Not sleeping well? You are not alone.
I remember having a conversation with a woman in her 50s who described how sleep hadn’t been the same since her 40s. I was younger at the time. I am now 53. I can totally relate. Gone are the nights when getting a good night’s sleep simply involved settling into bed, turning off the lights, and pulling up the covers. How interesting a few decades can have on something I totally took for granted.
What’s getting in the way of sleep?
When perimenopause sets in, sleep patterns begin to change. Hormones shift, producing less melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep. Over half of us will have issues with sleep by the time we reach menopause. And many women will suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.
Hormonal changes can also couple with a few other things to make sleep a very rare commodity.
Screen use before bedtime. More than 75 percent of adults own smartphones. As good as it is to embrace the current technology, many people go to bed with their phones and chat with their friends on social media until they fall asleep. However, doctors recommend not using smartphones, tablets, or laptops one hour before bedtime. This is because the light emitted by the screens of these devices can trick your brain into thinking that it should be waking up when it’s supposed to be winding down. The result is that your brain undergoes a process known as melatonin suppression, where it reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
Consumption of caffeine. Chocolate, tea, and coffee contain caffeine, which can interfere with your sleep cycle. Coffee, for instance, contains 95 -165 mg of caffeine per cup and black tea contains 25-48 mg of caffeine per cup. If you consume caffeine six hours before bedtime, you could find yourself reducing sleep time by more than one hour.
Alcohol. You may think that a few glasses of wine will make you fall asleep faster, but the consumption of alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle. After consuming alcohol, you may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and not sleeping thereafter. This is because alcohol increases the production of adenosine, a chemical that induces sleep and causes drowsiness. However, as soon as this effect wears off, the sleepiness will leave you immediately, making you wake up before a full night’s sleep.
Inconsistent bedtime. As you work hard to make ends meet, you could find yourself rotating shifts and working at night and resting during the day. This, in turn, makes it hard to adjust to a regular sleep schedule, which leads to insomnia and chronic sleep deprivation. Also, taking long naps could cause poor sleep at night. If you do take naps, 20-30 minutes is all you need.
Other reasons why you may not be getting enough sleep
- Hormonal changes
- Blood sugar levels
- Uncomfortable bed
- Exercising close to bedtime
- Keeping lights on
Common sleep disorders that could get in the way of sleep
Most people associate sleep disorders with a hectic schedule, stress, and outside influences. Depending on the type of sleep disorder you might be experiencing, you may have a difficult time sleeping and feel exhausted throughout the day. This can have a negative impact on your mood, concentration, energy, and overall health.
Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing during the sleep cycle. Interrupted breathing is caused by soft tissue collapsing and blocking the airway. This prevents the body from getting an adequate amount of oxygen while sleeping. Sleep apnea can result in less energy, decreased mental performance, and chronic health issues. A few signs of sleep apnea are snoring loudly, making choking sounds, or restless sleep.
Insomnia. Insomnia simply refers to a condition where you cannot stay asleep for a long time, or you experience difficulty in getting to sleep. Insomnia can be a result of anxiety, jet lag, stress, digestive problems, or hormones. It could also be a symptom of other health conditions. Insomnia can affect quality of life and overall health thereby being a potential cause of irritability, depression, difficulty concentrating, impaired work, and weight gain. Insomnia is common in the US and affects 50 percent of adults at some point in their lives. It is most prevalent among adults aged 30 years and above.
Parasomnia. Parasomnia is a very common sleep disorder that makes you move or behave abnormally while sleeping. It includes sleep talking, nightmares, sleepwalking, groaning, teeth grinding, and bedwetting.
Restless leg syndrome. Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is an uncontrollable desire or urge to move your legs when resting. You can also experience unpleasant tingling, burning, or aching, and you may even feel like something is crawling in your calves. These symptoms are common during the day when taking rest, and very prevalent at night too, and you could find yourself kicking or moving your limbs hundreds of time per night. RLS has been linked with various health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and ADHD.
Narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a central nervous system disorder where your brain fails to take control of sleep-wake cycles. You end up experiencing sleep attacks, and you can uncontrollably fall asleep during unusual circumstances like when eating. Narcolepsy could cause sleep paralysis which can make you unable to move correctly as you wake up. Narcolepsy occurs on its own, but health experts associate it with neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis.
Tips that will help you get better sleep during the night
Exercise regularly. Twenty to thirty minutes of daily exercise can help you sleep better at night. For the best night’s rest, exercise five to six hours before bedtime.
Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Caffeine keeps you alert and acts as a stimulant to keep you awake. Sources of caffeine include soft drinks, diet drugs, coffee, some pain relievers, and chocolate. Smoking should also be avoided six hours before bedtime as you could find yourself waking up in the middle of the night as a result of nicotine withdrawal. If you want to get enough sleep, cut your consumption of coffee early in the afternoon as this will help you avoid the disruptive effects of the stimulants on good sleep.
Practice relaxing bedtime rituals. After a busy or stressful day, you might find yourself still wound up at night. Reading, listening to your favorite music, or taking a warm bath can help you relax and make falling asleep easier.
Don’t lie in bed awake. Ever get in bed expecting to sleep but find yourself wide awake? To fall asleep easier, avoid lying in bed awake. Get up and listen to your favorite music or read until you feel tired or sleepy. Staying awake in bed can increase anxiety and make it harder to fall asleep. An important step when treating insomnia with my clients is encouraging them to get out of bed when they are having difficulty falling back to sleep. Tossing and turning because you can’t fall back to sleep in the middle of the night is only going to heighten your anxiety and stress. It’s okay to get out of bed for 15 to 30 minutes and then try again. What’s important is to find the best activity when getting out of bed that can encourage the relaxing and calming environment you need to help you fall back to sleep. Checking your emails, surfing the internet, or watching TV can be replaced by simply coloring. It’s best to set up your coloring station before you go to bed so that everything is prepared and waiting for you if you need it throughout the night.
Control the temperature and environment of your bedroom. Make your bedroom a perfect sleeping place by controlling its environment and temperature. Extreme temperatures (too hot or cold) can prevent you from falling asleep. Also, make your bedroom dark and quiet for a peaceful sleep.
Take a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is a sleep hormone that tells your brain that it is time to go to sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, taking a melatonin supplement may enhance sleep quality and help you fall asleep faster.
Dig into a coloring book. If you are struggling to fall asleep at night because your mind won’t slow down, coloring during your bedtime routine is perfectly calming and a great way to practice mindfulness, which can aid in helping you fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. Replace your tablet and remote control with your coloring book on your night table and incorporate this relaxing hobby into your bedtime routine.
Try using a sleep app. Okay, so, yes, we did recommend staying away from your smartphone and tablets, but there are a few apps that help you sleep. The key is to keep the phone away from your bed once the app starts running. Here are a few apps we like:
Calm will soothe your mind right before bed. The sessions are longer, and you can set up programs over time to ease you into zen. The app offers ambient sounds of nature and turns your phone into a giant portrait of a scenic landscape.
The creation of the clinical hypnotherapist and bestselling self-help author Glenn Harrold. This app is the go-to place to destress and overcome anxiety while instilling healthy sleep habits.
The app includes four free stress-busting hypnotherapy and meditation recordings. A further 80 of Harrold’s highly acclaimed recordings can be purchased in-app, which cover topics including insomnia, anxiety, weight loss, mindfulness, confidence, and self-esteem, to name a few.
Each hypnosis track includes background sound effects that have been selected specifically for their key and frequency to guide you into a deep level of relaxation. Harrold’s calming voice combined with the subtle soundscapes will soothe you into a dreamy and quiet state.
Sleeping problems are nothing to take lightly. A night of high-quality sleep is essential for good physical and mental health. If you find yourself unable to sleep, consulting with a healthcare provider can be the first step toward a good night’s rest.