Imagine you are super exhausted after a busy day. Tomorrow will be more of the same, and you have to wake up early. You are struggling to keep your eyes open.
Now you climb into bed and expect to be asleep in a few minutes. But that does not happen. Instead, you’re wide awake, turning and twisting, counting sheep, and applying whatever methods you can to close your eyes. But sleep remains a distant dream; why?
Well, for one, it may be due to disrupting the circadian rhythm.
What is circadian rhythm? This is basically an internal mechanism that controls our body’s physiological processes. One of its functions is regulating sleep, including determining the time to go to sleep and wake up. Everyone has their own rhythm. So, when you are tired but still cannot sleep, it may be just that your circadian rhythm is off.
There are many causes of such disturbance, e.g., taking long naps in the daytime or napping in the late afternoon, stress, anxiety, or depression. Sometimes it may be due to a condition called delayed sleep phase syndrome, which happens if you sleep more than 2 hours after your regular bedtime.
Other things that could throw your rhythm off include caffeine consumption 4-6 hours before bed. Watching TV, using tablets, laptops, smartphones, or any blue light-emitting devices within 02 hours of bedtime is also detrimental. These devices can suppress melatonin production, which has a role in sleep induction.
Another reason for failing to fall asleep is called ‘conditioned or learned arousal.’ According to Philip Gehrman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, this is a common sleep problem resulting from your brain not associating going to bed with sleep. This could happen after a few sleepless nights in bed due to stress or other reasons. Consequently, our brain starts to think of the bed as not a place to sleep.
Sometimes failure to fall asleep is just because we are not yet sleepy. Often the feeling of tiredness, fatigue, and sleepiness are thought of as the same, but there are subtle differences. So, we may go to bed feeling exhausted, thinking that sleep will come immediately. But we keep turning and tossing in bed simply because we are not sleepy.
There are certain things we can practice to improve our sleep. Keeping the bedroom dark, maintaining the temperature between 15–19°C (if possible), avoiding digital devices and caffeine-containing drinks before going to sleep, and using relaxation techniques are all part of sleep hygiene.
We should also try to get into a regular sleep routine to help settle our circadian rhythm. This does not preclude some extra sleep on the weekends or holidays. It means we build a steady pattern to follow.
Before we conclude, let’s try something when sleep does not come easily. Let’s just get out of the bedroom, do something relaxing, whatever works based on the individual, and then go back and try again.
There is no guarantee it will work, but it’s worth a try!