The world can feel brighter and more cheerful after getting enough rest. However, it’s a different case when sleep is continuously interrupted throughout the night. A lack of sleep can make it more challenging to think clearly and can leave you feeling irritable. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, here are some reasons why that might be.
Age can play a significant role in sleep habits. It can have various effects on people, but some people may experience little change or interruption to their sleep, while others may lose sleep and get less restful sleep. Experts have found a few common sleep disturbances among aging adults that include:
- Changing internal sleep schedule — Your body’s circadian rhythms shift forward in time as people age. Many older individuals experience a phase advance, in which they become tired earlier in the afternoon and wake up earlier in the morning. According to studies, older adults’ circadian rhythm timing is more delicate, resulting in restless sleep if they don’t sleep within specific timeframes.
- Napping throughout the day — Extended napping and napping at night can make it more difficult to fall asleep at bedtime and result in nighttime sleep difficulties.
- Waking up in the night — As people get older, their sleep architecture changes. Sleep architecture is the structure of sleep cycles throughout the night and the stages of sleep. Often, older adults only get the initial and lighter stages of sleep and much less time in the deeper phases.
Though the aging process is constant, there are a few things you can control to ensure a better night’s sleep.
- Maintain a healthy diet and get regular exercise.
- Exercise early in the morning, not later at night or before bedtime.
- Take naps during the day no longer than 30 minutes.
If the symptoms above closely resemble your sleep habits, then you may want to consider speaking with a doctor about what steps you can take towards better sleeping patterns and overall health.
Diet or Exercise
A poor diet or lack of exercise can be a significant cause of interrupted sleep, and there are several common reasons why this might occur.
Eating Too Much Food Before Bed
Calories provide energy that we burn while we’re awake and during our sleep. When you eat too much food before bed, your body cannot use it all as energy because the digestive process uses your stored fuel instead. This can disrupt sleep due to discomfort or other related conditions such as acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD).
Limiting your intake, knowing what foods to limit or avoid and understanding the best foods for controlling reflux can help improve your sleep. If you eat before going to sleep, make sure it’s something simple to digest. Fresh fruit and whole grains are good examples of healthy snacks that any beginner’s guide to healthy eating will recommend.
Furthermore, understanding what a proper meal size consists of will help you portion out your snacks and meals whether you’re at home traveling for work.
Not Getting Enough Exercise
Finding time to exercise throughout your day is also essential. Exercising enables your body and mind to relax, which can help allow you to fall asleep easier at night.
If you can’t fit in a solid workout, consider simply taking some deep breaths or practicing meditation. If you don’t stay active throughout the day, it can lead to muscle aches and pains, tension headaches, fatigue and stiffness.
Poor Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is the practice of keeping a regular schedule and maintaining healthy sleeping habits. Poor sleep hygiene can lead to interrupted sleep.
Moreover, the type of activities you engage in during the day can impact how well you sleep. For example, your diet and drink habits, routine, evening regimen, and a variety of other activities all influence your ability to sleep.
There are a few simple habits you can do to improve your sleep hygiene:
- Be consistent: Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning — even on weekends.
- Ditch the electronics: Remove or silence your devices. Looking at bright screens is stimulating and can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Maintain a dark, cool sleeping environment: Keep your bedroom between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine: Don’t drink too much before bed as it can interfere with sleep quality, but also avoid drinking caffeine within six hours of bedtime.
Small changes such as these may have a significant impact.
The way you position your body, and the type of mattress and pillow you use can also affect how well you sleep. Sleeping on your stomach, for example, may strain your spine and flatten its natural curve, potentially producing back and neck discomfort as your head turns to one side. Poor sleep posture can lead to increased tension and poor circulation.
To prevent sleep-related pain, maintain proper body alignment throughout the day and night. At night this means making lifestyle modifications such as using a pillow to elevate your head while you sleep. This way, the pillow fills up the space between your ear and shoulder to keep it level with the rest of your spine.
At work, it means choosing an ergonomic chair and understanding proper body positioning for desk jobs. Simple adjustments such as these can make a world of difference.
Not getting a good night’s sleep can also be attributed to an underlying medical cause. Some common examples include:
- Heartburn (GERD): One of the more prominent causes is gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. When acid from your stomach moves up into your esophagus, this can lead to heartburn and other symptoms such as difficulty swallowing or pain in your chest. These symptoms can interrupt sleep as you may experience them at night when lying down. GERD may be caused by various lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity and diet.
- Snoring: Another common cause is snoring, with sleep apnea being the most prevalent type. When you stop repeatedly breathing during sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure can drop dramatically, which may lead to interrupted sleep or even worse complications, including daytime fatigue, headache and reduced concentration levels.
- Chronic pain: Chronic pain can also interfere with your ability to sleep. This is because pain interrupts the sleep cycle, meaning you may get up frequently throughout the night, leading to interrupted sleep. Moreover, chronic pain may impact your ability to fall asleep in general as it interferes with relaxation and reduces stamina levels.
- Neuropathy: Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can lead to pain or numbness in your hands, feet and limbs. This may disrupt sleep as you toss and turn, trying to find the most comfortable position.
Treating certain conditions can help you sleep better at night, leading to increased energy and mental clarity during the day.
OTC and Prescription Medications
If you are experiencing interrupted sleep, the first step is to talk with your healthcare provider, as they can help determine if there is an underlying medical condition or other cause. If you need help sleeping at night, many over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications can help, including:
- Ambien: This medication belongs to the sedative-hypnotics class and is a popular choice to treat sleep problems.
- Aleve PM: This drug contains an anti-inflammatory pain reliever and sleep aid.
- Melatonin: This naturally occurring hormone may help you fall and stay asleep.
- Valerian: This is an herbal sleep remedy.
- Unisom SleepTabs: This OTC sleep aid contains doxylamine, an antihistamine that promotes drowsiness.
Before taking any medication for sleep, consult your doctor to help make the right choice for you and your circumstances.
When You Should Consult a Doctor
If your sleep is disrupted, see your doctor to rule out an underlying medical problem or another cause. If your GERD symptoms are keeping you awake, you may need treatment.
Talk to your doctor if:
- You are unsure if your sleep issues are related to an underlying medical condition or another cause.
- Your OTC medications do not seem to be working.
- If you think a severe medical condition causes your disrupted sleep.
- You are experiencing chronic pain.
- Your sleep issues interfere with your daily life.
It may be that simple lifestyle changes such as avoiding certain foods before bedtime and getting regular exercise during the day can make a world of difference. Or, you may have an underlying condition that could benefit from speaking to your healthcare provider. Taking the time to determine what is interrupting your sleep, and then taking the steps to remedy the issues, are essential to helping you get your best rest.