It’s easy to underestimate the importance of sleep. Maybe that’s because nearly 70% of Americans report that they aren’t getting the sleep they need anyway. For many, this means night after night of tossing and turning. Others might simply wake up feeling groggy and exhausted.
Sleep deficits and disruptions such as these can lead to significant health problems over the long term. So if you’re having sleep trouble, it’s a good idea to find out why!
Why Am I Having Trouble Sleeping?
Most adults should be getting roughly 7 hours of sleep every night. Most people think of sleep as something that’s automatic: you put your head on the pillow and (eventually) your body’s sleeping mechanism naturally kicks in. The result is a long and restful eight hours of sleep. But it doesn’t always work that way.
The inability to fall asleep or stay asleep is called insomnia. And insomnia can come in several different types:
- Acute insomnia is a temporary event. Maybe you have trouble falling asleep for a few days but then your sleep cycle goes back to normal.
- Chronic insomnia is a long-term continuing inability to fall asleep. Chronic insomnia can present in a way that feels cyclical, with periods of normal sleep followed by a stretch of disrupted sleeping.
Generally, you can experience either primary insomnia (that is, insomnia that is a root cause in and of itself) or secondary insomnia (this is insomnia that is caused by something else--for example, stress).
Causes of Insomnia
There are several reasons why insomnia may develop, including the following:
- Stress: When you’re stressed out, it’s hard to sleep.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a sedative, but it’s an ineffective and dangerous sleep aid. Drinking too much alcohol (or drinking alcohol too close to bedtime) can cause serious sleep disruptions and health problems.
- Caffeine: Because it is a powerful stimulant, drinking too much caffeine can make it challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep. Avoid drinking coffee or cola just before bed!
- Mental health: Depression and anxiety, for example, can make it difficult to sleep.
- Medications: Some medication interactions can lead to disrupted sleep.
- Illness: Some illnesses can interfere with your ability to sleep, especially if they cause discomfort.
How Can I Improve My Sleep?
Of course, it may not even be insomnia that’s the problem. Maybe the problem isn’t that you aren’t sleeping at all--perhaps the problem is that you aren’t sleeping well. In some cases, you’ll need treatment for better sleep; in others, a change in habits can make a big difference.
Want to know how to sleep better at night? Here are some things you can do at home to improve the quality of your sleep:
- Don’t eat too late: Going to bed with a full stomach can be uncomfortable, and it can mess with your ability to stay asleep. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to digest your dinner!
- Stay out of the bedroom (unless you’re sleeping): When you spend too much time in your bedroom, your body’s natural sleep associations tend to break down. That’s why you should reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex.
- Make a sleep schedule (and stick to it). Going to bed around the same time every night will help you sleep better. In order to do that, you may also have to wake up around the same time every day.
- Don’t take naps in the daytime if you can help it: If you nap excessively, you may disrupt your sleep schedule.
- Get some exercise every day: When your body is physically tired (or at least does not have pent-up energy), it’s easier for you to fall asleep every night.
- Limit screen time: Don’t look at your phone or a computer screen after 9 pm, for example.
What if I’m Still Tired All the Time?
Knowing how to sleep better at night will work if there’s nothing physiological going on. If you’re getting a good night’s sleep and you’re still tired all the time, you may have a condition called sleep apnea. Those with sleep apnea (often indicated by loud snoring and restless sleeping) can stop breathing in the middle of the night.
Talk to your physician about the best way to treat sleep apnea, so you can ensure a better and safer night’s sleep.
Better Sleep, Better Life
If you’re laying in bed at night thinking to yourself, “How can I improve my sleep,” you aren’t alone. The good news is that there are steps you can take to immediately improve the quality of rest you’re getting. Better sleep is going to lead to a healthier, more fulfilling life experience. Your immune system will function better, you’ll be more alert and more aware--and less cranky.
But you may need some help to achieve that. Talk to your doctor about how you can achieve better sleep--and wake up feeling refreshed.