"I spend several days at a time without enough sleep. At first, normal activities become annoying. When you are too tired to eat, you really need some sleep. A few days later, things become strange. Loud noises become louder and more startling, familiar sounds become unfamiliar, and life reinvents itself as a surrealist dream."
People suffering from sleep loss may not realize just how many causes to their sleep troubles are out there.
External factors, personal choices, other people, medical conditions, and sleep disorders can all work independently or jointly to rob you of much needed sleep.
Here we compile a list of the most common sets of sleep disturbances that may be causing you to ask "why can't I sleep?"
Many people may not realize just how much of a role one's sleep environment plays into the amount and quality of sleep a person may be getting at night.
One of the first things a person should do that is experiencing sleep troubles is to assess the environment they sleep in to ensure that it promotes sleep rather than hinders it.
Things to look for:
People that use their rooms to watch TV, work at a computer, play, have family discussions, etc. are putting their sleep in jeopardy. If you are using your bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex, you're doing it wrong. When you do other activities in your sleep environment your brain begins to associate it with things other than sleep. For best practices, use your room for sleep and sex only. Pretty soon, your brain will associate your room with only these two activities, and you could find yourself getting tired as soon as you enter the room.
Using portable devices such as phones, tablets, gaming devices, etc. can also impact your sleep. The light emitting from these devices mimics natural light. Natural light can trick your circadian rhythm into believing it is still daylight outside and slow the release of melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep.
Aside from the light emanating from your electronic devices, natural light plays a very large role in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Making sure to get exposed to daylight in the morning can help you wake up easier, and reducing your exposure to natural light in the evening can aid in getting to sleep easier.
Light can play an especially important role if you live in an area such as Alaska that has constant daylight at night, or if you work a job that requires you to work at night and sleep during the day.
Use dark curtains to block out natural light, keep lamps and night-lights off while you sleep, and turn your phone upside down so if it lights up at any time of the night, it doesn't disrupt your sleep.
Your bedroom should be slightly cooler than the rest of your home. If you have the ability to control the temperature of individual rooms you should keep yours between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
When you sleep, your body temperature naturally begins to dip. Having a cool room helps facilitate this process, and having a room that is too hot can prevent it.
Sounds can prevent us from going to sleep easily, interrupt our sleep in the middle of the night, or cause us to wake earlier than desired.
It's not actually the noise itself that disrupts sleep, but the inconsistency of sounds that can prevent a restorative night of sleep.
Many sounds heard in your bedroom may be beyond your control: street noise, car alarms, loud neighbors, etc.
When trying to control for external noises beyond your control use a sound machine or fan to create "white noise" to drown disruptive sounds out.
Oftentimes, poor sleep duration and quality can come about due to choices people make during the day and at night. Many of these people have ample opportunity to sleep, and are tired enough to sleep, but instead make choices that prevents them from getting the rest they need.
Simple things such as staying up late to finish a movie instead of going to bed when tired is a common behavioral reason.
Not getting enough exercise during the day to help wear the body out can prevent one from sleeping. And on the other hand, exercising too close to bedtime can also disrupt sleep as it raises the body temperature.
Some people may not be practicing relaxation techniques before bedtime and instead engage in stimulating, or even stressful, activities too close to bedtime.
What You're Consuming
What you eat can have a dramatic impact on how well you can sleep.
There are a lot of foods that can help promote sleep. Sleep promoting foods are usually those that either contain melatonin, or aid in the body's ability to convert seratonin into melatonin.
Foods such as tart cherries, bananas, dark leafy greens, jasmine rice, fortified cereals, turkey, and drinks like valerian tea and milk.
And while these foods can help give you a nudge in the right direction towards a good night's sleep, eating sleep promoting foods has less of an impact than avoiding sleep stealing foods.
If you really want to improve your sleep with a healthy diet, refraining from eating certain foods during the day can be much more helpful in ensuring a good night's sleep.
Foods and drinks that contain caffeine should be avoided after lunch time, and not consumed at all in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Spicy foods can cause heartburn that can cause enough discomfort to disrupt sleep or make initiating sleep more difficult.
Drinking alcohol before bedtime may help getting to sleep seem easier, but can cause fragmented sleep and poor sleep quality once the alcohol begins to metabolize.
Protein rich food consumed shortly before bed can make getting to sleep more troublesome as your body spends more time digesting your food than getting quality rest.
Foods high in fat can cause a build-up of stomach acids that can creep into your throat and burn the sensitive lining of the esophagus when you lie down.
Drinking too much water before bed can cause sleep disruption as it can cause you wake in the middle of the night for a bathroom break.
Things like stress, worry, fear, anxiety, and receiving bad news can cause sleep troubles. Often, the disruptions to sleep will dissipate once the emotional disturbance has been worked out.
However, some of these emotions can eventually develop into depression which can also wreak havoc on one's sleep.
Furthermore, excessive worry over sleep can cause depression, and depression can cause insomnia creating a vicious cycle where insomnia and depression feed off each other and exacerbate each other's symptoms.
Other People/Animals in bed
While many people's sleep troubles stem from their own behavior, poor choices, emotional state, and external influences, sometimes it's other people or even animals that are the cause.
People that share a bed with a restless sleeper, loud snorer, or someone with a sleep disorder often have their own sleep disturbed by the other person.
Parents of young children often find themselves sleep deprived from frequent nightly awakenings for feedings and changes.
Animals allowed in the bedroom can disrupt sleep from their movements, whining, barking, snoring, needing to be let out at night, or even pet dander if anyone in the house has pet allergies. If your pet may be causing your sleep troubles, it is best to keep them out of the room at night.
Underlying Medical Problems
There are many underlying medical problems that can cause sleep disturbances including:
Neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease
In many cases treating any underlying medical problem that is negatively affecting sleep can help the sufferer get the rest they've been needing.
However, if a medical condition has been treated and the individual is still having sleep troubles, it could be a sign of a sleep disorder.
There are over 80 sleep disorders listed in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (III) clinical text. Many of which cause a lack of getting quality sleep.
Some of the more common sleep disorders that make one feel as if they aren't getting enough sleep are:
If you believe that your sleep troubles may be caused by a sleep disorder, talk with your primary care physician about your symptoms and ask if a sleep study is right for you.
If you live in Alaska and would like a consultation with a board certified sleep specialist, contact The Alaska Sleep Clinic today to schedule a free 10-minute phone consultation with a sleep educator who can help you determine if an appointment should be scheduled.