In this post we’ll discuss how our lifestyle triggers sleep problems which is costing us a good night’s sleep that invariably carries consequences.
One-third to one-half of the population suffers from sleep problems. In some cases, these have a particular medical cause. Still, in most cases, the problems are caused by our lifestyle.
Our lifestyle is one of the major triggers of sleep problems and insomnia. Keeping busy right until the time we go to bed causes hyperarousal, a strong activation that can interfere with sleep. Our circadian rhythm is an effective internal mechanism that has been disturbed by modern lifestyle.
The leading cause is going to sleep too late and irregularly. This is not a disease, but it is at the root of a chronic lack of sleep that is reaching epidemic proportions in our society.
Through bad habits, we build up a kind of sleep debt, which compromises our sleep duration and quality. Read on for some pointers.
Table of Contents
- 1 How our lifestyle triggers sleep problems: Introduction
- 2 Factors influencing how long we sleep
- 3 Lifestyle factors affecting our sleep quality
- 4 Sleep apnea and insomnia are the most common sleep problems
- 5 How our lifestyle triggers sleep problems: Conclusion
How our lifestyle triggers sleep problems: Introduction
Our bodies have a biological clock that regulates our sleep.
This internal clock is tuned to the day-night rhythm indicated by sunlight and is called the circadian rhythm.
A disturbance of this internal clock leads to less sleep and lower quality of sleep.
Factors influencing how long we sleep
A disturbance of our circadian rhythm has caused us to shorten our sleep by an average of 1.5 hours in the last thirty years.
Disturbed biological clock due to artificial light
Until the advent of electricity, we followed that circadian rhythm reasonably well.
Before that time, there was light from artificial sources (torches, oil lamps, candles, etc.). Still, it was a lot less than the artificial light we have in our homes today in terms of intensity.
Moreover, these rudimentary light sources have a different and less disruptive color spectrum than the bright white light of our current lamps.
Continuous exposure to electronic screens
In addition, the light from electronic screens has been added in recent decades.
Unlike the TV, screens are no longer confined to one location but go with us everywhere, often even into the bedroom and our bed.
As a result, just before we go to sleep, we are exposed to light that is very similar in intensity and color spectrum to the light from the sun.
As a result, our brains think it’s daytime when they should prepare for a well-deserved night’s sleep.
Our current day-night rhythm has also shifted due to our social (media) activities.
In fact, we go to sleep several hours later compared to the past.
Teenagers tend to sleep later and longer
Teenagers tend to go to sleep later and also sleep in longer. This is not a matter of laziness but the result of several physiological processes that proceed differently in children and adults.
Thus, daily melatonin production in teenagers occurs later. For this reason, they have an extra hard time getting out of bed in the morning and getting to school on time.
According to American research, about 90% of college students are sleep deprived (resulting in numerous undesirable side effects).
Therefore, many schools have now chosen to have their classes start an hour later.
The results were striking:
- behavioral and mental problems decreased,
- school results improved, and
- the number of car accidents by young people was even reduced by about 20% in some cases.
Thus, a simple measure such as having classes start later can significantly impact the leading cause of death among young people.
- Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, 2018
- Bin-Hasan, et al., School Start Time Change, Sleep Duration, and Driving Accidents in High School Students, CHEST Journal, 2019
- Chang, et al., Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness, PNAS, 2014
Lifestyle factors affecting our sleep quality
Our lifestyle can also have a detrimental effect on sleep quality.
Significant threats to good quality sleep include late-night overeating, caffeine, and alcohol in the hours before bedtime, lack of exercise, and stressful thoughts or activities before bedtime.
Traveling to other time zones can also mess up our sleep and cause jet lag.
Our bodies need about a day to adjust for every hour of the time difference.
There is also a phenomenon called social jet lag.
This is when people try to sleep longer on the weekends, which is also disruptive.
Hyper arousal before bed makes it more difficult to fall asleep
Often, just before we have to go to bed, we are still busy with emails, social media, or even professional work and household chores.
These things can cause hyperarousal, a strong activation that can interfere with sleep.
Night work disrupts our biological clock and causes shorter sleep
Our day-night rhythms can also be significantly disrupted by shift work (especially night work).
This is often accompanied by shorter sleep times and, obviously, a disruption of our biological clock.
Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified night work as possibly carcinogenic.
Significantly, however, the negative impact of night work can be largely mitigated by ensuring a particular routine and paying attention to other aspects of our lifestyle.
- Hansen, Night Shift Work and Risk of Breast Cancer, Current Environmental Health Reports, 2017
- Kogevinas, et al., Prostate cancer risk decreases following cessation of night shift work, International Journal of Cancer, 2019
Sleep apnea and insomnia are the most common sleep problems
There are more than 80 different sleep problems, but the two most common are:
- sleep apnea, and
Obstructive sleep apnea is a repeated interruption of breathing during sleep for at least ten seconds:
- Sleep apnea is more common in men and has also been linked to obesity.
- This can seriously disrupt sleep, even if it doesn’t always wake you up.
- Most, but not all, people with sleep apnea snore, which can also be a problem for their partner.
Standard therapy uses a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, a type of mask.
This mask is worn at night and introduces a constant overpressure to the sleeper’s respiratory tract.
Oral prostheses can also sometimes provide a solution, and in severe cases, surgery may even be necessary.
However, these only treat the symptom, not the underlying causes. These usually need to be addressed with lifestyle modifications.
Insomnia is having trouble falling asleep at night, sleeping through the night, and/or waking up too early in the morning:
- This can be temporary, for example, due to a period of intense stress. Still, if the sleep problems last longer than a couple of weeks, we speak of chronic insomnia.
- These sleep problems are not actually a disease but rather the symptom of an underlying problem.
If you seek professional help, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the best-known methods.
Be wary of sleeping pills because you’ll be too dependent on them before you know it.
Mindfulness meditation can also help. A specially developed eight-week program (mindfulness-based treatment for insomnia) was found to cause improvement in 80% of participants.
- Johnson, et al., A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) in cancer survivors, Sleep Medicine Reviews, 2016
- Ong & Sholtes, A mindfulness-based approach to the treatment of insomnia, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2010
How our lifestyle triggers sleep problems: Conclusion
Our biological clock or circadian rhythm is an effective internal mechanism. Still, it is easily disturbed in today’s modern society, causing our sleep quality to suffer and our sleep duration to shorten and looking at our choices will show us how our lifestyle triggers sleep problems.
We may get less sleep as teenagers because of artificial light, electronic screens, or social activities.
Our sleep quality might decline due to jet lag, night work, hyperarousal before bed, lack of exercise, stressful thoughts, consumption of caffeine or alcohol, or late-night (over)eating.
Though there are many sleep problems, the two most common ones are insomnia and sleep apnea.
However, neither of these are problems in themselves; instead, they are symptoms of another underlying problem.
Many of these problems require professional help, though making lifestyle changes to lead a healthier life will often be part of the treatment.
We ought to take our sleep seriously and adjust our lifestyle accordingly if we’re not getting enough rest.