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10 Reasons You’re Having a Hard Time Getting to Sleep or Staying Asleep

Do you have difficulty falling asleep – or staying asleep? That’s not surprising. According to the CDC, an estimated 50-70 million US adults have a sleep or wakefulness disorder.

While we often think of sleep as critical to feel alert, sleep is more important than that. Getting adequate quality sleep is critical for your health, safety, and sanity. 

Inadequate sleep increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and even weight gain. It can negatively affect your mood and your risk of having an accident. So, let's take a look at what's preventing you from getting good quality sleep. 

10 Culprits Preventing You from Falling Asleep or Staying Asleep

If you’re having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, it could be any one (or more) of these eight culprits. Don't you deserve to find out? Read on to find out what you can do to stay healthy, sane, and productive. 

1. Too much caffeine

You may have heard of the suggestion to cut off caffeine mid-afternoon to prevent it from interfering with your sleep. But, time is just one factor. The total amount of caffeine consumed is another.

If you drink too much caffeine before 4pm, some of that caffeine may still be in your bloodstream when you’re trying to get to sleep many hours later.

Scientists use the term half-life to measure how long it takes for the body to remove half of a chemical from your body. For caffeine, it’s an average of 4 hours. If you have a Venti cup of coffee early in the morning (400 mg), half of the caffeine is removed every FOUR hours. And it will take roughly 24 hours to eliminate all the caffeine from that morning cup. And, that's if you stop at one cup. 

What if you’re having a second or third cup of coffee? Watch this quick 1 minute video for a more visual explanation of how “half-life” works. It just might encourage you to cut back on your caffeine – so you can get a better night’s sleep.

2. The bedroom isn’t completely dark

When darkness falls, the pineal gland in the brain starts producing the hormone melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy - and helps to keep us asleep. So, sleeping in a completely dark environment is critical. That's why melatonin is called the "Dracula Hormone" - because it only comes out in the dark. 

And, I mean completely dark. Light from outside, from the hall or bathroom to prevent this release. The blue lights emitted from phones, ereaders, and laptops also interrupt this normal production (you might try to avoid these for the hour before bedtime). That's because light can even pass through your closed eyelids. Use a night light in the bathroom instead of turning on the bright lights. Dim that digital clock - or use one with a red light (rather than blue). And, think about replacing the white night light bulb with an orange or red light one.

If you can't make the room completely dark, get some black out shades or an eye mask.

3. You keep checking your phone throughout the night

It may seem insignificant to glance at your phone during the night, but the blue lights from electronic devices (even when you've adjusted the brightness) will prevent, delay, or diminish our melatonin production.

4. You ate too much too close to bedtime

Heavy meals cause stomach distress and pressure, potentially leading to heart burn. It's a good idea to stop eating dinner three hours before bedtime to give your stomach time to digest the meal.

If that's impossible, try eating larger breakfast and lunches - and downsizing your evening meal. Or shifting to eating six smaller meals a day, rather than two or three meals. 

5. You don’t have a bedtime routine

Often we shut everything down, turn out the light, and expect to immediately fall asleep. A hard stop doesn't work to shut down our brain and relax. Take a lesson from how we get little kids to sleep.

Parents have found that having a bedtime routine for children (for example, changing into pjs, turning down the lights, reading a book, etc) can help them get to sleep easier. 

Maybe you need a bedtime routine to wind you down? Dim the house lights two hours before bedtime. Then shut down the work computer and phone an hour before.

Finally, 30-60 minutes before your intended bedtime turn off the screens and start your bedtime routine. This might include washing up, slipping into your pj's, reading a book (paper, not electronic), stretching, journaling, or prayer.

Some people are successful listening to a relaxation or mediation app to relax.My bedtime routine includes stretching and a game of Sudoku in bed. 

6. You napped too late

While a short (10-20 minute) nap can refresh us mid-day, it’s best not to take a longer nap – or a nap too late in the day (such as after 4pm). Otherwise, it can affect our nighttime sleep - making it harder to fall asleep. 

7. You didn’t get enough bright light during the day

Perhaps you think that humans have adjusted to the 24-hour day by sleeping at night and staying awake during the day. But, that's not how it works.

Within every cell of the human body is a clock that keeps us close to the 24-hour cycle of the sun. Close, but not exact.

On average our internal clock is about 12 minutes longer than the clock on the wall. For example, if we’re tired at 11pm on day one, we don’t get tired until 11:12 on day two and 11:24 on day three. Exposing ourselves to 30 minutes of bright light can help us to reset the body back to a 24-hour day. So take a walk midday or use a bright reading light during the morning hours.

8. You share your bed with your pets, kids, or snoring bed partners

Have you ever started to drift off to sleep only to have even the slightest noise or movement wake you up again? Interrupted sleep will make you feel worse the next day, than even a short night’s sleep.

That's because we sleep in 90-minute chunks of time called sleep cycles. During each 90-minute sleep cycle our body goes from light sleep to deep sleep, and back to light sleep. Deep sleep helps our body recover and repair - important to recover from illness and keep us healthy. Any interruption, even if it doesn’t fully awaken us, will knock us out of this deep sleep and make us repeat the cycle all over again.

If you have a snoring bed partner, get them help. Consider getting your pets and kids out of the bedroom. If you have issues with noise (road noise or even a loud heater or air conditioner), it may help to use a sound soother (I use an air purifier) as a white noise if intermittent noise awakens you.

9. It's something in the medicine cabinet, alcohol, or nicotine

Talk with your physician and pharmacist about your medications. Certain meds (like decongestants) can prevent you from getting a restful night’s sleep.

And, while alcohol may help you to relax and feel sleepy, it prevents long-lasting rejuvenating deep sleep – even as little as a quarter of an alcoholic beverage. Nicotine, too, can interrupt our sleep cycles.

10. It's your (uncontrolled) stress 

Does stress keep you from falling asleep - or staying asleep? Keep a notebook by your bedside. Then, before turning out the lights, write down anything you have to remember for tomorrow.

And, rein in repetitive thoughts like, “I’ll never get back to sleep, I’m going to be so tired tomorrow…” which will only make things worse! They cause a release of adrenaline which causes alertness. Just understanding how this fight-or-flight response works is a start, but a psychologist or counselor may be needed if this is a major issue.

BTW People who exercise on a regular basis are more likely to report they got a good night’s sleep. So there you go. Ten reasons why you can't fall asleep or stay asleep. I hope one or more of these changes will help you get more restful sleep. Night, night. Sweet dreams. 

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