Sleep deprivation is a severe health problem around the world. It is also a significant productivity problem. Although many people operate under the misconception that going with little sleep means they are working harder and are more productive, it turns out that just the opposite is true. In fact, according to one study, compared to workers who regularly get seven to eight hours of sleep, those who get five to six hours experienced a productivity loss of 19%. Additionally, those who got less than five hours of sleep experienced 29% more productivity loss. For people suffering from sleep disorders, including even mild insomnia, the numbers are even worse.
In addition to a loss of productivity, sleepiness on the job can affect your judgement, problem-solving skills and ability to retain or retrieve critical information. It is also linked to an increase in workplace injuries and accidents. Then, of course, there are health issues associated with a sleep deficit. Over the long term, a lack of sleep can lead to a host of serious illnesses including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even early death.
There are many reasons to get a good night’s sleep. But, what if you just can’t? Several factors could be affecting your ability to sleep and sleep well. Start by figuring out precisely what the cause of your sleeplessness is and then address the problem. Here are some of the most common issues that might be impacting your quality of sleep.
1. Your Environment
We all know people who can fall asleep anywhere, any time. Unfortunately, that is not the case for most of us. If you have trouble falling asleep, start by assessing your environment. Everything from lighting to noise can affect your sleep, as can the bed and even the city you sleep in.
Too Much Light
Darkness is a signal to the body that it is time to sleep. Too much light can affect our internal clocks, which then tells our bodies that is it time to wake up rather than go to sleep. This interferes with the quantity and quality of sleep we get. If your environment is too light, reduce the sources of light. If necessary, purchase room darkening shades or curtains.
Too Much Noise
Noise, especially new or sudden sounds, can also impact the quality of our sleep. Sound machines can help as they provide steady sounds that eliminate other noises. Noise-cancelling devices and apps are also available. Even the use of heavy curtains or towels rolled up against doorways can help block out the sounds that may be preventing you from sleeping.
An Uncomfortable Bed
How comfortable is your bed? Beds that are too soft or hard, or even too old, can have a dramatic impact on how you sleep. Signs that your bed isn’t working for you include joint stiffness, body pain or general grogginess when you first wake up. If buying a new mattress isn’t a possibility, consider purchasing a mattress topper or pad.
2. Chronic Medical Conditions
Insomnia and sleep apnea are obvious examples of medical conditions that can impact your sleep, but there are many others. They include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Kidney disease
- Mental health problems such as depression
- Neurological disorders
- Respiratory problems
- Thyroid disease
Most of these require medical intervention, particularly if they are impacting your quantity or quality of sleep. Talk to your physician if you suffer from any of these illnesses and are experiencing problems with sleeping.
3. Falling Asleep and Staying Asleep
How quickly you fall asleep is directly linked to the quality of sleep you get. If you are unable to fall asleep within the first thirty minutes, your rest is more likely to be interrupted and less sound. It’s also a possible symptom of insomnia.
Repeatedly waking up in the night or waking up and being unable to fall back asleep for more than twenty minutes both have a severe impact on the quality of your sleep. It interrupts the natural rhythm of your sleep, and you experience less deep sleep and REM sleep.
This one seems obvious. When we are stressed out, we have difficulty sleeping, and the sleep we do get is often restless or interrupted. However, having trouble sleeping can also exacerbate our stress. We become so focused on the idea of sleeping that we simply can’t. It’s a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep makes us less emotionally, intellectually and physically able to handle stressors in our lives.
For many people, stress is unavoidable, but there are solutions we can use to deal with the sleeplessness it causes. In turn, this will help us deal better with the stress we do have to face.
Consider relaxation techniques that help put you in the right frame of mind for sleeping. These can include meditation, yoga, soothing music or even adult-style bedtime stories. Anything that can take your mind off worries and allow you to relax and fall asleep could be beneficial for your sleep quality. If you don’t know where to start, there are online tutorials and even apps that can help.
5. Consumption Habits
Anything you consume before going to bed can have a direct impact on the quality of your sleep. This includes everything from your late-night snack to that quick scan of social media before you close your eyes. Most sleep experts suggest that you eschew snacks at least one hour before bedtime and put away your electronic devices at least thirty minutes before you sleep.
The blue light emitted by most phones and other devices can contribute to wakefulness by suppressing the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Consider swapping your electronic devices for other alternatives — for example, instead of reading on your e-reader, pick up a paper book instead.
Your body’s efforts to process that late-night snack and the energy it gives you can both keep you awake. Even exercising too close to bedtime can impact the quality of sleep you get. Exercise raises your body temperature, speeds up your heart rate, and stimulates your nervous system, all of which can lead to interrupted sleep.
Assess and Adjust
Determining which issue is affecting the quality of your sleep may take some time. Take the time to assess your sleep and environment and try a process of elimination approach to identify the issues affecting you.