Over the past couple of years, many of us have struggled with sleep due to stress and other challenges amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As per a study published in Sleep Medicine in November 2021 where 22,330 adults from 13 countries were surveyed, one in three participants had clinical insomnia symptoms and nearly 20 per cent had the conditions for insomnia disorder. These figures are more than double of what they were pre-pandemic.
While increased dependency on gadgets after the pandemic has been seen to impact sleep patterns, psychological disorders like anxiety and depression among others also contribute to sleep problems. Most people require 7-8 hours of sleep per night. A good night’s sleep is necessary for our mental well-being as it recharges and resets our minds for optimal functioning. The inability to sleep is a cause for worry as sleep deprivation affects our cognitive and emotional capabilities. Experts say without proper sleep a person is more inclined to be tired, easily irritated, aggressive, or unable to concentrate which affects their productivity and efficiency. If the sleep-related issues persist for days and are not addressed soon, it may lead to sleep disorders and can affect one’s mental health.
Below are the most common reasons why you may not be able to sleep at night:
Increased gadget use
Increased dependence on gadgets for entertainment or relaxation after the pandemic could be one of the culprits behind impaired sleep. Being on the phone during bedtime could be eating into your sleep. Blue light emitted from phones impairs the release of the sleep hormone ‘melatonin’. Melatonin is produced about 2 hours before bedtime, and the brain links the blue light emitted from screens to daytime, affecting the sleep hormone`s effects.
Less priority to sleep
Have you ever compromised on your sleep cause you had to juggle work, chores, socialising, and other tasks on your plate? Sleep is often not prioritised by many and is taken for granted, especially by youngsters. Having an irregular sleep schedule or staying up late can affect getting a good night`s sleep. In the long term, it can also seriously affect one’s 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.
Senior citizens may face trouble sleeping due to age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. Other causes may include pain due to chronic illnesses, insomnia, or the need to urinate often. Some also find that it gets difficult to fall asleep as they age. Many individuals keep waking up throughout the night or way earlier in the morning as less time is spent in deep sleep. Due to frequent disruptions in sleep, older people may feel tired or sleep-deprived even if their total sleep time remains unchanged. Taking warm milk or avoiding caffeine before bedtime and not taking naps during the day can help improve sleep for the elderly.
Caffeine and alcohol
Increased caffeine or alcohol intake before bedtime is not advisable. It is recommended to not take caffeine six hours before bed as it can affect the duration and efficiency of sleep. Alcohol can also result in disintegrated sleep as consuming an excessive amount doesn`t result in deep sleep that makes one feel refreshed in the morning. Alcohol consumption before bedtime also affects sleep by causing dehydration.
Mental health problems or Stress
Individuals suffering from mental health issues such as depression or anxiety can have a hard time falling asleep. They might sleep very little or sleep too much. Anxiety and sleep are also closely connected with each other. While anxiety can hinder sleep, one can also get anxious just worrying about not getting proper sleep.
Multiple life events such as relationship or health issues, family disturbances, 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 raise the heart rate and increase alertness for the body to react to danger, also making it difficult to sleep.
Sleep disorders like insomnia, parasomnias, or sleep apnea can seriously contribute to one`s sleep problems. Insomnia makes it difficult to sleep for the required time or causes one to wake up too early. Insomnia can also be a symptom of mental health issues like anxiety or depression. Those with parasomnias experience sleep disruption due to movements and behaviours such as sleepwalking, sleep talking, sleep terror, and sleep paralysis. Sleep Apnea often goes undiagnosed. People with sleep apnea often have trouble breathing as it stops and restarts multiple times during sleep.
As the effect of chemicals varies from person to person, some medicines for illnesses like asthma, heart problems, psychiatric disorders, thyroid conditions or cancer can interfere with sleep. Heart medications for high blood pressure or angina such as beta blockers might lead to insomnia. Over-the-counter medicines for colds or headaches and even painkillers also interrupt sleep and make one feel groggy during the day. While antihistamines can lead to drowsiness, decongestants can cause insomnia.
A heavy workout within an hour of bedtime will make it difficult for an individual to fall asleep. Exercise raises the heart rate and stimulates the nervous system, making it tough for the body to relax. High-intensity workouts closer to bedtime makes the relaxation process even slower. A study in 1997 found that exercising in the evening led to delayed melatonin production 24 hours later, affecting sleep the next day.
Poor sleep environment
Noise or light in the bedroom might make it uncomfortable to relax or get uninterrupted sleep. Street lights, night lights, or even a cluttered room can translate into sleep problems. Light in the room during bedtime can upset the internal clock and make one unable to fall asleep.
Unusual work schedule
Working unusual hours like graveyard shifts or early morning shifts can affect one`s circadian rhythm. The sleep one gets may not be very refreshing due to resting during odd hours. Sleeping against the clock, as one tries to sleep during the daytime when the body expects to be awake makes it difficult to get a proper shut-eye. Frequent or random rotations in shift timings make it impossible to have a regular sleep pattern. As per studies, proper shift rotations help employees be more productive and efficient.
Eating protein close to bedtime
Food like meat before bedtime may not result in a smooth sleeping session as protein takes a long time and more energy to digest. During sleep, the body’s digestion process slows down by up to 50 per cent. It is advised to have carbohydrates for good sleep as it helps in the release of serotonin, known to aid sleep.
Practice proper sleep hygiene
Putting away phones or gadgets helps one to relax and get to sleep faster. Keep the phones outside your room- out of sight, out of mind. Replace your phone with an alarm clock if needed. Slip into a comfortable set of clothes to unwind. Ensure the room temperature is comfortable and there is not too much light.
Read something not very interesting or stimulating as it will help the body relax and feel drowsy. Try counting backwards if you’re unable to sleep. It is important to see a mental health professional if one is struggling with issues like depression, anxiety, or other sleep disorders.
(Rashmi Bagri, Psychologist at Mpower Helpline)