There’s really nothing worse than lying in bed in the wee hours of the morning, feeling beyond exhausted and yet unable to sleep. The more you try, the worse it gets – and before you know it you’ve been awake half the night, and now have to face the day feeling worn out and frustrated.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry – it’s becoming an increasingly common problem nowadays. Nearly 30% of adults suffer from insomnia: a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and be unable to go back to sleep. Depending on the severity, this can last for days or weeks, sapping a person’s energy levels and mood, and negatively affecting their health, performance and quality of life.
Facts about insomnia
Here are some other things you may not know about insomnia/sleeplessness:
- People today sleep 20% less than they did 100 years ago.
- Women are more than twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men.
- Approximately 35% of insomniacs have a family history of insomnia.
- Stress/anxiety is the leading cause of insomnia in adults (more than 50%).
- People who suffer from sleep deprivation are 27% more likely to become overweight or obese.
Why can’t I sleep?
Insomnia can be caused by any number of physical, psychological or lifestyle factors – such as stress, medical conditions, life events or lifestyle habits which disrupt sleep.
Even if you don’t know the exact reasons why you’re having trouble sleeping, it can help for you to identify potential triggers and address them, so you can finally get some valuable zzz’s.
Here are some possible reasons why you may be unable to sleep:
1. An overactive mind
Many poor sleepers often report having a “racing” mind – one that just won’t shut down. It’s one of the most common causes of insomnia. Racing thoughts are defined as “fast, repetitive thought patterns about a particular topic”, and may be a symptom of anxiety or stress.
2. Too many stimulants
Consuming stimulants like caffeine and nicotine just before bed can cause you to be unable to sleep – despite feeling tired. These stimulants will boost your energy levels, making it difficult for your mind to relax.
3. Intense exercise
Some people do recommend exercise to help you sleep better – but intense exercise right before bedtime can actually have the opposite effect on your body, making you feel more alert and energized.
4. Travel or work schedule
Frequent changes in your schedule (like travelling across time zones or working a late/early shift) can disrupt your body’s natural circadian rhythms and throw off your internal clock, preventing you from sleeping at the proper time. For our complete guide to avoiding jet lag, click here.
Some over-the-counter medications such as decongestants, pain relievers and weight loss medications may be keeping you awake at night, because they contain stimulants like caffeine. Others like antihistamines may make you feel drowsy, but increase your urination frequency – causing you to keep waking up for bathroom breaks.
Note: If you’re not sure whether or not your medication may be responsible for your insomnia, check with your doctor to find out. They may be able to recommend an alternative, or reduce your current dosage so that you’ll be able to sleep.
How to Counter Sleeplessness
The good news is, all you may really need in order to beat your insomnia is to make some minor changes to your lifestyle and habits. The trick is to engage in before-bed activities that will reduce over-arousal, help you relax, and allow you to let go and fall asleep.
Try out some of these tips to help overcome your insomnia and let yourself sleep through the night:
Change your diet
Not many people know this, but what you eat before bed can affect your sleep. It’s best to avoid eating anything at least half an hour before going to bed. You should also reduce your carbohydrate and sugar consumption, as these can prevent you from being able to fall asleep. Instead, eat more foods which will help you sleep better, like those that are high in magnesium and tryptophan.
Avoid/limit naps during the day
Taking naps during the day can make it harder for you to sleep at night. If you really can’t get by without one, try to limit naptime to no longer than 30 minutes. Also, don’t nap after 3pm.
Relax before bedtime
You’ll find it easier to fall asleep if you develop a regular bedtime routine that includes activities to help you wind down and relax. For example, you could try taking a warm shower or bath about half an hour before sleeping, get a massage, or listen to some soothing music.
Don’t force it
If you’re not sleepy, don’t try to force yourself to sleep – the harder you try, the more awake you’ll be. Instead, get out of bed and try to relax. You could read quietly in another room, practice relaxation techniques or breathing exercises, or do some light exercises like yoga or leg lifts. Once you’re sleepy, you can return to bed.
You may also find it a good idea to remove potential stressors from your bedroom, such as clocks or mobile devices. That way you won’t keep worrying about being awake at 2am, or thinking about checking your work emails for tomorrow.
Additional tips that may help
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and bedding.
- Use your bedroom for sleep only! Don’t turn your bedroom into a dining area, or try to bring work in.
- Try LUNA Natural Sleep Aid to help reset your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
- Dim the lights two hours before bed – this will help tell your body’s internal clock that it’s time to get ready for sleep.
- Avoid stimulating your brain too much before bedtime.