According to medical experts, adults should sleep at least 7 hours per night. If you’re not hitting the hay for this minimum or logging quality hours, you could suffer serious health complications. Despite your best efforts, you may struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep all night. Several factors could be at play. Some of these don’t seem related to sleep but might just be sabotaging your snoozing.
Why Is Sleep Important?
The most obvious reason to prioritize sleep is that it’s restorative and restful. It becomes difficult to stay alert, awake, and productive when you’re not getting enough sleep at night. The benefits and risks go well beyond just feeling awake:
- Adequate sleep keeps the brain healthy and improves learning and memory.
- Poor sleep can leave you unable to function normally, which can lead to accidents.
- Sleep keeps you physically healthy. Deficits increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity.
- Sleep deficiency increases the risk of depression, suicide, and risky behaviors.
Consider these common unexpected issues that may be keeping you from getting restful, restorative sleep:
- Exercise Routine
If you look up tips for improving sleep or combatting insomnia, exercise is likely on the list. Regular exercise promotes good sleep. You should aim to get some activity every day with bonus points for doing it outside in the sunlight. Exercise can also sabotage your sleep if you time it poorly. Working out too vigorously close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep or make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Recent research found that, for most people, evening exercise did not disrupt sleep. However, those who engaged in high-intensity activity within an hour of going to bed did struggle to sleep. Avoid late-night workouts, and if you must be active at night, opt for something gentle, like restorative yoga.
Did you know that dietary choices can also affect how you sleep? What and when you eat and drink have significant impacts on overall health. Some bad choices are clear, like caffeine or a lot of sugar in the evening. Others are less obvious. Avoid or limit these before bed:
- Spicy foods– Spices can upset your digestion, causing heartburn that worsens as you lie down in bed. It can also raise your body temperature, which should decrease closer to bedtime.
- Alcohol– Yes, a glass of wine in the evening can be relaxing. It can make you drowsy too. Initially, alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it will disrupt your sleep later in the night.
- Fat and protein– Avoid bedtime snacks high in fat or protein, or both. They take more time and energy to digest. If you must eat something, stick with carbs.
High body temperatures make sleeping more difficult, as most people know from uncomfortable summer nights without air conditioning. Natural circadian rhythms should cause body temperature to drop from late afternoon to evening. If your bedroom is too warm, your body will struggle to cool down enough for sleep. This may also disrupt the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle, a stage needed for restorative sleep.
Try to keep your bedroom cooler at night. Use fans or air conditioning if necessary. If you still sleep hot, find a mattress for hot sleepers. These use innovative materials and technology to keep you cooler throughout the night.
Stress is a huge concern for many people, and it interferes with sleep. Stress can prevent you from falling asleep. Lack of sleep, in turn, can cause more stress. This is a destructive cycle that is hard to break. If you deal with mental health issues like anxiety or depression, lack of sleep can exacerbate the problem.
Anything you can do to mitigate or manage stress in your life will improve sleep. Try eliminating stressors, exercising more frequently, and using relaxation strategies before bed to calm worries. You can also play relaxing music or rain sounds to help you fall asleep.
Don’t stop brushing your teeth before bed, but do consider the flavor and additives. Most kinds of toothpaste have a peppermint flavor and smell. While it feels refreshing and clean in the mouth, peppermint also creates alertness.
Studies have proven that smelling peppermint can interfere with REM sleep. Choose a different toothpaste flavor and save peppermint for a daytime pick-me-up.
Details Matter When it Comes to Sleep
Sleep is so essential to functioning and health that it’s worth looking at every detail. Some of these may seem minor, but these factors could be disrupting your sleep when combined. Figure out what’s disrupting your sleep to improve your overall wellness.