Trouble falling asleep can leave you feeling exhausted—and you’re not alone! Many people struggle with falling and staying asleep. According to a recent study, one in three adults in the United States suffer from some form of insomnia.
Now, are you wondering what is insomnia? Insomnia is a sleep disorder where you have trouble falling and/or staying asleep. Insomnia can be acute or chronic and affect people of all ages.
While insomnia can sound scary and a solid night of sleep may seem like a distant dream, there are a few simple things that you can do to help get the sleep you need. But before we talk about how you can improve your sleep, let’s figure out why you’re struggling to fall asleep.
Why Can’t I Sleep?
First, let’s dive into what could be causing your sleep problems.
If you wake up before your alarm clock or are struggling to fall asleep at night, it could be your biological clock at work.
Are you a night owl or an early bird? Early risers are awake when the birds start chirping while night owls can’t fall asleep till after midnight and love to sleep in. But why is this? Is it something we can control? Figuring out which category you fall into can have greater implications on whether or not you’re having trouble sleeping.
A study conducted by an NIH-funded team reveals that extreme early birds have a molecular “switch” encoded into their biological clocks, which causes them to not work on a full 24-hour circadian cycle. Our biological clocks affect our sleeping and waking cycles, temperatures, fluid retention, cardiac rate, oxygen levels, and endocrine glands, which release hormones directly into your bloodstream. Early birds instead live on a 20-hour daily cycle, which means four hours are missing from their days. The proteins in our body and how slowly or quickly they are broken down explains if you fall into the early bird or night owl category.
So, if you’re struggling with sleep disorders such as insomnia, jet lag from traveling, or if you have difficulty falling asleep after working a night shift, your biological clock could be responsible.
Have frustrating restless nights become your new normal? Did you know it could be thanks to sleep anxiety?
You’re not alone—the National Institutes of Health state that anywhere from 50 to 70 million Americans struggle with a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders can affect every aspect of your life from your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. If you go to bed feeling worried or nervous, overthinking, or replaying your daily to-do list in your head, anxiety could be the cause of your sleep troubles, which represents how the two work together.
However, determining if sleep disorders cause anxiety or vice versa is like trying to figure out whether the chicken or the egg came first. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that anxiety corresponds to sleep troubles, and new research draws light on the idea that suffering from little to no sleep can lead to developing an anxiety disorder, meaning the two disorders play off of each other.
If you have sleep apnea, you likely wake up briefly but frequently throughout the night and often times report having insomnia. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes your airway to become partially or even completely obstructed while you’re asleep. When your airway is blocked, your breathing will pause, causing your oxygen levels to decrease.
Without proper treatment, like CPAP therapy, you may wake up feeling tired or groggy and feel drained throughout the day even if you got your recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. If you think you may have sleep apnea, it’s critical you reach out to your doctor and ask about a sleep study.
5 Tips to Improve Your Sleep Quality
Improving your sleep quality isn’t just a dream. Here are a few things you can do to help get a better night of rest.
1. Evaluate Your Sleep Environment
Let’s look at an overview of your sleep situation.
- Is your bedroom temperature too hot or too cold? If so, that can work against your best rest. We recommend keeping the temperature between 60 and 67 degrees for adults.
- Do you have outside noises that are creeping into your sleep oasis? Two words: sound machine. Check out this list of white noise apps you can download tonight!
- Is there excess light seeping into your room at night? Light can prevent your natural melatonin hormone from kicking in. Try a sleep mask to increase melatonin, facilitate darkness, and help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
2. Try a Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets have been known to help with insomnia and anxiety by stimulating the release of dopamine and serotonin, which in turn, helps you relax. Very simply, weighted blankets utilize the benefits of weight—in the form of deep touch pressure—to help you relax your nervous system, enabling a deeper sleep for longer periods of time.
3. Destress Before Bed
Before checking in for the night, try meditating to calm your mind and keep it from racing the second you place your head on your pillow. Meditation can help you fight insomnia, release daytime stresses, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your stress hormone.
Another dreamy way to destress? Yoga. Harvard Health Publishing revealed that 55% of those who participated in yoga were able to sleep better with 85% stating their stress was reduced. Simply practicing yoga for around 30-minutes before bedtime can relieve tension and help you destress before falling asleep.
4. Lifestyle Changes
Sometimes the best way to get a better night of sleep is to look at simple things you can alter within your daily routine.
- Limit your caffeine intake. Consuming excess caffeine will decrease your REM cycle quality, which is the time during sleep when your body takes in your emotions and experiences from throughout the day. When your REM cycle is disrupted, you will wake up feeling emotionally drained.
- Go for a walk. Exercising during the day can help you fall asleep faster while also allowing you to access a deep sleep.
- Put down the phone. Say goodbye to the blue lights at least 30 minutes before unwinding because light triggers cortisol and suppresses melatonin, which is required to get deep sleep.
- Take in a little sun. Getting sunlight in the morning increases your serotonin production, which affects your mood as well as your sleep— but, did you know that serotonin is the usher for melatonin? If you increase your sunlight exposure in the morning, about 12-hours later, your serotonin levels will be shifted to melatonin, helping you to catch some zzz’s when you turn out the lights.
5. Talk to Your Doctor
Find a doctor that is an advocate for you. If you think you are struggling with sleep anxiety or sleep apnea—discuss possible solutions with your doctor to start getting to sleep quicker and staying asleep longer.
Without enough quality sleep, your entire day can be thrown for a loop from your attention span to your learning and memory abilities to how you feel physically. Not to mention sleep deprivation from disorders such as insomnia, sleep anxiety, and sleep apnea can also affect your psychological state. To improve your sleep quality, try to incorporate some lifestyle changes to not only achieve the sleep you deserve but also the sleep you need.