All The (New) Reasons You Aren’t Sleeping—And How To Fix Them

An illustration of a woman in bed, on her phone, with a fan blowing towards her and a dog at her feet, depicting the new reasons we don't sleep well.

(Illustration: Michael Byers)

Life has undoubtedly changed in the last few years – more stressors, less certainty – and our bodies are paying the price. Sleep is one area that’s been particularly affected: Insomnia rates rose globally during the pandemic, and at one point 50 percent of Canadians were complaining of sleep problems.

dr Rébecca Robillard is Associate Professor in the University of Ottawa School of Psychology and Clinical Sleep Research Fellow at the Institute of Mental Health Research at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. When it comes to self-care, she says sleep should be high on your to-do list.

“We often think about staying healthy, exercising and eating well,” she says. “But sleep is the basis of so many physiological, mental and emotional functions. It has far-reaching implications and we should really take care of it.”

Here are some common sleep zappers in 2022 — and what you can do to recapture the night.

You drink more coffee than ever

When you’re back in the office trying to stay awake, Java doesn’t do you any favors well into the afternoon when you go to sleep. The effects of caffeine can last longer than you think and can negatively affect your sleep.

When it comes to how caffeine affects you, your individual history can make a big difference. Lifelong coffee fans, for example, tolerate an afternoon cup better than someone who drinks it more sparingly. But just because your barista knows you by name doesn’t mean coffee doesn’t interfere with your REM cycles. “Studies have shown that even if you can fall asleep after consuming caffeine, you sleep more easily and with less quality,” says Robillard.

What you can do:
You probably don’t need to give up caffeine entirely, but if you find you’re not waking up rested, it might be time to review your coffee break schedule. “In general, I advise not to drink coffee after the afternoon,” says Robillard. If you’re still craving a warm drink after 3 p.m., switching to less caffeinated tea is a great way to wean yourself off. But if all the peppermint tea in the world can’t help you get through the afternoon without yawning, consider a substance-free energizer, like a lap around the block and check your body as you go.

You have hot flashes – 24/7

By middle age, both men and women begin to have more trouble sleeping. You may find it harder to fall asleep, wake up throughout the night, or sleep less deeply. Unfortunately, this period often coincides with the onset of menopause.

“Because sleep is so important to physiological function, it’s also a powerful ally [when going] through difficult phases like the menopause,” says Robillard. Easier said than done, right?

Those going through menopause often cite hot flashes as the cause of their wakefulness, but studies suggest you actually wake up before the hot flash even occurs. “There’s a cascade of reactions that then trigger both the hot flashes and the awakening,” says Robillard.

If you don’t notice yourself waking up at night but still feel sleepy during the day, Robillard suggests getting checked out for sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing stops and starts during sleep. Postmenopausal people are two to three times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than premenopausal people. If you are a loud snorer or suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, your doctor may refer you for a sleep apnea test.

What you can do:
While hot flashes don’t necessarily wake you up, they certainly don’t make it easy to fall asleep again. It can be helpful to program your thermostat to automatically cool your room in the evening.

But behavioral adjustments are your best bet. Cardiovascular training earlier in the day can help with better recovery because “sleep is very sensitive to our level of training,” says Robillard. “Anything that gets your heart beating faster will help you sleep better.” A relaxation routine before bed—think soft lights and soothing music—can also have a positive effect.

You have a pandemic puppy and she’s a bed pig

You can’t help it – Snowball is just so cute when he’s curled up like this. But by 3am this cute little ball of fluff has kind of tripled in size and with a paw on your face, it’s taking up more than half of the bed.

Of course, your pet isn’t the only factor affecting your sleeping environment: an uncomfortable mattress, a bright light outside your window, or even the person in the bed next to you can prevent you from catching Premium Zs. “If you have trouble sleeping, make sure your sleep environment promotes and protects your sleep,” says Robillard. “If your sleep is weak, [safeguard] it as much as you can.”

What you can do:
Get Snowball her own damn bed first. “It’s child’s play for me,” says Robillard, laughing. Then take stock of all the other obstacles standing in the way of a good night’s sleep and try to find solutions that optimize your sleeping environment.

First of all, your bed and pillows should be comfortable and fit your sleeping style well. If you wake up early and have trouble getting back to sleep, invest in a blackout curtain. And make sure your bedroom isn’t warmer than the ideal 18 degrees Celsius, because “our core body temperature naturally needs to drop in order for us to fall asleep and stay asleep,” says Robillard.

And the wriggling partner? Maybe you should think twice about this relationship. jokingly. But a few nights sleeping apart can help you assess the impact you’re having on each other’s rest.

“It sounds harsh, but if sleep becomes too sensitive, you might want to try a separate bedroom occasionally — or permanently,” says Robillard.

You can’t stop Doomscrolling

We’ve all heard about the ill effects of too much screen time, and the impact on sleep is twofold. “There’s this biological clock in our brain that sits just above the optic nerves that connect the eyeballs to the brain, and it’s very sensitive to the blue spectrum of light,” says Robillard. When the clock is triggered, it suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone our bodies naturally produce, making it harder to fall asleep.

Screen time can also be incredibly stimulating. “It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen as you scroll,” says Robillard. “You’re bouncing from one thing to another and you might end up with a more difficult message that affects your state of mind before bed.” Activating yourself in this way intellectually and emotionally does little to quiet the mind.

What you can do:
It may seem impossible, but your body starts producing sleep-inducing melatonin about two hours before your usual bedtime, so phones and other screens should be put away before that marker. Using orange or red filters, like those in your devices’ night modes, to counteract the stimulating blue light can help, but nothing is a substitute for taking a real break, reading an old-fashioned paper book, and preparing your mind and body for it sleep.

“Obviously we want to stay connected and up to date with the world, but timing matters,” says Robillard. “Go crazy over your screen in the morning – it sends a good wake-up call to start the day.” It can be difficult to stop the evening scrolling, but it’s like breaking any habit – do your best to replace the activity with something else, and maintain a routine that relaxes and rejuvenates you after a long day of pixelation.

Your fear has never been worse

We’ve all experienced some level of anxiety in the last few years of the pandemic – and it’s certainly disturbing our calm. “We know that there is a two-way relationship between how we feel and how we sleep,” says Robillard. “If you are more anxious, you have slept badly; and poor sleep makes it harder to cope with anxiety during the day.”

Anxiety and other mental health issues often force people to turn to alcohol or drugs to help them fall asleep. Substances like wine or CBD can help you close your eyes. But as anyone who’s had a glass of wine at night can attest, “your sleep becomes more fragmented and you get fewer deep sleep stages that you need to recover from,” says Robillard.

What you can do:
Substances won’t cure your anxiety, but sleep can work wonders. Yes, we know this sounds like a catch-22, but listen to Robillard: “When you interfere with sleep, you’re much better equipped to deal with anxiety,” she says. “You should still address the anxiety symptoms, but if you just focus on sleep, you’ll see a lot less anxiety.” Sleep is a really powerful tool to protect our mental health.” Combining a treatment like therapy with sound sleep habits can add to your stress levels.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) can be a great way to redefine your association with sleep as a time to rest rather than think. A key part of treatment is breaking any current negative associations you have with bedtime – such as: B. lying in bed staring at the ceiling in frustration.

And on the nights when your brain obsesses over the latest COVID variant, remember that your rational brain (your frontal lobe) is out of commission and your emotional brain (your amygdala) is in charge. “This is the worst time to fix bugs,” says Robillard. “Your rational brain isn’t there; it will not be effective. It’s normal to feel more stressed or emotional in the middle of the night. Put the problem on the bedside table [she suggests keeping a notebook and pen there] and know that you will address it tomorrow.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *