Struggling to sleep? This could be why.

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Sleep is essential—that’s undeniable. The results of sleep deprivation are widespread, from an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart attack, to obesity, depression, and reduced immune system function. And the common reasons for a lack of sleep are well-reported, be that stress, anxiety, or depression – which can create a cause-and-result vicious circle – or the disruption of your circadian rhythm by flying through time zones. 

Your ability to get a good night’s rest can also be affected by one of countless medical conditions, such as Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis, Delayed Sleep Phase, Restless Leg, Sexomnia, and the rather grim sounding Exploding Head Syndrome. 

In this busy current day, where we’re almost always switched on, plugged in, and on-the-go, it’s hardly surprising that one of the most obvious factors stopping us from getting more (or better) shut-eye is our increasingly high intake of caffeine. In 2021, more than 165 million 60kg bags of coffee were consumed globally. That’s a lot of coffee, and that doesn’t even count the numerous other caffeinated beverages that are popularly consumed on a daily basis. The intake of caffeine, particularly when it’s too late in the day, can give you a kick of alertness that hinders your ability to sleep well by nightfall, and experts from the Sleep Foundation espousing allowing at least six hours for its effects to dissipate. Allergies, too, can be incredibly troublesome; from congestion to throat irritation, sniffling and sneezing, all of which can disrupt our ability to fall asleep more easily, stay asleep more easily, and sleep better.

To most of us, these causes of sleeplessness are hardly surprising. But there are also some sleep hinderers that are less-than-obvious, sneaking up on us without many of us even realizing what they could be doing to our shut-eye. Thankfully, with a little bit of deflecting action, their negative effects can be reduced or eliminated. Read on to learn more.

Blue light: It comes from televisions, smartphones, and tablets, computer monitors, and gaming systems; but also LEDs and fluorescent bulbs. It might seem that avoiding blue light is more difficult than locating it, but more than any other colored light source, blue messes with your body’s ability to prepare for sleep by blocking the sleepy hormone, melatonin. The awareness of blue light’s interference has become a little more obvious in recent times, with smartphone developers and operating systems being built with nighttime modes and blue light reduction, as well as the advent of blue light-blocking glasses 一 but many of us still don’t follow the main suggested direction of cutting back on pre-bed screen time. Putting our blue light screens to bed two to three hours before our brains is probably best.

Slacking on your schedule: Not having a set routine can be a major disruptor. Much of the wanton disregard for a standard sleep schedule can be put down to shift work, or time-zone jumping jet lag. Overtly-long (or too-frequent) daytime naps, too, can be detrimental to your night-time doziness. If you’ve taken an hour or a few to snooze during the day, it will almost certainly delay your demand for bedtime later in the evening. When your brain tells your body to sleep at varying times, it knocks your circadian rhythm, or inner clock, out of whack, thereby confusing the release of the melatonin hormone. Our sleep stages generally exist in 90-minute cycles, with a well-rested night seeing the cycle repeat four to six times (so, six to nine hours of sleep). When and where you can, reset your circadian rhythm and create a healthier sleep pattern and environment.

First night effect: Humans are an evolved species. Our fire-making ability, big brains, and opposable thumbs set us apart from much of the animal kingdom. Yet we’re still a species that is beholden to our natural instincts. Fear, for example, be it of physical or emotional injury, is an evolutionary instinct to protect ourselves. When we sleep in a new bed – no matter how big, comfy, or welcoming it may be – we can sometimes subconsciously remain alert for predators. Or at least the left side of our brain, does. It’s akin to a bird sleeping with one eye open, or your dog eyeballing you while doing their “business”, as they look for your reaction to potentially dangerous predators nearby. This semi-alertness has been known to inhibit our ability to slumber in new surroundings, at least initially, until our brains are sure of their safety.

Being too sedentary: Doing nothing during our days, strangely, can actually hinder our sleep at night. Immobility for most of the day has also been shown to elevate the risk of insomnia. If you sit at a desk for work all day, and are not getting enough exercise in general, this means that your endorphin and dopamine levels are likely lowered. Exercise, in general, is one of sleep’s best friends, as it can improve sleep efficiency, duration, and onset latency – or the time it takes you to fall asleep. So if you’re mostly sitting on your derrière for the day without even the thought of a workout, or at least a brisk walk, the sandman is prone to put-off his visit to you until later than you might desire. 

Gluten sensitivity: While it might not be your fault, a gluten sensitivity might indeed affect your sleep quality — and there are a few things you can take control of here. Making a few changes to your diet, or keeping a closer eye on your gluten intake, could see you snoozing more soundly in no time. The inability to digest this tiny protein frequently found in ubiquitous wheat and barley can cause bloating, digestive difficulties, and make it harder to absorb the all-important nutrients from your sustenance. The knock-on effect from an inability to absorb minerals and vitamins – like iron, magnesium, and B12, for example – will likely lead to an impeded sleep pattern, to add to the discomfort of symptoms of related afflictions such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

If none of the above relate to your sleep concerns, and you’re still scratching around for an answer, it might be worth considering if you have a thyroid dysfunction. If so, you would be best served visiting your doctor for a test, to help you find out. If your thyroid glands produce too much thyroxine, for example, it can cause a stimulation of the nervous system, often severely hindering your ability to fall asleep. If you do suspect an overactive thyroid (or hyperthyroidism) — or if you’re simply stumped about the source of your sleeplessness, and it’s really starting to affect your mental, emotional, and physical health, then it might be time to consult a medical professional.

If it’s mild assistance you require to help you slumber, incorporating some meditation and mindfulness into your pre-bedtime routine (or the rest of your day) may also help your mind, body, and nervous system wind down. Why not consider one of many calming mediations or sleep stories available on the Infijoy platform?

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article:

Understanding the Circadian Rhythm for Better Sleep; Healthy Sleep Habits; Struggling to Sleep in a Strange Bed? Scientists Have Uncovered Why; Adaption Effects to Sleep Studies in Participants With and Without Chronic Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; Thyroid Dysfunction and Sleep Disorders; What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?; Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: A Review; Sedentary Behavior and Sleep Problems: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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