By Emma Stessman
Most of the time, lack of sleep can be easily chalked up to one of these super common explanations. You know, the two hours spent scrolling Instagram before bed. Or the wandering thoughts that pop up as soon as your head hits the pillow.
But occasionally, you’ve checked all the boxes and none of the common reasons seem to apply. Regardless of your perfect sleep habits, you just can’t catch those quality ZZZs.
The thing is, the amount of sleep you get can depend on more than just your pre-bedtime routine. The foods you eat, your exercise routine, and your afternoon activities could be messing with how much you sleep each night.
That’s why we turned back to Terry Cralle, MS, RN, a clinical sleep educator and co-author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top, to get all the info on some of the more shocking reasons for sleep loss. So you can get to the root of your sleep issues and banish them with quick and easy solutions.
3 Surprising Causes of Insomnia
1. You have “bed confusion”
Much like the oft-cited Pavlov study (you know the one with the salivating dogs), a lifetime of sleeping in a bed should have you conditioned to fall asleep as soon as you hit the mattress. The problem is, Cralle explains, beds are no longer just for sleep. “When we start equating them with television time, snacking, or sitting on your laptop, you get the wrong cue,” she says. “It’s a subliminal thing, but when you’re getting into bed and you no longer get that automatic feeling, it causes problems when we want to go to sleep and when we wake up in the middle of the night.”
The solution: Take all work, lounging, and TV watching outside the bedroom. While it may not be as comfortable, sitting at a table or on the couch will likely keep you more alert and focused anyway. “The bed has to be first and foremost about sleep,” Cralle says. Though don’t worry, sex is the exception, she says.
2. You just switched to a new medication
An unfortunate side effect of many medications is their ability to mess with your sleep habits, Cralle says. Some, like antidepressants and cold meds, are notorious for making you feel like you need a midday nap. Others, like those for high blood pressure and asthma, can increase alertness and potentially cause insomnia.
The solution: If you switched meds around the same time your sleep problems popped up, they could be responsible. “Sometimes just switching the time of day that you take them can help,” she says. But it’s important to talk to your physician first if you’re planning to make any changes to your medication routine, she notes.
3. You’re eating a fat-heavy dinner
Sorry to late night snackers, but eating too close to bedtime can affect your ability to fall asleep. “You have a full stomach and digestion happening, and there’s the possibility for reflux and heartburn––it can be disruptive,” Cralle says. A 2011 study found that eating in the 30- to 60-minute period before bed can have a negative impact on REM sleep and overall sleep efficiency. Specifically, they found that people who consumed high-fat foods before bed had decreased REM sleep (apologies to the late-night avocado eaters).
The solution: The earlier you eat dinner, the better. And while if it’s not always possible to have your meal immediately after work, try to give yourself at least one to two hours before your bedtime to digest. If you’re having a glass of wine with dinner, move the time frame up to three hours, Cralle says. And if you can’t resist a late night snack try sipping a cup of herbal tea or eating a banana.