In an ideal world, you finish up your evening routine, crawl into bed, switch off the lamp, close your eyes and, within minutes, feel yourself gliding toward that sweet, sweet slumbering state.
If only that were everyone’s experience. For a lot of us, and for many reasons, the path to sleep can be hard to find. There are reasons within our control and some that are harder to control, such as medical conditions.
Either way, it’s important to be aware of a range of sleep “blockers” in the event you find it difficult to get some rest, whether for one night or over the course of many nights.
So let’s try to get to the bottom of why we’re so cranky today!
Here are some things that could be keeping you from achieving those dreams:
Sort of a no-brainer, right? But you may not know that it’s recommended we cease consuming high amounts of caffeine as early as lunchtime. Caffeine has a cumulative effect: the more you consume throughout the day, the more it can disrupt your sleep. Now, no one’s saying you can’t have that piece of dark chocolate to get you through the afternoon, but if you’re the sort who likes a nice palate-cleansing cup of coffee or tea after dinner, make it a decaf.
Smoking and Nicotine Withdrawal
If you’re a smoker, naturally we hope you seek out smoking cessation services in your area. Yet even if you are actively trying to quit, the withdrawal symptoms can cause significant sleep disruption. You may wake frequently in the night, preventing you from achieving full sleep cycles—from light sleep to deep, restful REM (a.k.a. dream-stage) sleep. Some tobacco cessation products may also contribute to sleep disruption, but in time, as withdrawal becomes less severe, your sleep should improve.
Drinking alcohol up until bedtime increases the frequency of waking up and/or light sleeping during the second half of the night, preventing you from achieving the necessary periods of deep sleep. Some sound advice: if you’ve had a few drinks, down 8 ounces of orange juice before you conk out. OJ speeds up the breakdown of alcohol and will reduce the likelihood of reawakening after a few hours into sleep.
Cut out those midnight snacks! Actually, if you can, avoid eating food up to 3 hours before bedtime. If that’s not possible, sip on a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted with water, about 30 minutes after dinner, to help increase gastric flow through the stomach and to reduce acid reflux. Another way to combat acid reflux is to lie on your left side, which will assist the stomach in emptying and prevent reflux in the esophagus.
Noise and temperature and light—take all of these things into consideration for a good sleep. The best bedroom is a cool, dark, quiet one. In warmer months, and if you’re without A/C, put on a fan—and although not always quiet, at least a fan creates an environment of white noise that can drown out other disruptive sounds. If you have to use the bathroom in the night, avoid having to flip on the bright overhead light by plugging in a nightlight with a red, blue, or green filter. But come morning, let the light in! It’s good to be exposed to bright light for 20-30 minutes before you rise, helping to solidify your natural circadian rhythms.
A number of ongoing or chronic medical conditions can impact your sleep. These include hypertension, congestive heart failure, COPD and asthma, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, angina, cognitive dysfunction, and mood disorders such as depression or bipolar. If you are currently managing any of these conditions and experiencing problems sleeping, contact your physician for advice and assistance.