According to research—and personal experience—sleep can be a cure for many ills. A good night’s sleep can lift your mood and energy levels, improve memory retention, reduce stress, prevent inflammation and is good for your cardiovascular health. Getting in enough pillow time can also shrink those pesky eye bags and make those dark circles go away, and can support you in your weight-loss goals.
The average person should be getting between seven and eight solid, uninterrupted hours of sleep at night. But if you are someone who frequently has trouble falling asleep, knowing the detrimental effects of the lack of sleep on your health may only add to your stress, which can, in turn, exacerbate your sleep issues even further!
If counting sheep or focusing on your breathing aren’t cutting it, there are some other useful suggestions to help get you ready for some zzz’s; winding down at the end of the day with a hot bath and a good book are ways to help you relax before bed. Diffusing a soothing scent and sleeping on clean, fresh sheets are other practical ways to help prepare you for bedtime.
It is, however, just as important for you to know that there are other factors that may actually be keeping you awake at night; that way, you can take proactive steps to avoid them. Here are six things that may be keeping you up during the night.
Stimulants Such as Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine is a stimulant, which can make it harder for you to fall asleep; and when you do eventually fall asleep, it can mean less time in deep sleep. A study on sleep and caffeine found that taking caffeine six hours before your bedtime can cause you to lose as much as an hour of total sleep time (and potentially longer the older you are because the body takes longer to process the caffeine). So as much as you may be tempted to have a cappuccino as a nightcap, cross it firmly off your list and consider having a glass of warm milk instead.
The same goes for alcohol, another stimulant you need to be careful of. While many people have the impression that alcohol relaxes you and helps you fall asleep, the fact is consuming too much of it can interfere with your sleep, so you may find yourself waking up in the middle of the night.
When you have a lot of alcohol near bedtime (which is when most of us do), that can cause you to skip the initial stages of sleep and go straight into a deep sleep. The body will shift to REM (lighter) sleep as the alcohol leaves your system and that is when you may find yourself stirring. Imbibing in too much alcohol can also reduce the number of REM cycles during the night, which will leave you waking up feeling fatigued.
Late Night Binges
Eating when it is close to bedtime is one guaranteed way to have your sleep patterns disrupted. Even more so if you are choosing to binge on things that are spicy or high in fat; consuming these foods can cause uncomfortable heartburn and make it very challenging to even fall asleep. (Spicy food also raises your body temperature, another factor of poor sleep).
Other foods to avoid are preserved meats such as bacon and pepperoni, as well as nuts, cheeses and sauerkraut; these contain tyramine, which is an amino acid that causes the body to release norepinephrine. Indulge in any of those as a late-night snack and you’ll be feeling alert and awake at the worst possible time.
Stare at a Screen
Banish the television from your bedroom if you are serious about getting good quality sleep. These days, scrolling through your Facebook and Instagram feeds or watching your favourite programme on Netflix are popular ways to unwind after a long day.
But often, the programmes you watch may stimulate you and keep you awake; plus, the blue light emitting from these screens can affect melatonin production and interrupt your circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall—and stay—asleep. So make the effort to unplug and tune out about an hour before you hit the sack. It will allow your body and mind to unwind and rest. Your rejuvenated future self will thank you!
Hold Off on the H2O
We never thought we would say this, but yes, don’t drink too much water—before bedtime. (You should be getting your daily requirement earlier on in the day.) Drinking too much water just before sleep is only going to mean middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom, which simply means disrupted, unrestful snooze time. Stop drinking a couple of hours before you go to bed (sips of water are okay) and use the toilet just beforehand.
Your Room Is Too Warm
Research shows unequivocally that people tend to sleep better and easier in a colder room than in a warm one. Apparently, the experts recommend keeping the temperature in your bedroom at a consistent 25-degree Celsius for sleeping at night. So the next time you find yourself tossing and turning in bed, think about whether it’s because you are feeling warm. If the answer is yes, you may want to switch on the air-conditioning for a better night’s sleep.