Do you remember being sleepless as a child? No neither can I. Newborns sleep from 16-20 hours a day and by the time we’re four that decreases to 12 hours a day. From that point on, our sleep continues to decrease as we age. However it’s not true once we reach middle age we no longer need 8 hours a night.
Eight or more hours of sleep is optimal for our health and wellbeing. It’s well documented a lack of sleep can cause a cascade effect of health problems from diabetes, irritable mood, heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain and lack of sex drive. Impaired judgement when driving or working and falling asleep at the wheel are also side effects of sleeplessness.
If that’s not an incentive to grab shuteye, how about this. REM sleep helps with brain development, a critical step when you’re actively growing but still vitally important as we age.
Why 8 hours or More of Sleep Will Keep You Healthier:
– boosts your immunity and your ability to fight infections, cold and bugs
– you’ll be less likely to gain weight
– experience less anxiety and depression
– avoid type 2 diabetes
– improves libido and sex drive
– helps ward off heart disease due to high blood pressure
We know how important sleep is to our health; finding the root cause for our insomnia is the next step.
The Reasons You’re Sleepless:
- Snoring – If you snore, you’re likely suffering from respiratory obstruction and lack of oxygen. This alone can wake you. If your partner snores loudly, the noise is likely waking you up throughout the night.
- Sleep apnea – sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder related to snoring. With sleep apnea, your breathing is characterized by abnormal pauses or shallow breathing. As your body is deprived of oxygen it wakes you up throughout the night.
- Arthritis – The pain and discomfort of arthritis can make it difficult to go to sleep and stay asleep.
- GERD – Irritation from the heartburn of gastroesophageal reflux disease can worsen when we lay flat in bed, disturbing our sleep.
- Restless Leg Syndrome – RLS causes the uncontrollable jerking of your legs or limbs at night, causing highly fragmented sleep.
- Hormones – Once hormone levels decline as we age, sleep is disrupted. When progesterone production is lost, so is it’s natural calming effect. Lower levels of estrogen cause moderate to severe hot flashes making sleep patchy at best. Higher levels of cortisol (the flight or fight one) will keep you buzzing late at night. Low melatonin – the sleep hormone – is another culprit.
- Prescription Drugs – Sleep medications may cause rebound insomnia. Some prescription drugs also contribute to sleeplessness; steroids, Prozac, Zoloft, decongestants, beta blockers, anti convulsants, diuretics and amphetamines.
- Noise – Loud noises can wake us, from our partner snoring to loud traffic or the neighbors coming in late at night.
- Light – Street lights, car headlights and even a bright full moon can make you sleepless.
- Bed – A bed that is sagging or too firm can impact our sleep causing restlessness and tossing and turning.
- Temperature – A bedroom that’s too hot or too cold will interfere with our body temperature’s need to fall when at rest. Ideally your bedroom should be between 60-67 degrees F (15-19 C)
- Napping – Napping too long or too late will interfere with the bodies awake-rest cycle.
- Sleep-Wake homeostat – As we age, the window on our internal clock narrows between awake and sleep cycles meaning we awake earlier and have trouble falling asleep in the evening.
- Technology – Using tablets, phones or laptops in bed or close to bedtime can disrupt our melatonin production due to the blue light waves emitted. Stimulation from reading or watching news, movies or TV on a screen can also keep us awake.
- Eating drinking – Eating too late can cause indigestion and hamper solid sleep. Drinking too many fluids can cause you to get up often. Alcohol may put you to sleep, but the resulting sleep quality is poor.
- Going to bed too early – Hitting the sack before you’re tired can backfire. Unless you’re naturally tired you won’t be able to wind down and end up tossing and turning.
- Bedtime routine – Without a relaxing habitual bedtime routine, our body doesn’t get the cues it needs to wind down and get ready to sleep.
- Not getting enough daytime light – Sunshine gives us more than vitamin D, it also cues our brain to it’s natural circadian rhythm. Before artificial light was invented, we slept when it got dark and woke with the sun. Without exposure to early morning light, our rhythm is disrupted.
- Not getting enough daytime activity – Without some kind of exercise or activity during the day our bodies may not become naturally tired. To be effective any exercise should happen at least 3-4 hours before bedtime.
- Believing less than 8 hours is OK – Ex President Bill Clinton famously bragged about his 4-6 hour a night sleep habit. It’s not a badge of honor. Believing you can be healthy on less than 8 hours is false science. Bill Clinton did end up having heart surgery for cardiovascular disease. Sleep deprivation is a precursor to heart disease.
- Believing you’re an insomniac – If we describe ourselves as insomniacs we identify with a condition that has a negative connotation. We act as we believe. Identifying as suffering from insomnia sends the brain a message that we can’t sleep.
- Believing you can’t change habits – If we believe we can’t change the habits or conditions that contribute to our sleeplessness then we’ve set the bar low. Without improving our habits our chances of getting a good night’s sleep are limited.
- Feeling frustrated – It’s natural to be frustrated by many sleepless nights, and not sleeping through the night leaves us feeling out of control.
- Emotions and thoughts – Although physical causes are a root cause of sleeplessness, emotions and thoughts play a huge role in our ability to relax at night. Nighttime can bring nightmares, bad dreams and anxious thoughts about the future. Unwinding after a stressful day may trigger fears about being able to sleep through the night.
I had an aha moment the other day. I realized how important a good night’s sleep was to my mood. In fact it’s a game changer. I always knew getting sleep was important to how I felt but it wasn’t until I woke up feeling like I could conquer the world that I knew I had to make my sleep a priority.
Now we know the main causes of sleeplessness, what can you do about getting more sleep?