50% of people report skipping the gym when they’re tired, according to the NSF.
While these short-term effects feel terrible, the long-term effects of consistently poor sleep are even worse. To start, it puts you at a higher risk for diseases such as heart disease and diabetes because sleep deprivation can increase your blood sugar levels and raise your blood pressure. If you’re consistently not getting enough sleep, or enough high-quality sleep, you may also find that you’re getting sick more often because your immune system is weakened and doesn’t fight against common illnesses, like the cold and flu viruses, as well as it normally would.
Tips to Get Better Sleep
Set a sleep routine for seven days a week. In order to get your body adjusted to a sleep pattern, it’s important to set a consistent bedtime and wake time every day, including the weekends. When you fall asleep and wake up at different times each night, it leads to poor sleep patterns.
Make it dark. This doesn’t just mean the obvious of turning off all the lights in your room and blocking out as much street light as possible. But it also refers to the blue light that emits from your electronic devices. This type of light causes sleep disruptions because it is designed to keep you alert throughout the day. So be sure to turn off all electronics at bedtime.
Exercise often, but exercise early. Exercising has been proven to reduce anxiety and help you nod off easier at night. However, make sure you’re finishing your workout at least two hours before bedtime. If you work out and try to immediately go to sleep for the night, your body temperature and your adrenaline will be too high and will keep you up.
Keep only sleep and sex in the bed. Turn off your phone, tv and work while you’re in bed. There shouldn’t be any extra activity in your bed. Reserve that space for sleep and sex only in order to allow your body to relax.
Use aromatherapy. Because our sense of smell is so powerful and can trigger physical reactions, using aromatherapy can help you destress and fall asleep peacefully. Try experimenting with different scented essential oils like lavender, jasmine, clary sage, Ylang Ylang, bergamot and lemon.
Take a hot shower or bath before bed. Not only will this help you relax, but the quick peak and drop in body temperature will make you sleepy.
You’re not alone if you feel like you haven’t had a restful night’s sleep in while. Insomnia is one of the most common health problems Americans deal with. The first way to start sleeping better is to find out why you’re not sleeping well to begin with, then follow our guide to get better sleep.