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We’ve all experienced those restless nights when good sleep quality seems to evade us no matter how hard we try. Tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling, and counting sheep become futile exercises as our minds race and our bodies resist the blissful embrace of slumber.

While the usual suspects of stress, caffeine, and an uncomfortable sleeping environment often come to mind as the culprits behind our sleepless nights, there’s a whole array of surprising factors that can disrupt our precious sleep cycles. Here we delve into 15 unexpected causes that might be stealing away your sleep. From the surprising effects of technology to lesser-known health conditions and lifestyle choices, we’ll explore the fascinating and often counterintuitive reasons behind the age-old question: “Why can’t I sleep?” So, grab a cup of chamomile tea, get cozy, and prepare to uncover the secrets that might be keeping you awake when you least expect it.

Why is good sleep quality important?

Poor sleep can have a profound impact on our overall health and well-being. Beyond the grogginess and fatigue that we experience after a restless night, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a range bof negative health consequences. Studies have shown that insufficient sleep is associated with an increased risk of developing conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even certain types of cancer.

A lack of quality sleep can also impair cognitive function, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation, making it more challenging to focus, learn, and make sound decisions. And if all that wasn’t important enough, inadequate sleep also weakens the immune system, leaving us more susceptible to infections and impairing our body’s ability to heal and recover. From physical to mental health, the consequences of poor sleep are far-reaching, underscoring the importance of prioritising and nurturing our sleep habits for optimal well-being.

What are some causes of poor sleep quality?

A normal sleep cycle consists of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and 4 non-REM (NREM) sleep stages many times a night. NREM Stage 1 is the lightest while NREM Stage 4 is the deepest. We don’t get these stages and sleep cycles when our sleep is repeatedly interrupted. This makes us feel tired and sleepy or makes it difficult to concentrate and focus while we’re awake. Here are some reasons why you might have trouble falling asleep.

Insomnia Caused By Blue-Light:

Time and again, you must have heard not to use phones and tablets an hour or so before going to bed. Our devices emit a blue light that suppresses a sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin. 

According to Karl Doghramji, M.D., director of the Jefferson Sleep Disorders Center in Philadelphia, glaring at any screen even three to four hours earlier than our bedtime is enough to delay melatonin production. He recommends investing in a pair of anti-blue ray glasses available online and in stores. With their help, one will not have problems winding down with the usage of devices before bedtime. 

Caffeine Induced Insomnia:

Intuitively, drinking coffee as your afternoon pickup will interfere with your sleep later. 

“People often have no idea that they’re consuming caffeine in other forms, like iced tea or chocolate,” says Beth Ann Malow, M.D. 

Each one of us metabolises caffeine at a different rate. Therefore it’s recommended to cut off caffeine by about 3PM to fall asleep easier. 

Insomnia Due To Napping:

Most adults do not nap voluntarily. Rather they fall asleep when not busy, reading or watching TV. Either way, our brains process it as sleep. The most common time people feel like taking a nap is around 2 or 3 in the afternoon as our energy levels dip.

Taking a nap around that time might prevent us from sleeping at night and trigger insomnia. This is because we might not feel tired then and spend hours staring at the ceiling or our phones.  If your energy levels take a dip during the afternoon, try doing something active. It will help you feel refreshed and get better sleep — making it a double bang for your buck. 

Anxiety Insomnia:

There are times where we may find our mind spinning with worry while we try to sleep at night. This is known as “anxiety insomnia.” 

In this case, your goal shouldn’t be to stop worrying by staring at your phone or jotting down your thoughts. Rather it should be to find the root cause of your worries. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) can help you deal with anxiety insomnia.

A therapist or sleep specialist trained in CBT-I or applications is your best bet. We recommend using them throughout the day to get a good night’s rest and not just at 3AM.  If you feel you don’t need to use these applications at night, make sure to put your phone away, so the light doesn’t interfere with your sleep.

Insomnia Induced By Alcohol:

Yep, enjoying a glass of your favorite vino can make it easier to fall asleep. However, research shows that drinking alcohol also causes a rebound effect that causes lighter and more fragmented sleep.  It can also decrease sleep quality making you feel less refreshed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding drinking three to four hours before bedtime.

Free Wheeling Insomnia:

Having irregular sleep patterns, with a sense of restlessness and lack of structure can lead to trouble sleeping. That’s why maintaining healthy sleep habits, like going to sleep roughly the same time every night, is recommended to beat chronic insomnia. 

Bed Confusion Insomnia:

Reading before sleeping sounds like quite a relaxing activity. But we recommend that you take your book to your chair. Calm activities such as puzzles or an adult coloring book cause our brain to associate the bed with activities one pursues while awake. It affects your ability to drift off at night.

Menopausal Insomnia:

Declining estrogen can lead to many sleep problems, including hot flashes in the middle of the night. The latest research indicates that about a quarter of women with menopause have severe sleep issues.  Try drinking more water during the daytime and stay as cool as possible to avoid heat flashes during the night.

Insomnia Caused By Medicines:

Did you know that our sleep can also be disturbed by the poor timing of our medications? For example, blood pressure medicines or diuretics can make one pee a lot, thus disturbing sleep. 

More than two bathroom breaks while sleeping is abnormal. Other medications such as SSRIs or antidepressants can either be sedating or energising, depending on the type you are on. Make sure to ask your doctor the best time to take your medications to not interfere with your sleep.

Medical Insomnia:

“Insomnia is both a symptom and a disease,” says Nathaniel Watson, M.D, advisory board member of SleepScore Labs. If improving your sleep hygiene by sticking to a sleep schedule and avoiding afternoon caffeine hasn’t worked, your chronic insomnia could be a disease or symptom.

Nightmares:

Nightmares refer to terrifying dreams that may arise during REM sleep. These can either be caused by anxiety, stress, or some drugs. 

Circadian Rhythm Disorder:

It is typical for people to sleep at night. Thanks to regular 9 to 5s and our “internal clock,” the interaction between our natural sleep and alertness rhythms. 

This clock, also called circadian rhythm, refers to a small part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. It is situated just above the nerves at the back of our eyes. Light and exercise can reset the clock.  Sleep disorders related to this “clock” are known as circadian rhythm disorders. These include jet lag, adjustments to shift work, delayed sleep phase syndrome, advanced sleep phase syndrome.

Sleep Apnea:

Sleep Apnea refers to the complete or partial blockage that occurs while sleeping, making you wake up. It causes excessive daytime sleepiness. Severe sleep apnea, if left untreated, may be associated with high blood pressure, thus increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Narcolepsy:

Excessive daytime sleepiness may be due to a brain disorder called narcolepsy. Narcolepsy has a genetic component, but most patients have no family history. Dramatic and uncontrollable “sleep attacks” are distinctive features of narcolepsy. But most patients don’t have recurring sleep attacks. Rather they experience constant daytime sleepiness.

Restless Legs Syndrome:

There are many reasons why someone suffers from restless legs syndrome. These include kidney failure, vitamin and iron deficiencies, nerve disorders, pregnancy, and medications such as antidepressants. Recent studies show a strong genetic link. Scientists have isolated a gene responsible for at least 40% of all cases.  Restless leg syndrome also causes poor quality sleep as the body and mind cannot relax in the long run.

The Takeaway:

Although sleep disorders are not deadly, they can severely affect your quality of life. Poor quality sleep can disrupt not only your thinking but also your school/work performance, mental health, weight, and general health too. You can use a sleep tracking device, like a Bellabeat wellness tracker, to see first hand the effect your sleep quality is having on how you feel.

Understanding the myriad causes of sleep disturbances and taking steps to address them is crucial for achieving restful nights and overall well-being. So remember to create a peaceful sleep environment, establish a consistent bedtime routine, and prioritise self-care practices that promote relaxation.

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