Causes of Sleep Problems

Many people have sleep difficulties at some time in their life, and others have on-going sleep problems. There are a number of factors that can have a negative impact on a person’s ability to get good quality sleep. Stress is one common culprit to transient sleep troubles and often warrants examining issues in our life that may be preoccupying our mind and preventing us from quickly drifting off to sleep. It should also be noted that alcohol and other drug use can disrupt a person’s regular sleep cycle. Some people with chronic sleep issues may have a medical condition that impairs their sleep, such as sleep apnea.

Additionally, some people who start to have sleep problems start to worry about their sleep, which in turns compounds their sleep troubles. A vicious cycle starts where a person worries about their lack of sleep and not being able to fall asleep and that in turn makes it that much more difficult to fall asleep. Many have thoughts such as, “Will I get enough sleep tonight so I won’t be tired at work tomorrow?” or “If I can’t fall asleep soon, I’ll never get to sleep tonight.” These types of thoughts increase our physical arousal and prevent us from being able to fall asleep.

What is Sleeplessness?

Sleeplessness can take several forms, but what follows are the three most common:

  • The most common type is people who have difficulty falling asleep. It may take up to one to three hours to fall asleep.
  • Early morning waking is another type. Some people wake in the early hours of the morning and are unable to fall back asleep.
  • Frequent waking is the other type. Some people fall asleep easily, but they wake often throughout the night, lending to poor quality sleep over the course of the night.

Are medications the answer?

The use of sleep medications is not generally recommended. In the long run, the use of medication is unhealthy and largely ineffective. In fact, many times it is the case that sleep is worsened by the use of medications. Many of the medications used have addictive properties (Benzodiazepines) and a person will develop tolerance to the medication, which means they will need more and more in order to get the sleep-inducing effects. Some people even become physically addicted to the medication itself and can experience withdrawal symptoms. Even non-addictive medications and over the counter sleep aids can be problematic over time. A person natural sleep cycle, or circadian rhythms, can become dependent on the medication for sleep.  When people stop the use of non-addictive medication, their sleep is often made worse before the body naturally tries to readjust to a normal sleep cycle again.

Sleep Hygiene: Some Strategies for Healthy Sleep

  • Taking a hot bath or shower before bed will increase your body’s core temperature and help you relax.
  • Avoid caffeine after 10:00 am. If you need to have coffee or soda try to confine it to early morning giving time for the stimulating effects to wear off before bed. Try to avoid foods that have caffeine such as apples and chocolate.
  • Avoid naps during the day. Even though they feel good at the time, they will catch up with you when you crawl into bed and find yourself awake and refreshed from your nap earlier.
  • Use relaxation strategies. There are countless books and tapes that teach a variety of methods from breathing exercises, to mental exercises, to progressive relaxation. Find one that works for you and use it before and while getting into bed.
  • Carbohydrates can be helpful for sleep. Having some toast, cereal, or popcorn before bed can help promote sleep.
  • Avoid nicotine. If you smoke, try not to have any cigarettes 2-3 hours before bed. Nicotine feels psychologically relaxing to many people, but it is actually physically stimulating and causes veins and arteries to constrict, making your heart and body work even harder; i.e., arousal.
  • Exercise 4-5 hours before bed. Mild to moderate exercise promotes sleepiness later, whereas intense exercise, or exercise just before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Avoid using your bed for reading, talking on the phone, watching TV or writing. The brain can get psychologically conditioned for a certain level of mental alertness in particular settings. We want your brain to be conditioned to relax and fade off to sleep in this setting, not wake up and prepare for activity.
  • Use of “white noise” machines, a fan, or very soft soothing music can promote a sense of relaxation for some people. These rhythmic sounds can block out other background noises in your home that vary in pitch and may alert you.
  • Developing a relaxing ritual 20 minutes before bed can help relax both the mind and body. Some people use meditation, listening to music, or other relaxation techniques to prepare the body for rest.
  • Consistent sleep times are important. We are all creatures of habit. People who generally go to sleep around the same time each night can effectively train their bodies to go to sleep. Those who vary the time when they go to sleep are more likely to struggle with sleep issues.

Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Practice is a must. Do not expect instant results. Change does not happen overnight. Give your mind and body time to get comfortable with some of these techniques and over time develop some good sleep habits. If your sleep problems persist beyond a couple months of these efforts, you would be recommended to see your physician and request a referral to a sleep clinic to rule out a sleep disorder.

Sleep issues are a common symptom of many mental health issues. If you want to discuss your sleep issues and explore causes, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule a consultation with one of our psychologists or psychiatrists so we can help discuss treatment options. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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