5 Reasons You Can’t Sleep (And How To Fix Each One)
In today's fast-paced world, it appears that many individuals are encountering difficulties with sleep, which is concerning considering the fundamental role it plays in enhancing energy levels and concentration throughout the day.
Recent research suggests that insufficient sleep, defined by the CDC as less than 7 hours per night for adults over 18, contributes to various chronic health conditions. These include an elevated risk of certain types of cancer and hypertension. Patrick Finan, a researcher at John's Hopkins, even asserts that poor sleep can heighten the risk of heart disease and hinder the release of the satiety hormone ghrelin, which signals the body when it has consumed enough food.
Undoubtedly, sleep is a vital health concern that should be at the forefront of wellness discussions. Why are so many individuals experiencing sleep troubles? What factors in the modern world have led to widespread discussions about the importance of adequate sleep?
Outlined below are five common reasons for difficulty falling asleep and actionable solutions for each one.
1. Too much caffeine hurts sleep
To understand the sleep-wake cycle, it's helpful to delve into basic biochemistry. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) serves as the body's energy currency, providing fuel for our cells. As we utilize ATP throughout the day, adenosine levels gradually increase, signaling drowsiness and indicating that it's time for rest. Once adenosine reaches a certain threshold, we become primed for sleep. However, caffeine interferes with this process by blocking adenosine receptors, which explains why many individuals find it challenging to fall asleep after consuming a cup of coffee.
The levels of adenosine in our bodies, as well as our ability to metabolize caffeine, are influenced by genetic factors. Some individuals can consume caffeine later in the day without it affecting their sleep, while others may find themselves lying awake in bed, unable to doze off.
1. Are you a slow metabolizer of caffeine?
The metabolism of caffeine occurs in the liver through the action of cytochrome P450 enzymes. Variations in the activity of these enzymes can result in differences in the ability to metabolize caffeine efficiently. This is why individuals may discover, through genetic testing like 23andMe or by analyzing raw data using third-party websites, that they fall into either the "fast" or "slow" metabolizer category for caffeine. The classifications are largely influenced by variations in the CYP1A2 gene. If you're experiencing sleep difficulties, a simple genetic test could provide insights into why this may be the case. It's worth noting that CYP1A2 is not the sole genetic marker influencing our response to caffeine.
For instance, the "C" allele of the ADORA2A gene is associated with caffeine-induced insomnia. This is understandable since ADORA2A is responsible for producing an adenosine receptor protein. Additionally, other genetic markers, such as specific variations in the CYP1A2 gene, are associated with slower caffeine metabolism. As a result, the effects of caffeine can persist longer in some individuals compared to others.
Nearly half of the population carries at least one copy of the "C" allele of ADORA2A, indicating that many individuals may not be genetically suited to tolerate caffeine, leading to chronic sleep deprivation.
Possible solution: If you're experiencing sleep issues, consider getting a genetic test to gain a better understanding of your genetic profile. Alternatively, you can experiment with eliminating caffeine entirely and observe how it affects the quality of your sleep. However, it's important to note that abrupt cessation of caffeine intake may lead to withdrawal symptoms, which can be quite challenging. I can personally attest that these symptoms should not be taken lightly.
2. Late-night computer work hurts sleep
Humans naturally operate on a circadian rhythm, meaning we are awake during daylight hours and sleep when it's dark. The paleo diet has gained popularity as a way of eating that aligns with our ancestral roots. However, it's important to consider how our ancestors experienced light without the aid of modern technologies.
In sync with the cycle of the day, our body's hormones, cortisol and melatonin, also ebb and flow to regulate wakefulness and sleep. Cortisol, often known as the "stress hormone," plays a crucial role in energizing us for the day ahead, resulting in its highest levels in the morning. Conversely, as evening approaches and darkness sets in, melatonin gradually increases, preparing our bodies for sleep. The natural rise of melatonin during sunset is vital in facilitating a restful slumber.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles are frequently disrupted by the excessive exposure to blue light emitted by electronic screens such as televisions, smartphones, and laptops. Initial studies conducted on plankton, which have their own circadian rhythms, revealed the significant impact of blue light on disrupting these rhythms compared to other parts of the light spectrum. Previously, scientists believed that the human circadian clock was unaffected by light, but this view has changed in the past two decades. It is now a scientifically accepted fact that blue light impedes the production of melatonin, thus compromising sleep quality. Disturbingly, some research has even suggested a potential link between working night shifts, characterized by exposure to blue light and disrupted circadian rhythms and an increased risk of cancer. However, further evidence is still needed to definitively establish this connection.
To optimize your sleep routine, it is recommended to minimize exposure to blue light for at least four hours before bedtime. If you find it necessary to engage in late-night work or screen time, consider wearing blue light-blocking glasses to mitigate the effects. Additionally, it's beneficial to create a sleep-friendly environment in your bedroom by removing electronic devices such as the TV and phone. Designate this area as a dedicated sleep zone to promote better rest. Moreover, consider replacing LED lights, known for their high blue light emission, with incandescent bulbs for a more conducive sleep environment.
3. Nutrient deficiency and poor sleep
While not applicable to everyone, it's worth noting that nutrient deficiencies can impact our ability to achieve restful sleep. Certain nutrients, such as magnesium, Vitamin D, and B vitamins, are commonly lacking in the American diet.
Magnesium: A study conducted on older adults revealed that magnesium supplements significantly improved insomnia and sleep quality. Participants who took 500 mg of magnesium daily for 8 weeks experienced increased sleep duration and decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Vitamin D: Beyond its known role in lung immune function and potential benefits in respiratory infections, Vitamin D has also been linked to sleep. A meta-analysis conducted in 2018 found an association between Vitamin D deficiency and both shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality.
B Vitamins: There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that deficiencies in B vitamins may also impact sleep quality.
Consider consulting your physician to have your Vitamin D and magnesium levels tested. Collaborating with a nutrigenomics lab could provide insights into potential genetic predispositions that contribute to nutrient deficiencies. By addressing these deficiencies through proper supplementation or dietary adjustments, you may improve your sleep quality.
4. Not knowing your sleep chronotype
Your sleep chronotype is a term used to describe your genetically determined circadian rhythm, which influences your preferred sleep and wake patterns. Recent scientific research, including a significant study published in the Journal Nature, has revealed that individuals have different genetically influenced chronotypes, indicating that not everyone is biologically programmed to work and sleep at the same times.
There are several recognized sleep chronotypes, and identifying your specific chronotype can provide valuable insights into setting a schedule that optimizes both rest and productivity. At Gene Food, we classify our customers into three main sleep chronotypes:
Morning Lark: These individuals naturally prefer going to bed and waking up early.
Hummingbird: This group falls in the middle, with moderate preferences for sleep and wake times.
Night Owl: Night owls are most productive during late hours and tend to sleep in.
Finding out your sleep chronotype through genetic testing can be beneficial if you're experiencing sleep difficulties or want to align your sleep schedule more effectively.
Solution: If you're struggling to sleep according to your desired schedule, it may be worthwhile to undergo genetic testing to determine your sleep chronotype. This information can guide you in establishing a sleep routine that is better suited to your genetic predisposition, promoting improved sleep and overall well-being.
5. Not enough bright light and time outdoors
Initially, I intended to focus this section on the benefits of exercise for improving sleep quality. However, the research on this topic presents a mixed perspective. Some studies suggest that sleep quality influences exercise participation rather than the other way around. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that "results suggest that sleep influences next-day exercise rather than exercise influencing sleep." When exercise does show positive effects on sleep, it tends to be most effective in improving sleep quality over a consistent period of around four months.
While physical movement may not be the sole factor contributing to better sleep, there is evidence to suggest that exposure to light during exercise plays a role. As we have established, excessive light exposure, particularly blue light at night, can disrupt sleep. Engaging with electronic devices, such as checking your phone, before bed can hinder melatonin production and signal to your body that it's time to be awake rather than preparing for sleep.
However, bright light exposure in the early morning appears to have the opposite effect by helping regulate the circadian rhythm. Bright light therapy has shown promise in treating insomnia, as it assists in aligning the body's internal clock. For instance, a study demonstrated that combining early morning light therapy with improved sleep hygiene was more effective in treating insomnia compared to early morning or late afternoon exercise alone.
In summary, while the direct impact of exercise on sleep remains somewhat inconclusive, incorporating regular physical activity into your routine can still have long-term benefits for sleep quality. Moreover, considering the influence of light exposure, particularly bright light in the early morning, may further contribute to regulating your sleep-wake cycle.
In our modern, technology-driven society, it's easy for our sleep patterns to be disrupted. However, by understanding the importance of a healthy circadian rhythm and practicing good sleep hygiene, we can address most sleep issues. One of the most significant changes we can make to improve our sleep is to prioritize exposure to bright light in the mornings (without consuming coffee) and to avoid blue light in the hours leading up to bedtime. Additionally, incorporating magnesium into our routine can also support better sleep. By implementing these strategies, you'll be well on your way to restful nights and sweet dreams.