14 Reasons You’re Not Sleeping

14 Reasons You’re Not Sleeping

Allison Van Dusen / Forbes
4:00 PM ET

Hetem, the 47-year-old owner of a dog grooming salon based in Lebanon,
N.J., noticed changes in the way she was sleeping over a decade ago but
never thought to talk to a doctor about it.

Instead, she sought out medical advice pertaining to her frequent
headaches but doctors were never able to determine the cause. Hetem
attributed the fact that she never felt well rested and was frequently
waking up at night to the growth of her business and her age.

Eventually, thanks to the suggestion of a friend, Hetem got a sleep test and found she had sleep apnea,
a sleep disorder that disrupts breathing and can cause headaches. She
guesses she’s had the condition, which causes sleep deprivation, most
of her adult life.

"You just start to think, ‘This is normal,’ until somebody points out that it isn’t," she says.

Hetem’s situation is an all-too common one for millions worldwide.
In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that one in 10 adults struggle with
chronic insomnia, not to mention the one in three who occasionally deal
with the condition and those who suffer from other sleep disorders.

In recent years, though, thanks to media attention and educational
campaigns, there’s been a growing awareness about the importance of
sleep and its impact on our health and productivity.

But experts say many people still have no idea what is keeping them up at night.

That’s because those who’ve been dealing with sleep difficulties for
long periods of time often forget the initial catalyst or don’t realize
the extent of the problem, says Dr. Ana Krieger, director of the NYU
School of Medicine Sleep Disorders Center and co-leader of the
extended-stay chain AKA’s Sleep School seminars.

Making Matters Worse
Beyond not recognizing what’s wrong, many people also
unknowingly learn self-perpetuating behaviors or come up with solutions
that hurt more than help.

"When you look at people who are having problems sleeping, a lot of
the logical things they are doing to fix the situation actually end up
making it worse," says Philip Gehrman, an assistant professor of
psychology at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia who treats
people with insomnia.

That list includes taking naps, going to bed early and staying in bed
when you can’t get to sleep. While it makes sense to take a nap if
you’re sleep deprived, Gehrman says the practice interferes with your
overall sleep drive and makes it harder for you to fall asleep at
night. Going to bed early may seem like a way to get some extra sleep,
but not if your new bedtime goes against your circadian rhythm, which
prevents you from being able to sleep equally well at all times of the
day. Likewise, staying in bed when sleep eludes you tends to only
increase your performance anxiety, making it harder for you to get the
rest you need.

New research shows that a few other factors might be having more of
an effect on your ability to sleep well than you realize. A
collaborative study by researchers at the Brooklyn Health Disparities
Center at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Brooklyn-based Long Island
University found that women who worry about cancer,
none of whom had a history of the disease, have a nearly 50% greater
chance of having trouble sleeping. A new study out of the University of
Pittsburgh also shows that there’s a link between the quality of a couple’s marriage and
a woman’s risk of having sleep problems. The unhappier the marriage,
the higher the risk, says author and University of Pittsburgh
psychologist Wendy Troxel.

You can’t discount the impact of the tanking economy, either, says
Dr. Carol Ash, a board-certified sleep and pulmonary specialist and
medical director of the New Jersey-based Somerset Medical Center’s
Sleep for Life Center. In the past six months, Ash says she’s seen a
jump in the number of patients visiting her practice who find
themselves awake at night due to worries about their companies

They’re not the only ones bringing their work to bed with them at
night. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2008 Sleep In America Poll, a
national survey of 1,000 working adults, found that nearly one-quarter
of respondents did work relating to their job within an hour of going
to bed a few nights a week. The habit, experts say, doesn’t give you a
chance to unwind and ease into sleep mode. Even computers need a little
time to shut down.

Of course, not all causes of sleep problems can be fixed by rearranging your schedule or revamping your diet.
Many insomniacs need cognitive behavioral therapy, a treatment
requiring multiple sessions that aims to change the way you feel and
behave when it comes to sleep. A tendency to be a light sleeper and
being a new parent can be hard challenges to overcome too, unless you
like white noise machines or can afford a great night nurse.

Experts say that’s OK–we’re all bound to encounter sleep
disruptions from time to time throughout our lives. Just make sure you
don’t let the problem go on for too long.

"There will be periods in life where you have to give up sleep so
you can accomplish something big," Krieger says. "Just know that you
can only do that for a certain period of time or there will be
long-term consequences."

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