Sleep is an essential part of living. In fact, we spend about a third of our lives sleeping. Sleep helps our brain learn, create new memories, and balance our moods. Conversely, a lack of sleep or sleep deprivation can negatively impact our cognitive abilities and expose us to a series of health conditions. Sleep deprivation effects on the brain can be serious; your tired brain may have difficulty paying attention, an impaired working memory, and an increased likelihood of irritability and of mood swings, all of which can have large impacts on our daily work and lives.
Trouble sleeping affects most of us at some point in our lives. It can be caused by a number of factors, ranging from our sleeping environment to our psychological state to underlying health conditions. Despite these differences in the causes of having trouble sleeping, there are various universally effective ways to fall and stay asleep. If you experience difficulty sleeping for an extended period of time, it is important to seek help from a sleep specialist.
Sometimes, sleeplessness is caused by lifestyle habits. One such habit is the use of caffeine and/or stimulants in the afternoon or evening. Caffeine, part of a common morning routine for many, is thought to block receptors in the brain that induce sleep, and take as long as 6 to 8 hours to wear off. Nicotine is another stimulant that can cause trouble sleeping. Heavy smokers often find themselves waking up excessively early due to nicotine withdrawal during the night. Alcohol, although it often helps people fall asleep initially, impairs the quality of sleep and often causes people to wake in the middle of the night. If you sleep in an excessively noisy or light bedroom this can also prevent your body from relaxing and falling into a deep REM sleep.
Other factors that cause difficulty sleeping are somewhat more difficult to modify. These include hormonal factors, such as women’s menstrual cycles or menopause; certain psychological disorders, such as bipolar or anxiety disorders; and the use of medications used to treat other disorders.
Another common cause of difficulty getting enough sleep or staying asleep are a variety of specific sleep disorders.
There are many steps you can take to improve both the quality and duration of your sleep, and also to find ways to fall asleep more easily. Avoiding the use of stimulants or alcohol in the later part of the day can increase your chances of deep sleep. Scheduling time to relax or wind down before bed can help you fall asleep faster and improve your sleep quality.
Adjust your sleep environment to ensure a comfortable temperature, and make sure that it is as dark and quiet as possible. Using ear plugs for sleeping, or a white noise machine or fan, can help drown out loud disruptive noises. Making sure your bed is comfortable is also important for sleep, as is also your sleeping position.  If you suffer from back pain, it is especially important to find the best sleeping position for lower back pain.
All of these tips are part of what is called good sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene means having a routine for going to sleep. This helps your brain associate the routine and your bedroom with going to sleep, which can help you fall asleep more easily.
There are many reasons for waking up in the middle of the night. People who drink alcohol often wake up in the middle of the night once the sedating effects of the alcohol have worn off, and then are unable to go back to sleep. Another common cause for waking up or sleep disruption is anxiety and feelings of stress. Managing your stress can positively impact your sleep.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that results in difficulty falling or staying asleep. This may be a short-term, acute problem or a chronic issue that requires help from a medical professional. Insomnia can be caused by stress, traumatic life events, intense work schedules, or poor sleep hygiene. If your insomnia persists, it is more likely to be the result of the use of medication or due to the presence of a sleep or psychological disorder. The presence of other sleep-related movement disorders, such restless leg syndrome, can worsen insomnia.
Everyone is different and responds to different sleeping techniques. However, there are some generic tips to fall asleep that can help almost everyone to relax and to fall asleep more quickly and easily. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, creating a restful sleep environment, and doing a relaxing activity such as a bath or relaxation yoga can help us all fall asleep faster.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.