Top 5 Reasons for Insomnia

Poor sleep is often connected to snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. It can be a chicken or egg scenario – fear of OSA episodes may interrupt one’s ability to relax in the first place, for example – but while the exact mechanism isn’t always known, it’s clear that sleep issues and snoring have something of a parallel history.

If you have trouble getting to sleep (or staying there…both are indications of insomnia), you may be at a loss as to what’s causing the problem. Here are the top five reasons for the frustrating condition, and what you can do about them right now – before you miss another moment’s sleep.

1. Stress.

This is an obvious one, and you’ve probably heard it before, but it’s true: stress really can keep you from falling asleep, or cause multiple wakings during the night. It can also reduce your overall quality of sleep. Stress produces more adrenaline than you normally have in your body during a non-stressed state. This is so that you may either “fight or flee” from what your body can only understand as a threat. Because your body can’t differentiate the threats of a charging tiger and the promotion you’re coveting potentially going to a lesser candidate, the adrenaline will be there, ready to allow you to do something, anything – and now, now, now!

It’s clear that this setup is not sleep-promoting. Even if you attempt to calm yourself down before bedtime, the stress hormones will still be circulating. You’ll lie in bed worrying because it’s getting later and later and you have a big day tomorrow, so instead of calming down, more stress hormones are produced and you’re more awake than ever. It’s a catch-22 situation.

What to Do About It

Put things off. Yes, really. This may be the one and only time in your life you hear such advice, but in this case, do it! If you’re lying in bed stressing, that means what you’re stressing about can’t be dealt with tonight. (If it could, you’d be out dealing with it, bedtime or no bedtime.)

So schedule an appointment with yourself to worry about the situation. (Again, yep – really!) You can even put Worry Time on your phone calendar to give your brain the double message that 1. this is not the time to worry and 2. this situation WILL be dealt with. Make your “appointment” for some very awake time – for instance, while driving to work. Then brainstorm during the drive or have your little worry session, and either deal with the issue (if possible) or put it aside until the next Worry Time session (if it’s an issue you’re required to wait and not make a move on).

2. Varying Wake Times.

Your body has pre-programmed rhythms that correspond to different aspects of your day and night and respond to cues. For example, sunlight will naturally produce wakefulness, and a slowing down at night signals that it’s almost bedtime.

Waking up influences our get-to-sleep rhythm too. It’s not just that waking later means you won’t be tired until later; rather, disorganized wake times – early for an early meeting Tuesday; normal work wake time on Wednesday; up at 6AM for your workout Saturday; up at 11AM Sunday to sleep in – tend to throw all your rhythms out of whack, confusing the issue of when to start feeling sleepy.

What to Do About It

It’s tempting to sleep in while you can, especially if you’re short on sleep time to begin with. But resist the temptation. Plan an easygoing Sunday, but still get up around your normal waketime. If your schedule varies during the week (for instance, perhaps Wednesdays are always a “later” morning for you as work opens one hour later that day), still get up at your normal time.

You are teaching your body in this way when wake time is, and it will begin to recognize that and will set its “sleep time” as a much more regular hour, too.

3. Snoring.

You knew we’d get to this. It’s true (and it’s important): snoring, if the cause is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), absolutely can throw your sleep off-kilter and cause you to sleep poorly the next night. With OSA, often, patients will stop breathing for seconds or even a minute or two at a time. That’s terrifying, and is an emergency signal to your body. You may subconsciously or physiologically resist falling asleep for this reason.

With OSA, your body also doesn’t register that it has had a “complete” sleep, because though you may not remember later, you do slightly wake during each episode and can be pulled out of various portions of the sleep cycle (REM sleep, for example). So your body and brain aren’t sure when the next sleep should happen. When you put your head down on the pillow the next night, the result can be staring at the ceiling.

What to Do About It

Treat it. Sure, that sounds simple, and there may be a curve here while you and your doctor work out what’s best to treat your OSA. But you MUST treat it. Getting even, regular breathing at night with as little interruption as possible is necessary so you can have a good night’s sleep.

4. OTC Sleep Medications.

It sounds counterintuitive, but medications designed to produce sleep can actually cause more issues in the long run. At first they “knock you out,” but later you discover your sleep is worse than ever, and that you need to take more medications to produce the desired effect. At this point you may be tempted to get a prescription. What’s going on?

Actually, medications designed to induce sleep are producing what is an “artificial sleep,” meaning they put you into a deeper sleep faster than naturally falling asleep would, while side effects may bring you back to semi-wakefulness throughout the night. Over time, your body is confused by the signals it’s receiving and may also be becoming immune to the effects of the medication, necessitating more of it per dose. To make matters worse, in the morning you may be groggy, with slowed reflexes – and that can be dangerous.

What to Do About It

Stop taking them. Too simple? It’s your Step One and it’s unavoidable. Chaos may ensue for a few days up to a couple of weeks; be ready for that. (If possible, stop cessation of a continuous OTC sleep medication schedule during a time period where you don’t have to be as productive as usual – say, vacation.) After that, you’ll begin to get more on an even keel and you can begin addressing your insomnia in other ways, such as we describe in this article, or whatever course your doctor recommends including an eating, workout, rest and stress-reduction protocol.

A Plethora of Electronics.

Many of us just can’t put them down. If it’s not the phone, it’s the tablet. If it’s not the tablet, it’s the laptop. If it’s not the laptop, it’s the Wii. Our world is FULL of electronics. And we love them. Why wouldn’t we? They’re cool, they’re often functional and they make us feel connected to the world around us.

Unfortunately, electronics pull double-duty on keeping us awake at bedtime. One half of the equation is the type of stimulation that reading while viewing images produces; this double-whammy is HIGHLY stimulating even if we feel “zoned out” or hypnotized by it. The other half of the issue is that electronics generally produce artificial light, signaling to our brains that it is nowhere NEAR bedtime.

What to Do About It

We know you’re going to groan – but put down/turn off ALL electronic devices at least one full hour before bedtime.  Two hours is even better, but that’s your call. You need to show your brain that “stimulation time” is over, and your brain needs time to register this fact – period. You can’t and won’t do that by staring at a moving, word-filled, visuals-filled, colorful, bright screen. (Not even if you have it “dimmed.”)

Put the electronics down. Sit peacefully. Listen to music. You can read; words without the stimulation of light and graphics can be soothing rather than stimulating. Take a warm bath. Then hop into bed and have a great, fulfilling sleep.