A good night’s sleep sets your mind and body up for a day of alertness, mental and physical stamina, and healthy practices. That’s why sleep disorders like insomnia can wreak such havoc on our lives; interrupting those REM cycles by waking up throughout the night or failing to fall asleep altogether compromise your wellness and can lead to a frustrating, unproductive work day (and major health concerns down the road).
While it’s tempting to blame troubled sleep on stressors like a big presentation or a difficult upcoming test,- and those factors can certainly contribute to insomnia symptoms- other less-obvious causes may be behind your less-than-sound slumber, like these seven common insomnia triggers:
1. Medical conditions like reflux, allergies, asthma, and chronic pain sometimes cause insomnia.
The National Sleep Foundation explains that some medical conditions spur the onset of insomnia, due to their resultant pain, the medications required to treat them, or the development of the conditions themselves. For instance, some medications used for the common cold or migraines contain ingredients like caffeine, which can disrupt sleep patterns. As for conditions like acid reflux and chronic pain, the physical discomfort symptomatic of these issues often cause those affected to wake up in the middle of the night and experience trouble when trying to fall back asleep.
2. Depression and anxiety often manifest as sleep deprivation.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “psychological struggles can make it hard to sleep, insomnia itself can bring on changes in mood, and shifts in hormones and physiology can lead to both psychiatric issues and insomnia at the same time.” Insomnia can be both a cause and an effect of depressive tendencies or an anxiety disorder, and medical professionals recommend treatments with a focus on healthy sleep practices for both conditions to help avoid these concerns.
3. Working late into the night and allowing your “work space” to overlap with your “sleep space” can make it harder to mentally wind down and relax.
In many careers, an occasional late night of work may be a requirement. However, if you regularly carry your professional duties into the wee hours of the morning, you could establish difficulties separating work time from relaxation and sleep time. Also, using your bed as a makeshift work space can cause mental associations that make it challenging to think of your bed as a calming area conducive to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation explains that working late from home “can make it hard to unwind, and it can also make you feel preoccupied when it comes time to sleep. The light from your computer could also make your brain more alert.”
4. Frequent travel can throw off sleep patterns.
If your work responsibilities or your leisure-time preferences involve frequent travel, particularly to different time zones, the effects on your circadian rhythms can easily cause insomnia. “Your circadian rhythms act as an internal clock, guiding such things as your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and body temperature. Disrupting your body's circadian rhythms can lead to insomnia,” states The Mayo Clinic.
5. Eating a large meal late can make it difficult for the body to settle into sleep mode.
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a small snack shortly before bed, The Mayo Clinic cautions against eating a substantial meal right as you’re about to wind down for the night: “Eating too much may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down. Many people also experience heartburn, a backflow of acid and food from the stomach into the esophagus after eating, which may keep you awake.”
6. Use of caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can all cause or exacerbate insomnia symptoms.
Since one of caffeine’s primary appeals is its ability to “wake you up”, it stands to reason that it’s not ideal to consume at bedtime. The Office on Women’s Health adds a few other substances to the “avoid before bed” list: “Nicotine in tobacco products can disrupt sleep, especially if taken within several hours of going to bed. Alcohol may make it easier to fall asleep at first, but it can cause you to wake up too early and not be able to fall back asleep.”
7. Major life changes like pregnancy and menopause can result in insomnia.
Biological shifts like the ones caused by pregnancy and menopause affect many health-related aspects of our lives, including our sleep patterns. “During pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, you may wake up more often than usual because of discomfort, leg cramps, or needing to use the bathroom,” explains The Office on Women’s Health. As for menopause, common symptoms like hot flashes can interrupt sleep and make it hard to return to restorative slumber.