Over the past few years, many of us have struggled with sleep due to stress and other challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study published in Sleep Medicine in November 2021, where 22,330 adults from 13 countries were surveyed, one in three participants had symptoms of clinical insomnia and nearly 20 percent had an insomnia disorder. These figures are more than double the pre-pandemic figures.
While the increased dependence on gadgets after the pandemic has been seen to affect sleep patterns, psychological disorders like anxiety and depression also contribute to sleep problems. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. A good night’s sleep is essential to our mental well-being as it recharges and resets our brains for optimal functioning. The inability to sleep is a cause for concern because lack of sleep affects our cognitive and emotional abilities. Experts say that without proper sleep a person becomes tired, easily irritable, aggressive or unable to concentrate which affects their productivity and efficiency. If sleep related problems persist for several days and are not resolved soon, it can lead to sleep disorders and can affect one’s mental health.
Below are the most common reasons for not being able to sleep at night:
overuse of gadgets
The increased dependence on gadgets for entertainment or relaxation after the pandemic could be one of the culprits behind disturbed sleep. Talking on the phone while sleeping can disturb your sleep. The blue light emitted from the phone disrupts the release of the sleep hormone ‘melatonin’. Melatonin is produced about 2 hours before sleep, and the brain associates the blue light emitted from screens with the time of day, affecting the effects of the sleep hormone.
low priority to sleep
Have you ever compromised on your sleep because you had to juggle work, chores, socializing and other tasks on your plate? Sleep is often not given priority by many and is taken for granted especially by the youth. An irregular sleeping schedule or waking up late can affect a good night’s sleep. In the long run, it can also seriously affect day-to-day activities at work or college among others. A regular sleep schedule is highly beneficial as it enables optimal functioning and reduces stress.
age related issues
Senior citizens may face trouble sleeping due to age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Other causes may include pain due to chronic diseases, insomnia or the need to urinate frequently. Some also find that sleeping becomes more difficult as they age. Many people stay awake throughout the night or wake up early in the morning because less time is spent in deep sleep. Due to frequent sleep disruptions, older people may feel tired or sleep-deprived, even though their total sleep time remains unchanged. Drinking warm milk before bed or avoiding caffeine and not napping during the day can improve sleep in the elderly.
caffeine and alcohol
Increasing your intake of caffeine or alcohol before bedtime is not recommended. It is recommended not to consume caffeine six hours before bedtime as it can affect the duration and efficiency of sleep. Consumption of alcohol can also lead to poor sleep as excessive consumption does not induce deep sleep which leaves a person feeling refreshed in the morning. Consuming alcohol before bedtime also affects sleep by causing dehydration.
mental health problems or stress
Individuals suffering from mental health issues such as depression or anxiety may have difficulty sleeping. They may sleep too little or sleep too much. Anxiety and sleep are also closely related. While anxiety can interfere with sleep, worrying about not getting enough sleep can also make a person anxious.
Many life events such as relationship or health problems, family conflicts or work pressure can cause stress and make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. In response to stress, chemicals are released that increase heart rate and alertness as the body reacts to danger, which also makes it difficult to fall asleep.
Sleep disorders such as insomnia, parasomnias or sleep apnea can seriously contribute to one’s sleep problems. Due to insomnia it becomes difficult to sleep for the required amount of time or the person wakes up very early. Insomnia can also be a symptom of mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. People with parasomnias experience sleep disturbances due to movements and behaviors such as sleep walking, sleep talking, sleep terrors, and sleep paralysis. Sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed. People with sleep apnea often have trouble breathing because it stops and restarts many times during sleep.
Since the effects of chemicals vary from person to person, some medications for diseases such as asthma, heart problems, mental disorders, thyroid conditions, or cancer can interfere with sleep. Heart medications such as beta blockers for high blood pressure or angina can cause insomnia. Over-the-counter medicines and even pain relievers for a cold or headache also interfere with sleep and make a person feel tired during the day. While antihistamines can cause drowsiness, decongestants can cause insomnia.
A heavy workout within an hour of bedtime will make it difficult for a person to fall asleep. Exercise elevates the heart rate and stimulates the nervous system, making it difficult for the body to relax. High-intensity workouts too close to bedtime slow down the relaxation process even more. A 1997 study found that exercising in the evening delayed melatonin production for 24 hours afterward, affecting sleep the next day.
poor sleep environment
Noise or light in the bedroom can make it difficult to relax or have an uninterrupted sleep. Street lights, night lights or even a cluttered room can translate into sleep problems. The light in the room at bedtime can disturb the internal clock and make one unable to sleep.
unusual work schedule
Working unusual hours, such as the cemetery shift or the morning shift, can affect one’s circadian rhythm. Sleeping during odd hours may not be very refreshing. Sleeping counter-clockwise, as one tends to sleep during the time of day when the body expects to be awake, makes it difficult to get proper shut-eye. Frequent or random rotations in shift timing make regular sleep patterns impossible. According to studies, proper shift rotation helps employees to be more productive and efficient.
eating protein close to bedtime
Eating a meal like meat before bed doesn’t lead to good sleep because it takes more time and more energy to digest protein. During sleep, the digestive process of the body slows down by 50 percent. Carbohydrates are recommended for good sleep as it helps in the release of serotonin, which is known to aid sleep.
practice proper sleep hygiene
Keeping the phone or gadgets away helps a person to relax and fall asleep faster. Keep the phone outside your room – out of sight, out of mind. Replace your phone with an alarm clock if you need to. Slip into a comfortable set of clothes to relax in. Make sure the room temperature is comfortable and there is not too much light.
Read something that is not very interesting or stimulating as this will help the body to relax and feel drowsy. If you can’t sleep, try counting backwards. If someone is struggling with issues such as depression, anxiety, or other sleep disorders, it is important to see a mental health professional.