11 Sneaky Reasons You Can't Sleep
Not sleeping as soundly as you'd like? That's understandable. Even those who have never struggled with insomnia are finding it tough to sleep right now. The coronavirus pandemic has changed daily life for almost everyone, putting the entire planet in a stressful situation with no firm end date. Anxiety is one obvious reason you're tossing and turning, but it probably isn't the only one. Especially now, there are many sneaky reasons you can't sleep. Here are 11 things to watch out for—plus, how to deal with them if they're keeping you up at night.
It's Too Quiet
Thanks to nationwide stay-at-home orders, closed businesses and dramatically reduced traffic, your bedroom may be quieter than ever. If you're a light sleeper, that's not necessarily a good thing. Now, the stray passing car or house settling sound is yanking you out of sleep. "A white noise machine or app can drown out those isolated sounds," says Abbey Dunn, M.D., an instructor at the Michigan Medicine Sleep Disorders Centers. "A lot of patients find those sounds relaxing."
We love this $15 white noise machine from Bed Bath & Beyond because you can choose from six natural sounds, including white noise, rain, ocean waves and more.
You're Overdoing the Comfort Food
Classic dinners like mac and cheese, meatloaf or lasagna sound like the perfect remedy for this unsettling time. But these heavy meals could be hurting your ability to fall and stay asleep. "Eating highly caloric foods raises core body temperature, thereby interfering with the thermoregulation needed for sleep initiation and maintenance," says Christina Pierpaoli, a sleep researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Alabama. For the best rest, enjoy your pizza at lunch and choose something a little lighter (think: salmon and salad) for dinner.
You Just Started an Antidepressant
For most people, this has been one of the most challenging times of their lives so far. If you've recently started on a new medication, congratulations on getting the help you need. But it may be interfering with your sleep. "Certain antidepressants, including Wellbutrin and Effexor, can be somewhat alerting," says Dunn. Try taking these prescriptions in the morning to minimize lost shut-eye, she says. If that doesn't help, talk to your doctor about switching to a different treatment. You can find something that works without keeping you awake.
You Shower in the Morning
When you go to an office, sudsing up in the a.m. makes a lot of sense. But if you're among the many people at home these days, consider shifting your shower or bath time to the evening to help you sleep better. "Some emerging evidence suggests that passive body heating 60 to 90 minutes before bed can hasten how quickly we fall asleep," says Pierpaoli. Why? It's counter-intuitive, but the hot water actually helps lower core body temperature, which cues the body that it's time to sleep.
You're Drinking Mint Tea
A soothing cup of tea in the evening can be a relaxing ritual to ground us in troubling times. You may want to stick to chamomile, though ($2.79, Target). If mint tea is your preferred flavor, it may be invigorating you instead of helping you wind down, according to research published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology. You might also consider replacing your minty essential oils and body wash with calming lavender-scented versions instead (we're obsessed with this soothing lavender lotion from L'Occitane.)
You're Drinking Plenty of Water
We all know it's important to stay hydrated, but nobody feels refreshed after waking up multiple times a night to visit the bathroom. "We tell people to drink only one or two 8-ounce cups of water in the evening for this reason," says Dunn. Though, of course, you do need to stay hydrated. Instead, front-load your day with water, drinking most of your H2O for the day before noon if possible. Pierpaoli sets an alarm to go off every hour in the morning to remind her to drink up.
You're Reading in Bed
While some people swear by reading in bed as a way to relax, sleep experts warn it's a habit that can hinder your sleep. Pierpaoli suggests using your bed for "the three S's only—sleep, sex and sickness." Otherwise, you condition your mind to associate the bed with wakefulness, which can leave you tossing and turning instead of snoozing. This is why she also recommends getting out of bed if you don't drift off in 15 or 20 minutes. The more the bed is linked to stress and frustration, the more elusive sleep becomes.
Your Schedule Is Gone
Routines. Remember those? If you're not commuting, you may be sleeping later some days while getting up earlier on others. That's a definite no-no in terms of sleep hygiene; you're basically giving yourself jet lag. But the schedule disruption goes beyond that. "If you're homeschooling children during the day, you might be squeezing in more work on the computer later at night, and your body interprets that screen light as sunlight," says Dunn. If there's no other way to get it all done, Dunn suggests using a pair of blue light-blocking glasses during those after-dinner hours.
You Have Sleep Apnea
Many people have sleep apnea, which means you stop breathing for brief times overnight, without evening knowing it. While snoring is a common tip-off you may have it, not everyone with the condition snores, according to Dunn. "If you're in bed for 8 hours but wake up and don't feel rested, you may want to call your doctor," she says. You probably can't go to the office, but telemedicine appointments are likely available to talk through what's going on.
Staying at Home Makes You Sedentary
"Insufficient daytime energy expenditure may cause sleep issues during this time. Fragmented daily routines hijack our motivation to engage in healthy behaviors, like exercise," says Pierpaoli. Not to mention the fact that many of the normal ways you work out, like going to the gym, are not available. For the sake of your sleep, try to make sure you move each day. Many online fitness apps are offering extended free trials, YouTube is full of free workout videos for you to explore and there's always taking a walk.
You Napped at the Wrong Time
Napping has many benefits, including much-needed stress reduction. And, contrary to popular belief, not all naps will torpedo your sleep. You just have to know when and how long to do it. "Keep your naps to 30 minutes or less," says Dunn. The right time for a siesta, in terms of getting all the benefits without sabotaging your sleep, is about 6 hours after you wake up in the morning.