There are many factors that affect the length and quality of sleep. Stress, illnesses, diet, lack of physical activity, unfavourable conditions in the bedroom – all of these contribute, among other things, to waking up and shortening the deep sleep phase, which is important for effective regeneration of the body. Do you want to improve the quality of your sleep? Check what are the most common causes of sleep problems. It is difficult to talk about effective therapy without knowing their basis.
Lack of proper sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a set of habits that affect good sleep. These include the sleep environment, lifestyle and diet. Frequent daytime naps, going to bed at irregular hours, treating the bed as a place for activities other than sleeping (e.g. eating, watching TV, working) – such habits largely affect the fact that sleep does not allow the body to fully regenerate. An important part of sleep hygiene is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Lack of outdoor exercise, caloric, highly processed food, overeating just before bedtime also makes it difficult to fall asleep and contributes to sleep problems.
The sleep environment is made up of several variables including noise, light, temperature and humidity. The size and firmness of the mattress, bedding and the presence of another person are also important.
Sounds that are too loud during sleep cause frequent awakenings and make it difficult to progress to deeper sleep phases. Particularly noteworthy is the snoring of the partner, which is the main source of noise in the bedroom. Regularly sleeping next to a person who snores leads to a constant feeling of fatigue and irritability, and breeds tension in the relationship.
Another thing that affects falling asleep and sleep patterns is light. This factor affects the “light-sensitive” cells in the retina. Based on the intensity of the light, these cells recognise whether it is day or night and “programme” the body accordingly. Too much light at night can shift our internal clock and disturb sleep. Exposure to light late at night leads to a postponement of the time we go to bed. Intense light in the middle of the night causes awakening and difficulty returning to sleep.
The ideal temperature for sleeping is considered to be between 16 and 20°. In reality, this range varies from person to person, so there are no strict recommendations as to the best temperature for optimal sleep. People simply sleep best at the temperature that is most comfortable for them.
People who have shift work often suffer from sleep problems. This is mainly due to the fact that their internal 24-hour clock, which is regulated mainly by light intensity, is disturbed. It is not uncommon for shift workers to feel excessively sleepy during night shifts and to have trouble falling asleep when they return home. The same goes for people who frequently change time zones and experience jet lag.
Drugs and stimulants
Sleep disturbance is the information that often appears among the possible side effects of many popular medications. These include antihistamines, hypertension drugs and antidepressants, among others. Beta- and alpha-blockers used to treat hypertension, among other things, shorten the length of deep sleep and REM phase, and increase daytime sleepiness. Antidepressants can significantly shorten the duration of REM phase sleep. Antidepressants from the SSRI group (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) cause insomnia in some people.
The body is similarly affected by stimulants, especially alcohol, which only on the surface facilitates falling asleep. In reality, sleep after alcohol is not deep enough and makes it difficult for the body to fully recover. It has been shown that the consumption of more than one or two drinks shortly before bedtime results in a higher number of awakenings due to the stimulant effect of alcohol, which is only metabolised a few hours after consumption. Alcohol increases the symptoms of sleep apnoea, which further disrupts sleep in people with this breathing disorder.
Sleep problems can also result from drinking large amounts of coffee and other caffeinated beverages throughout the day. Caffeine shortens the length of deep sleep and REM phase and increases the number of awakenings. The adverse effects of this substance depend, among other things, on its amount, the body’s level of tolerance and the time that has passed since its consumption. The stimulating properties of caffeine may last up to 6-8 hours and make falling asleep more difficult.
Sleep problems can also occur after withdrawal from a substance, such as sleeping and sedative drugs or alcohol.
Stress and mental disorders
Sleep problems are a common result of prolonged exposure to stress, experiencing strong emotions, and psychological disorders such as depression or anxiety. This is probably because the human body is on constant alert in stressful and potentially dangerous situations. The state of arousal makes it difficult to fall asleep, does not allow us to sleep effectively, and causes awakenings. The sleep of people who experience stress, anxiety and depression is usually shallow and the REM phase is prolonged.
Even a little stress caused by everyday worries, such as an argument with a loved one, can over-stimulate the body and affect the quality of sleep. Problems with sleep also occur when you feel insecure, lonely or have financial problems.
Sleep-disordered breathing (snoring and sleep apnoea)
One of the most serious causes of sleep problems in adults is breathing disorders – snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea. Snoring is a sign that a sleeping person has trouble breathing during sleep. This condition is caused by muscle relaxation and narrowing of the throat, whereby the flowing air causes vibrations of loose tissues in the airways. The result is the production of a characteristic sound.
Snoring is often accompanied by obstructive sleep apnoea, during which the brain receives a signal to wake the person up in order to restore proper breathing. Such a condition not only worsens sleep, but also significantly impairs daytime functioning and contributes to the development of many chronic diseases, including hypertension, ischaemic heart disease and cardiac arrhythmias.
These complaints are caused and aggravated by factors such as obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, hypertrophied palatine tonsils, and anatomical abnormalities of the nose and sinuses (e.g. crooked nasal septum), among others. The treatment of snoring and sleep apnoea is often based on the elimination of these factors.
Other health problems
The state of health has a considerable influence on the quality of sleep. Sleep may be disturbed by chronic diseases, as well as by infections lasting several days and accompanied by fever, headache and respiratory ailments. Discomfort related to the illness limits the depth of sleep and causes awakenings.
Conditions that lead to sleeping problems include:
hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases;
hormonal problems (e.g. hyperthyroidism, menopause);
neurological diseases (e.g. Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease);
respiratory diseases (e.g. asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease);
chronic pain caused by arthritis;
symptoms associated with cancer;
gastrointestinal disorders such as gastroesophageal reflux disease;
diseases of the urinary tract;
upper respiratory tract infections;
Insomnia can also be a symptom of other sleep problems. Among the most common are disorders of circadian rhythms (e.g. delayed or accelerated sleep phase syndrome). Problems such as restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movements in sleep are also associated with sleep difficulties and sleep fragmentation.
When is appropriate diagnosis necessary?
If your sleep problems have been chronic, for at least a month, it is worth seeing a specialist. This may be your GP, who will order basic tests and, if necessary, refer you to an appropriate specialist. Conditions such as snoring and sleep apnoea require a more thorough diagnosis so that effective treatment can be undertaken. The most common test is polysomnography, a sleep study that takes place in a hospital laboratory. However, its results are often unreliable due to uncomfortable sleeping conditions.
The Clebre sensor is an alternative to polysomnographic testing. It is a smart device that allows you to conveniently study your sleep at home. The wireless sensor collects and analyses breathing sounds, heart function, motor activity and body position. It allows you to analyse, record and send the results to your doctor. Clebre makes it possible to detect apnea and shortness of breath during sleep and on this basis to implement effective treatment.