Sleep is integral to our health, both physically and
psychologically. While we sleep our bodies repair muscle and tissues, consolidate
memory, release hormones for growth and appetite, and much more. In fact, sleep
is as important as food and water.
Without regular sleep, the aging process is accelerated, our brains aren’t as sharp,
we’re more likely to gain weight and our overall wellness can plunge. We all know
how devastating it is to be awake night after night while the rest of the world
slumbers. Insomnia is defined as
difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and unfortunately, the more you don’t
sleep the more anxiety you have about it.
What is at the root of your insomnia? Finding this information is an important step
because it will determine what the best solution is.
Here are the top five causes of insomnia:
1. Stress and anxiety. Stress and the hormones it
releases, cortisol and adrenaline, are major causes of insomnia. Cortisol naturally
rises and falls in concert with the circadian rhythm, but a bad day at work, a difficult
relationship, or even staring at an electronic screen for hours can cause unhealthy
spikes in this “alert” hormone. Long-term stress is especially detrimental for sleep
because cortisol rhythm is thrown off, keeping you up at night and leaving you exhausted
when it’s time to get up in the morning.
2. Medications or medical conditions. Certain conditions
are linked with insomnia and waking in the night, such as indigestion, arthritis,
cancer, hyperthyroidism, lung disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Any condition
that causes pain, difficulty breathing or frequent urination can keep you up at
night. Some medications can also prohibit sleep, including various antidepressants,
allergy treatments, corticosteroids and blood pressure medications. Many over-the-counter
pain medications, decongestants and weight-loss pills contain caffeine or other
stimulants, which can also block sleep.
3. Food and drink. We all know
caffeine keeps us awake (which means chocolate, coffee, cola, and certain
teas should not be consumed before bed), but alcohol can also disrupt sleep. While
drinking alcohol can increase the length of the initial phase of sleep,
known as slow-wave sleep, which promotes healing and regeneration, it disrupts REM
sleep, so you wake up around 2:00am or 3:00am. This early morning sleeplessness
is not only frustrating, but prevents important REM activity, such as dreams, memory
storage and learning. Eating poorly and yo-yo dieting are also sleep saboteurs,
primarily because diets like this often leave out certain key vitamins and minerals
that help with sleep. Those who don’t get enough vitamin C, calcium, magnesium,
or B-vitamins may also have trouble with insomnia.
4. Hormonal imbalance. Women are often more vulnerable
to insomnia than men due to hormonal shifts during pregnancy, PMS, perimenopause
and menopause. Hormonal fluctuation can disturb sleep on its own, but add in hot
flashes and night sweats and you can forget about getting a good night sleep. Some
experts believe that shifting estrogen levels can affect how much melatonin (the
sleep hormone) our bodies make and how we respond to it.
5. Bad sleep hygiene. The brain releases sleep hormones
like melatonin when we are exposed to darkness, when we are in a comfortable space
at the right temperature, and when we’re feeling calm. Yet many of our pre-bedtime
routines involve bright lights, loud noises, exposure to electronics, rushing to
finish chores, and staying up past the point of feeling tired. These factors all
disturb your body’s ability to prepare for sleep by increasing “alert” hormones
like cortisol. Often bedrooms are used as offices or they’re cluttered and noisy,
making it even harder for the brain to release its calming sleep hormones. Poor
sleep hygiene is a common factor when it comes to insomnia, but it is also the easiest
one to fix. For more information, see our article
How to sleep through the night.
Insomnia can affect your daily life, your health and how quickly you age. If you
are struggling with sleep, our guided at-home
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