Do you find yourself lying in bed turning right followed by turning left, struggling to fall asleep watching the clock?
Being unable to sleep is not only frustrating but also impacts your energy levels the next day. If you fail to get a night of good sleep, you wake up zombie-eyed and struggle to maintain energy after waking up.
“Why can’t I sleep through the night in peace?”, you cry in agony.
- Why do we sleep?
- Consequences of not sleeping enough
- 9 Reasons you do not fall asleep
- 1. Using a light/lamp in your bedroom
- 2. Laying in the bed awake for long
- 3. Filling the bedroom with things
- 4. Having a clock in your bedroom
- 5. Eating or drinking water in large quantities before sleep
- 6. Consuming Caffeine and nicotine
- 7. Sleeping at a different time each day but waking up at the same time
- 8. Using Smartphones, watching TV
- 9. Avoid Naps after 3 PM
Why do we sleep?
Before we get to the problems and tips to fall asleep, you must know that sleep is your superpower. You must ensure you get good sleep each night.
If you thought sleep was only about rest, you are mistaken. Sleep is the reason why you grow wiser with age, stay healthy and fight diseases.
Many other magical things happen in your body and brain while you are fast asleep. An article based on Matt Walker’s research on sleep explains why the heck do we sleep. Matt Walker is a sleep scientist who has spent over 20 years of his life on sleep research. His book, Why We Sleep presents mesmerizing facts about sleep.
The facts are as terrifying as they are amazing. Matt explains how sleeping for 6 hours instead of 7, in the long run, can markedly impact your body and cause long term irreversible impact. Lack of sleep causes more damage to your body than you think.
The book provides tremendous insight into sleep. Everyone must read it for their own good.
The book changed my perspective on the need to sleep completely. I now attempt to sleep for 7 hours daily.
Consequences of not sleeping enough
Sleeping less on 1 off day does not cause any impact. However, if you sleep for 6 or lesser hours in the long run, your body does not get the REM and NREM sleep it needs.
You might have read articles on the internet of successful people who sleep less and chase goals that are larger than life. Please note that no one writes about a person who suffered from sickness due to lack of sleep. Due to the survivorship bias, you only hear stories of success.
For example, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who slept less than 6 hours, suffered from ailments such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia in their later life.
If you make lack of sleep a habit:
- You would not grow wiser with age
- You would not be able to learn and retain new information effectively
- Your body would turn more vulnerable to diseases
- You get irritable and angry
- You would not be able to get over a major emotional distress
9 Reasons you do not fall asleep
Instead of talking about how to fall asleep, I will mention the reason why you have trouble sleeping. I will not get into the cases where you have a sleep disorder such as narcolepsy or insomnia. Since I am not a doctor, I do not intend to propose any medical suggestions to you. If you suspect a medical condition behind your lack of sleep, you should seek help from a medical professional.
The reasons I cover are where a person fails to get a good night’s sleep under normal conditions. By avoiding these you can learn how to sleep better.
1. Using a light/lamp in your bedroom
If you have the habit of using a table lamp or having any source of light, it could delay the time you take to fall asleep. I understand that you might be anxious about sleeping in darkness, but the science behind sleep has reasons why light impacts sleep.
As it gets darker, your body starts generating a hormone called melatonin. As the night goes by more melatonin builds up. This hormone does no harm. The purpose of melatonin is to send a signal indicating that it is time to sleep. Melatonin handles the day-night cycles of the body.
Evolution learned to follow this cycle based on the light available during the ancient day and night. Today, however, artificial lights are all around us and the body cannot figure out if it is night yet.
Having a light in the bedroom inhibits the production of melatonin within the body. Even with the eyes closed, the body senses the light. Thus, the body ends up confused if the night has arrived or not.
Ditch the light from your bedroom and try to build a habit of sleeping in darkness. If you want to go a step further, dimming the lights as the evening goes by, assists your body to sleep well.
2. Laying in the bed awake for long
While you lie in bed awake, you grow anxious with time. You try to fall asleep and you don’t. You try shifting from one side to another, but no good. You watch the clock and realize you have not slept for 30 minutes. The same cycle repeats and you keep trying as the clock ticks.
With more time elapsed, the more anxious you get. This anxiety adds more pressure to fall asleep making the process of falling asleep even harder. It turns into a vicious cycle you cannot escape.
Therefore, if you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes of getting into bed, sit up and do something relaxing. You can read a book(a real one, not on a backlit Kindle or a tablet), listen to soothing music, draw a sketch. Do not watch TV or use your smartphone because the light from the devices interferes with your sleep patterns.
Once you feel sleepy, go back under the quilt again.
3. Filling the bedroom with things
If your bedroom is filled with things such as a computer, TV, treadmill or an ancient artifact, you needlessly disturb your own sleep.
The more cluttered your bedroom is, the more thoughts enter your head. The treadmill can remind you about not working out for the last 3 days. The computer can remind you of the email you have to send tomorrow. The artifact might remind you about the difficulty you faced to ship it home.
Move all the clutter out. The fewer things in your bedroom, the more peacefully you will sleep. If you almost fall asleep then wake up soon after, the things in the bedroom could be the reason why.
4. Having a clock in your bedroom
Surprised? But yes, having a clock in your bedroom can hinder your sleep for 2 reasons.
The first reason is, most wall clocks tick. When you sleep in peaceful surroundings, the clock tick from the clock rings in your ears. The ticking sounds louder when the room is air-conditioned.
The second reason is, the clock adds anxiety as mentioned earlier. With more time going by while you lie awake, you feel the pressure to fall asleep. You worry about working tomorrow without enough sleep. The pressure makes the situation worse than it already is.
If you have a wall clock on the wall of your bedroom, getting rid of it might help you sleep well.
5. Eating or drinking water in large quantities before sleep
A digestion process follows eating and drinking. Any food you eat has to be digested by the body. The water you drink has to be processed by the body.
Eating a large meal before bed can lead to indigestion. Drinking a lot of water can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night to pee.
A light snack or a few small sips do not cause any problems. But when the consumption turns into large quantities, you can end up hampering your sleep.
6. Consuming Caffeine and nicotine
Coffee, colas, chocolate and some teas contain stimulant caffeine. Such caffeine sometimes requires 8 hours to wear off.
The coffee that you enjoyed last evening could be the reason why you did not fall asleep yesterday. Skip coffee in the evening.
Nicotine works as a similar stimulant like caffeine. This causes smokers to have erratic sleep. Besides, smokers might also feel the withdrawal symptoms after a few hours of sleep. These withdrawal symptoms cause smoking pangs causing them to wake up. Sometimes, you might have thought, “I’m tired but I still cannot sleep.” One common reason behind that is some stimulant preventing your tired body from resting.
Alcohol inhibits sleep too. Though a glass of wine makes you tipsy and gives you an impression of helping you fall asleep, it does not help you fall asleep like usual. Under alcohol, you fail to complete your REM sleep, keeping you only in the lighter phase of sleep. Also, binge drinking can lead to difficulty in breathing at night.
7. Sleeping at a different time each day but waking up at the same time
Not maintaining a regular sleep schedule confuses the body. As a part of the millions of years of evolution, your body has learned to maintain patterns of sleeping and being awake.
By hampering these timings, you put your body in a state of confusion. While your body tries to adapt to your new sleep time, you sleep at a different time again confusing it further.
Irrespective of the time you go to sleep, you finally wake up at the same time due to things to do the next day. I used to do the same. Whatever time I slept, I had to wake up at 8 AM to get to work. Every day I slept for different hours.
Such sleep patterns fail to complete both your REM and NREM sleep, which are necessary for you to function normally over the long term. To learn more about REM and NREM sleep, read the article from WebMD.
If you sleep at a different time, use the sleep calculator to help you wake at a time where you complete a sleep cycle. This calculator works only as a temporary workaround. For the long term, sticking to a regular sleep schedule is the healthiest for you.
8. Using Smartphones, watching TV
Many people have a habit of browsing social media while lying on the bed. Some people watch TV until they fall asleep too.
If you do the same, you probably have cultivated a habit of doing the same every day.
Your smartphone emits blue light as a part of the display. This light suppresses melatonin, the hormone responsible to signal your body to sleep.
Watching TV hampers melatonin generation due to the brightness too.
You can install apps on your phone that reduce the blue light based on time. But, nothing works better than not using the phone at all.
Keep your phone away and stay away from TV 30 minutes before you go to bed.
9. Avoid Naps after 3 PM
Afternoon time is when you are halfway through the day. A nap in the afternoon helps you rest as it lies somewhere close to the midpoint of the day. It works as an energy reserve for the next half of the day.
Power naps work best between 1 – 3 PM. If you take a nap beyond 3 PM, your nap falls into the second half of the day. The rest you enjoyed in the afternoon can hamper some people from sleeping at night.
If you have trouble sleeping at night and have a habit of taking a nap in the afternoon, try skipping your naps for a week or two to check if it helps.
The ideal power nap time is 15-20 minutes. Though there is no concrete proof, it is believed that a 7 min nap is good enough to refresh your system temporarily. However, a 15-20 minute nap works as a benchmark for most people.
You can nap for 30 min, during which your body is starting to go deeper into the sleep cycle. If you sleep beyond 30 minutes and wake up before 80 min, you end up waking up fatigued. This is because you disturbed a sleep cycle. The longer your nap is, the higher the chances of disturbing your sleep at night.
Please note, I am not a sleep scientist. My tips on how to sleep better is based on reading and analyzing studies done by sleep scientists and experimenting with my own sleep pattern. What the sleep scientists know about the brain and sleep is not concrete. A lot of gray areas are under research while you read this article.
If you constantly wake through the night, the reason could be one among the above or a medical situation. The same goes for other symptoms like waking up soon after falling asleep, not being able to sleep through the night and erratic sleep. Do not refrain from consulting a doctor if you believe your situation needs medical attention.
Sleep and brain research are fairly new branches of science and the tips mentioned here are not etched in stone yet because there is no concrete proof. The human body is unique and each body has a different response to the same action. I recommend trying these tips and finding out what works for you.
Sleep does way more to your body than just providing rest. If you sleep less than 7 hours, you harm your body in the long run. As Matt Walker explains in his book Why we sleep, you need to understand the importance of sleep.
If you boast about sleeping less and doing more, you got it wrong. Sleeping less than 7 hours hampers the natural way the body works. However, every person has a unique body and how the body responds to lesser sleep is different in each person. You must always try to find techniques on how to sleep better.
Sleep well, rest well and you will spend your day well.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.