When you’re experiencing insomnia, what does that really mean? Our understanding of how our brains regulate sleep and wake has evolved. As a result, we are learning more about insomnia and what may cause it.
The science of wake and sleep
Your brain has a sleep system (which helps you sleep) and a wake system (which helps keep you awake).
- The wake system sends out signals that put your brain into an alert, or more active, state. This helps you wake up in the morning and stay awake during the day.
- The sleep system sends signals that help you fall and stay asleep at night.
When you wake in the morning, your brain sends signals that move it into an alert, or active, state. This helps you stay awake during the day. If these signals don't slow down at night, your brain stays alert. When this happens, your sleep system may not be able to take over. This may be what's causing your insomnia.
Your lifestyle may be contributing to your insomnia
Certain substances and activities, including eating patterns, can contribute to insomnia. If you are having difficulty sleeping, review the following lifestyle factors to see if one or more could be affecting you:
- Alcohol can make you fall asleep initially, but may disrupt your sleep later in the night.
- Caffeine is a stimulant. In moderation it is fine for most people, but excessive caffeine can contribute to insomnia. Caffeine can stay in your system for as long as 8 hours, so the effects are long lasting.
- Nicotine is also a stimulant and can contribute to insomnia. Quitting smoking can be good for your sleep, as well as the rest of your health.
- Heavy meals close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. Spicy foods can also cause heartburn and interfere with your sleep.