There’s a long and varied list of factors that can keep you from sleeping at night, but there’s one thing all sleepless nights have in common: They’re rough. Whether you’re suffering from anxiety, allergies or a chronic form of insomnia, losing sleep can seriously throw you off your game — both at the office and at the gym.
Here are the five most common reasons you’re not getting enough zzz’s and how to fix them.
1. YOUR MINDSET
The issue: Often, those of us who have trouble sleeping can chalk it up to depression or anxiety, says Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders and the author of “The Power of When.” “There’s a level of anxiety that builds and builds as soon as you turn off the lights,” he says. “You finally get into bed and turn out the lights, and as soon as you do that, all of the thoughts from your day start flooding into your brain and there’s no way to stop that.” When that happens, we tense up — literally — making sleep almost impossible.
The fix: The key here is to reduce your anxiety and thereby lower your heart rate, which is a prerequisite for drifting off to dreamland. “I have patients count backwards from 300 by threes,” Breus says. “It’s so mathematically frustrating you can’t think about anything else, and it’s so boring you’re out almost right away.” Reading can also help calm you down.
2. YOUR PHONE, TABLET AND COMPUTER
The issue: There’s a reason experts tell you to unplug before bed: The blue light emitted by your screen can really screw with your sleep cycle since it affects your brain’s ability to produce melatonin (one of the essential sleep hormones), says Breus.
The fix: Make it a point to unplug about an hour before bedtime (which can also help with the anxiety issue), or download an app that changes the light from your screen from that bluish glow to a reddish one at night. If you want to create a total sleep sanctuary, replace your bedroom bulbs with ones that filter out blue light and emit a softer glow.
3. YOUR BEDROOM
The issue: In addition to not having the right lights, other environmental factors like sounds and smells can have a major effect on your ability to get a good night’s rest. “After light, sound is the second most common environmental reason for contributing to sleep problems,” says Breus. “It can have a huge impact on not only your ability to fall asleep but stay asleep — especially if there’s any emotional content to the sound.”
The fix: Ideally, your bedroom should be a total sleep sanctuary — that means first and foremost investing in the kind of mattress, pillows and bedding you’ll be dreaming of all day. To remedy sound issues, reach for ear plugs or download a white noise app. And finally, look for some lavender. “There’s actually data to show that lavender does in fact help you fall asleep,” says Breus. “It causes a relaxation response in your body.”
4. YOUR DIET
The issue: You’re probably aware that caffeine too close to bedtime is a bad idea, but most people don’t know just how early they should be cutting themselves off, says Breus. “You should be stopping caffeine around 2 p.m.,” he advises. “Most people don’t know that caffeine has a half-life of about 6–9 hours depending on your metabolism, so you want to give your body plenty of time to process it.” Also to be avoided before bedtime are spicy foods and meals high in fat or sugar, as they can up your heart rate or cause digestive issues that will keep you awake.
The fix: Before bed, stick to mild meals and make sure you check your caffeine content (tea can be an unassuming culprit).
5. YOUR SCHEDULE
The issue: “The number 1 way to get good sleep is by keeping a consistent sleep schedule,” says Breus. That being said, having a variable schedule during the week or throwing a wrench in things with time zone-hopping travel can cause major sleep issues.
The fix: Do whatever you can to stick to a consistent schedule — even on the weekends. “When you stick to a regular sleep schedule during the week, not only does your body fall asleep faster but your body also gets into deep sleep quicker,” Breus says. As for jet lag, there’s not a whole lot you can do when travel-induced disturbances occur. “There is some research to show that light therapy and melatonin can help get you back on track,” says Breus.
6. YOUR ALLERGIES
The issue: “We know that indoor allergies cause congestion, and congestion causes snoring,” says Breus. Not only can that keep you up, but it can also cause sleep disturbances for your partner — a lose-lose situation.
The fix: If you notice you’re feeling stuffy on occasion, invest in an air purifier for your bedroom and make sure you’re regularly purging your space of dust bunnies. If the issue is more chronic, see your doctor about getting allergy medication.