Everybody goes through times when they struggle to sleep. This could be as a result of various reasons. If you regularly have problems falling or staying asleep, you should have a look at your lifestyle. There are some things that cause sleep disturbances that you should strive to avoid.
Caffeine and nicotine
It is a widely known fact that caffeine makes you more alert. When the neurons in the brain feel overworked, the brain releases a compound called adenosine, which slows down its function and makes you sleepy. Caffeine blocks this compound, thus keeping you awake for longer.
Nicotine is a stimulant that is easily absorbed into the blood. Once in the brain it copies the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps regulate heart rate, breathing and muscle movement. Nicotine narrows the blood vessels and causes your heartbeat to accelerate, thereby raising your blood pressure. All of these make you restless and less able to sleep. It is best to avoid having coffee and smoking at least two hours before going to sleep.
Many people firmly believe in having a nightcap just before going to bed. Although it is true that alcohol is a sedative and will help you fall asleep more easily, it is processed by the body within an hour or two. After that your sleep is more disturbed than usual and you will wake up frequently. Alcohol should preferably not be consumed for at least two hours before going to bed. Having too much to drink late at night will also wake you often with the need to urinate.
Eating late at night often has you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Rich, spicy or greasy food has an especially negative effect on your sleep. Certain foods are well known for keeping you awake. These include bacon, cheese, sweet things, ham and tomatoes. They all contain an amino acid called tyramine, which releases a substance that stimulates the brain, thus keeping you awake. Eating late at night also sometimes causes heartburn and acid reflux when you lie down. These symptoms are bound to make you uncomfortable and awake, even those who sleep on electric adjustable beds. Too much meat before bed time will also disturb your sleep. Drinking a glass of milk just before going to sleep could help with this as it contains tryptophan, which makes you sleepy.
Certain medications, not least those that have been prescribed by a doctor, can have the effect of disturbing your sleep. Sometimes it is a case of different medicines counteracting each other; always read labels carefully, especially if you use over-the-counter medication.
Decongestants in cough medicine and weight-loss products are stimulants, so should not be taken at night. Most over-the-counter sleep medications disrupt your sleeping patterns in the long run and achieve the opposite effect than that for which they are taken. Anti-depressants, heart and blood pressure medication, Ritalin and corticosteroids have the same stimulating effect.
A noisy environment might be one of the most disturbing reasons for loss of sleep. Factors that contribute to this include a partner who snores, dogs barking in the night, noisy traffic or trains passing continuously and, of course, noisy neighbours. Even a ticking old-fashioned clock could keep light sleepers awake. Bright lights also stimulate your brain into a state of wakefulness. Solutions to these problems include using an eye mask, inserting ear plugs, listening to soothing music or making use of noise reduction machines. These create ambient or white noise that masks other noises.
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