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What Are the Top 7 Enemies of Restful Sleep?

  • Category: Sleep
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  • Written By: LVMC Staff
What Are the Top 7 Enemies of Restful Sleep?

Trying to fall asleep at night can feel like a battle for some people. Between tossing and turning, you may feel like you need to throw up your hands and surrender to the inevitability that morning is quickly approaching. You’ll have to simply power through the next day on low-power mode.

Not being able to sleep can be truly agonizing. However, identifying the circumstances or habits that may be getting in the way of a good night of sleep may help you get back on track. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we believe that knowledge is power. Our family and internal medicine providers are highly skilled at helping you get to the bottom of your sleep challenges and create ways to get you to sleep soundly and consistently. Here’s what you need to know about the top 7 enemies of restful sleep.

What is sleep, and why is it important?

Sleep is a fundamental activity that has been a critical process since birth. The brain learns and grows rapidly as an infant, and much of this growth and development occurs during sleep. This is why newborns have the highest sleep needs of all, requiring between 14 and 17 hours. As you age, your sleep requirements change, but you still need a fixed amount of sleep on a nightly basis to have optimal cognition and performance throughout the day. Operating on deficient or no sleep can not only sabotage your future health—putting you at higher risk of chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes—it can also sabotage your immediate safety and wellness. Experts note that operating a motor vehicle after being awake for 24 hours is akin to driving over the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration. According to data from the Sleep Foundation, driving drowsy resulted in more than 90,000 car crashes in a recent year. Sleeping well not only protects you but also everyone else in your community.

What are the top 7 enemies of restful sleep?

Experts in sleep medicine advise that the average adult between ages 18 and 65 gets between 7 and 9 hours of sleep nightly, and the average adult older than 65 gets between 7 and 8 hours of sleep nightly. However, many adults in the US are falling short of this recommendation—up to one-third, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here’s what you need to know about the top 7 enemies of restful sleep.

Enemy #1: Pre-bedtime screen time

Stretching out at the end of the day, phone in hand, might seem like a good way to wind down before hitting the hay. However, even if you’re not firing off emails or doing anything particularly activating on a device, passive scrolling can still get in the way of good sleep. This is because blue light, the type of light typically emitted from the screens of devices like your phone, activates your brain. You’re not alone if you think blue light might be a formidable sleep enemy. The Sleep Foundation reports that most Americans use a device within an hour of their bedtime. To battle blue light, put your device away at least an hour before you would like to fall asleep. If you simply can’t resist, you can use a special blue light filter on your phone or even on your eyeglasses to help reduce your exposure.

Enemy #2: Inconsistent bedtimes

One of the biggest sleep enemies is actually something that is entirely in your control—it’s your bedtime. Your parents may have given you a fixed bedtime when you were young. As an adult, you may have chosen to push back against this to exercise your independence and free will. However, that reasonable old-set bedtime is actually one of the best ways to reset a bad sleep habit. You nurture your body’s natural rhythm and hormone production when you go to bed at the same time each night (and wake up as close as possible to the same time each morning). After establishing a strict bedtime, you should eventually find yourself fighting sleep less and less because your body will already know what to expect and cue the nighttime hormones.

Enemy #3: Shift work

If inconsistent bedtimes are a sleeping enemy, it follows that shift work is one of the biggest threats to quality sleep. Working shifts that vary (such as alternating between night shifts and day shifts) can throw a huge wrench into your body’s natural circadian rhythm. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, your sleep hormones are also disrupted, which means that even if you are exhausted, you may still struggle to fall asleep. Research shows that shift workers report more excessive sleepiness and insomnia and a higher risk of chronic health problems like cancer. To help push back against these consequences, make sure not to expose yourself to daytime light if you are driving home in the morning after a night shift (instead, wear sunglasses). This can help suppress the production of your “awake” hormones. Transition as quickly as possible to a dark room to help yourself get to sleep.

Enemy #4: High-stress levels or a restless mind

If you are counting sheep and the sheep start reminding you of your to-do list, you may have difficulty sleeping because of a restless mind. The Sleep Foundation notes a significant connection between stress and insomnia. A high level of stress can impact the production of the hormones that dictate your level of alertness, making it very difficult for you to fall asleep naturally. Stress can also affect the architecture of your sleep, potentially reducing the time you spend in deep sleep. To fight off this enemy, experts recommend getting regular exercise earlier in the day to make it easier to fall asleep at night. Stress reduction techniques, such as meditation or planning intentional social engagements, can also help you calm a restless mind.

Enemy #5: A physically uncomfortable sleep environment

When it comes to sleep, your environment matters. If you’re too hot or too cold, it’s hard to fall asleep. Other factors that can make your environment less hospitable to sleep include an uncomfortable mattress, background noise (or not enough white noise), too much light in the room, and too many distractions. When preparing a sleep environment, simple is best. Try not to have any reminders of things that need to be done the next day visible from your bed. A white noise machine can help drown out noisy neighbors or other housemates, and investing in comfortable sheets, pillows, and mattresses can help you relax enough to fall asleep.

Enemy #6: Low levels of the sleep hormone

When you’re exposed to natural sunlight during the day, it helps your brain make the sleep hormone known as melatonin. But if you’re stuck inside your house or the office for the grand majority of the day, you may be missing out on this exposure altogether, making it harder to fall asleep at night. If possible, spend at least 15 minutes outside with sun exposure each day to help your body create melatonin. You may also consider a melatonin supplement at night—just talk to your medical provider before starting any new medications.

Enemy #7: A medical condition

Unfortunately, your sleep may be sabotaged by a medical condition such as chronic pain. According to a Sleep Foundation survey, more than 90% of adults lose at least one hour of sleep each week because of pain. When you’re in pain, it can affect your sleeping position and impact how soundly and steadily you’re able to sleep. A lack of quality sleep can exacerbate your pain condition, creating a toxic cycle of poor sleep and more pain. Chronic pain can also accompany another sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or restless leg syndrome. If you or a loved one are having difficulties getting to sleep that you think may be caused by a medical condition, make sure to check in with your healthcare provider for an evaluation.

How to learn more about getting a good night of sleep

If you find yourself restless and awake on more than just the occasional night, it’s worth checking in about what may be sabotaging your sleep. You may have a daily habit that you don’t even realize is interfering with your ability to fall asleep. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our family medicine and internal medicine providers are skilled at helping patients get better sleep, including creating personalized treatment plans and making referrals for sleep evaluations to help diagnose certain sleep conditions. They can also help you if you have a pain condition or other medical concern getting in the way of your sleep.

To make an appointment for a sleep consultation, contact us today.