Less Than 40 Winks: Here’s Why You Aren’t Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

As a kid, you might have spent many a night insisting to your parents that you weren’t tired. But as a working adult with professional and personal responsibilities, you’re more likely to spend all day looking forward to that magical moment when your head hits the pillow. After all, as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, grown-ups need at least seven hours of sleep per night for optimum health and well-being.

However, that’s far from attainable for many Americans. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 35 percent of us rate our sleep quality as “poor” or “only fair,” even if we supposedly get ample rest. Approximately 20 percent of Americans say they don’t wake up feeling refreshed during a given week, either. So while we love to sleep in theory, it seems like many of us aren’t able to get the kind of shut-eye we really need. In fact, the CDC labeled sleep deprivation as a public health epidemic in 2014, which isn’t surprising when you consider that 70 million Americans have been diagnosed with sleep disorders.

Although many of us want nothing more than to sleep soundly through the night, that may be easier said than done. While you might have success with a sleep sound machine, you may not be addressing the real issues at hand. So why can’t we fall (and stay) asleep? Here’s what might be keeping you from getting your necessary beauty rest. 

Stress or depression

If your mind is consumed with worry, you’ll have a much harder time sleeping through the night (or sleeping at all). In fact, stress is typically thought of as the most prevalent, non-medical cause of insomnia and other sleep problems. You might not fixate on your anxieties while you’re awake, but it’s a much different story when you’re in bed at night. If you can’t seem to shake off those stresses at nighttime, you might want to establish a bedtime routine that puts you in a more positive place. Mindfulness, meditation, gratitude practice, or journaling about your day can be a welcome alternative to watching TV or letting your imagination run wild. 

Depression can also interrupt sleep patterns, particularly in women. Although depression can actually cause individuals to sleep for longer periods and more frequently, these periods of sleep may not do much to help you recharge.. Keep in mind that if you’re taking certain medications for your depression, these may also interfere with your sleep–as can many other pharmaceutical products. Whether you’re being treated for depression or suspect you may need to talk to a therapist, it’s a good idea to touch base with your primary care physician or psychiatrist if you’re having trouble sleeping.

Diet or physical inactivity

What you eat and how often you move can also impact your quality of sleep. For example, drinking too much caffeine or stopping off at the liquor store too close to bedtime can certainly interfere with your ability to doze off. Likewise, eating spicy foods, large meals, or snacks that contain a lot of fat will often impede your chances of getting a full eight hours’ rest. You should give yourself at least a couple of hours to digest your last meal or snack before you hit the hay, as this will allow your body enough time to process this food without any kind of blood sugar spike. If you do need to eat before bed, try something that’s more carbohydrate-heavy with a bit of protein, such as cereal and milk or whole-grain toast with nut butter.

Your physical activity can change your sleep patterns, too. Exercising regularly can help you sleep better and enjoy more energy throughout the day. But if your lifestyle is fairly sedentary, you may have issues falling asleep. Working out too late at night can also make it more difficult for you to fall asleep. Aim to work out each morning or afternoon to reap all of the benefits that physical activity can provide.

Bad habits

While there are some medical conditions that can make sleep a lot less restful, you could also be creating issues for yourself due to the bad habits you’ve picked up. Looking at your phone or tablet in bed, for instance, can make you feel anxious. What’s more, the artificial light coming from your devices can essentially trick your brain into being more active (even if you use nighttime mode!). Although it’s best to keep your electronics out of your bedroom for this reason, you should at least refrain from checking your notifications for an hour prior to going to sleep. 

Your sleep issues could also be caused by other conditions. Going to bed at different times every night can mess with your internal clock while trying to sleep in a room with an uncomfortable temperature will likely make you toss and turn all night. It’s possible that your pet’s nighttime activities or your old mattress, pillows, or bed linens could be to blame. And if your partner snores, it’s no wonder you aren’t able to nod off to dreamland. Some of these issues can be rectified with a simple shopping trip or by dedicating yourself to forming new habits in the place of old ones. Short of asking your spouse to sleep on the couch, you might consider wearing earplugs or asking him or her to see a sleep specialist.

Sleep is the body’s way of restoring itself, making it a crucial part of life. Understandably, not getting enough sleep on a consistent basis can wreak havoc on your health. Now that you have a better idea of what might be causing your restlessness, you’ll be able to take steps to correct these situations–and finally, enjoy some much-deserved slumber.

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