Insomnia: Why Aren't You Sleeping and How to Fix It

| Women's Health

Insomnia: “prolonged and usually abnormal inability to get enough sleep.” Sound familiar? Sleepless nights happen now and again, but if they’re a regular battle, it’s time to do something about it.

insomnia pillow over head

If you wake up too soon, lose focus and make more errors during the day or have some unexplained gastrointestinal issues, you could be dealing with insomnia. The human body is built on the assumption that it will get regular rest so it can repair and rejuvenate cells and metabolic processes. When it doesn’t rest, performance dips. (via Mayo Clinic)

>> Read more: Why Being Tired Isn't Just About Lack of Sleep

Researchers at Johns Hopkins actually say insomnia is not a just a nighttime disorder, but a 24-hour problem. More on this in a bit. Let’s go over a few steps in the bedtime routine you should always do and a few you can skip.

Lights out. Since our eyes act as light receptors, the second any light hits the retina, the brain begins to produce certain chemicals to make us feel awake and stops producing others that make us sleepy. Even our skin is sensitive to light, like the glow of an alarm clock or the motion-detector light outside the window. These artificial lights have the ability to affect our internal body clocks. (via Harvard: Healthy Sleep)

Solution: Turn off the flickering screens, including the TV, your smartphone, and any unnecessary lights throughout the house. Do this about an hour before you lie down. Yes, this means no more scrolling through social media once in bed. Cover the alarm clock with a hand towel or throw pillow and invest in some blackout curtains if your windows filter in too much light. Try a relaxing activity like reading a book, journaling, or stretching.

head out of bed

Too hot, too cold. A healthy body can regulate its own temperature, even throughout the night. If the thermostat is set too high or there’s a fan circulating cold air through your bedroom, your body will struggle to keep up — sweating out excess water to cool the skin or using energy to shiver and tense up when you’re cold. Either way, your sleep is disturbed. Honestly, sleep temperature is a personal thing.

Solution: Keep the head cool. If you prefer thin sheets or a huge down comforter, that’s fine. Time Magazine recently reported on a French study where participants slept in 66-degree rooms—warm enough to allow sleep, but cool enough as not to disturb it. But add in a partner and a toddler and you’ve got a crazy thermal calculation. Experiment with this and find your personal sleep temperature.

Still buzzing. Trying to wind down from a long day? If you started the morning guzzling coffee or an energy drink, the caffeine could still be in your system. Really. If you drank an 8-ounce cup of coffee at 7 a.m., it will reach its peak within 45 minutes and remain active in your body until noon, according to the Food & Drug Administration, but that’s just its half-life. That one cup of coffee can mess with your body for 12 to 14 hours.

Solution: To be realistic, limit your caffeine intake to morning hours only. By noon, you should switch to a natural energizer like lemon water. In fact, water alone can help keep the body’s systems moving since it is the fuel behind our cells energy production. It also depends on how much added sugar and fat goes into your preferred drink. So nix the grande white mocha extra whip cream latte and try black tea or coffee with a splash of cream. Click here to learn more about coffee’s effect on your health.

>> Read more: 8 Caffeine-Free Alternatives for Quick Energy

stressed woman Stress, anxiety and depression. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It could be the lack of sleep causing anxiety throughout the day, or anxiety is what keeps you up all night. On the other hand, too much sleep can dig you into a chemical depression. (via Mayo Clinic)

Solution: Take control. Your body needs to rest, so take two or three nights in a row to reset your body clock. Be diligent about your bedtime routine, adding a few minutes of meditation. Keep a pad and pen by your bed to spill your thoughts onto instead of letting them run rampant in your head.  Click here for a beginner’s guide to mediation.

It’s all in your head. As much as environmental factors affect sleep, insomnia could be caused by the way the brain is designed. Going back to the research at Johns Hopkins, they found one part of the brain called the motor cortex can be more adaptable to outside influences in some people. One of their studies suggested this flexibility causes people to process more information and increase cortisol levels, which leads to stress. It’s difficult to turn off.

Solution: Talk to your doctor. There is no black and white test for insomnia; it’s all subjective and the diagnosis is based on what you tell your doctor. Keep a sleep journal to help you help yourself when your appointment comes. Log food and drinks consumed a few hours before you lie down, if you exercised or napped that day, etc… or try the National Sleep Foundation’s sleep diary.

>> Read more: Healthy Snacks to Help You Sleep Better