Toss, turn, repeat. Just. Go. To. Sleep. Sometimes all the self-talk in the world won’t get us to dreamland. In many cases, we can trace hard-fought sleep back to various life stressors: bad bosses at work, a relationship gone south, or any of the various worries that ail us. But, what about when we’re calm like yogis (or just calm-ish will do) and we still can’t sleep? We’ve assembled some underrated sleep ailments that could be keeping you awake without you realizing it.
You didn’t exercise enough.
Sleep and exercise are two good things for your body that become even better when they’re combined, and they often build the other up. When you exercise, it makes your body tired. Likewise, when you sleep, your body restores itself and enhances the results from your exercise. One study found that exercise made participants sleep longer and spend more time in slow-wave sleep—the stage when you’re consolidating memory and processing information.
An easy fix is to add some movement and activity to your day. It doesn’t matter what kind: team sports, running solo, or hitting the gym; find an activity you enjoy and make it a consistent part of your routine. Your quality of sleep will benefit.
The pesky blue light from your electronics is keeping you awake.
Smartphones can have a mesmerizing glow, especially at night, but it turns out the type of light your screen is emitting was not designed for sweet slumber. Our devices emit wavelengths of light that are heavier on the blue light side of the spectrum and lacking in the natural light spectrum. This blue light, although lovely, affects your levels of melatonin—your body’s natural “it’s time to sleep” cocktail.
The fix: many devices now have a nighttime setting that gives light a orange glow (which doesn’t mess with your melatonin production like the blue light does). Or, you could try a radical approach and charge your phone away from bed. This would also force you out of bed sans-snooze if your phone doubles as your alarm. Win and win.
You’re convinced caffeine doesn’t affect you.
Even if you don’t feel the familiar jolt of your first cup of joe when it’s later in the day, caffeine still plays its sneaky tricks on your body’s sleep process. Caffeine is a stimulant, which of course, is the opposite of what your body should be doing when it’s time for bed. One study showed that even caffeine taken six hours before bedtime had a significant disruptive effect on sleep.
The fix: give yourself a hard cutoff on your coffee intake sometime in the afternoon, keeping in mind that even at a minimum of 6 hours before bed caffeine still has an effect on sleep. A conservative deadline would be to avoid caffeine after 3 p.m., but each person’s sensitivity is going to vary.
Your room is too warm.
When it’s time for bed, your body performs an elaborate “get ready to sleep” dance: your body produces the sleep-inducing melatonin hormone when it gets dark, a compound called adenosine kicks into overdrive, and your body’s core temperature actually drops to initiate sleep. If your room, sheets, or pajamas are too warm, this can block or delay these triggers to fall asleep.
There are a few options for this fix: lower your thermostat, crack a window, sleep with cooler bedding, or stick one foot out from under the covers (this old trick is actually quite efficient in cooling the body). The optimal temperature: somewhere around 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
You drank a glass of wine to help you fall asleep.
Sure, wine does wonders to calm nerves and alleviate the day’s stresses, but drinking it to help you fall asleep might actually make your sleep quality worse. Studies have shown that alcohol does help you fall asleep quickly and sleep more deeply…at first. Alcohol before bed reduces REM sleep—the time of night we dream and when the body actually restores itself.
The fix: swap out your nightcap for something a little more sleep-friendly like chamomile tea or a tall glass of water.
Your mattress isn’t actually comfortable.
An often overlooked aspect of poor sleep is actually right under most people’s noses, err…bodies: their mattress. The mattress industry recommends replacement every 7-8 years, but many people should actually be able to tell when their mattress is no longer comfortable or providing proper support. If you’re waking up with back pain that wasn’t there when you fell asleep, it’s probably high time for a new option.
One study showed new mattresses both increased the quality of sleep and reduced back pain in participants.
The obvious fix: find a mattress you love. There are a slew of new mattress companies out there that give you long trial periods to actually sleep for a few weeks on the bed with a full refund if you don’t. My shameless plug is of course the OSO, a mattress that gives you a soft and firm option in the same bed, so your support preference can actually change over time without needing a new bed (have we sold you yet? Shop here). Whatever you end up choosing, just make sure you find it exceedingly comfortable.