Sleep Health: What is Impacting Your Ability to Fall Asleep?

 Am I the Only One Not Sleeping?
When you were a child, your parents likely told you to get a good night’s sleep as they tucked you in bed each night. Contrary to the common myth that sleep requirements decline as we age, sufficient sleep is important for both adults and children. Most adults function best with 16 hours of wakefulness and eight hours of sleep at night.1 In fact, getting at least 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is important for health. However, for many adults that is not always easy. The ability to sleep 7 to 8 hours at one time may decline for some with age.2 Approximately 25% of US adults report getting insufficient sleep or rest on at least 15 out of 30 nights.3

Why is Sleep Important?

You may be asking yourself, but why is sleep so important and what is happening while I am asleep? In 2007 a systems biologist (Van Savage) and theoretical physicist (Geoffery West) studied animals to try and understand sleep in mammals. They found that a mouse may sleep up to 14 hours per day, while an elephant sleeps only 3.5 hours per day. Small mammals with a high metabolic rate sleep much longer than large mammals with a low metabolic rate. Neurons in the brain burn more energy per unit mass than any other tissue in the body, and one of the core functions of sleep (possibly the primary function) is to repair, reorganize, and maintain the brain’s neurons.4

So, Why Am I Still Awake?

According to the American Psychological Association, 60% of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more.4 There are numerous reasons a person may be having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep during the appropriate time of day. First, medical conditions such as arthritis or other conditions that cause pain may make it difficult to get comfortable enough to fall asleep or stay asleep. Also, conditions such as restless leg syndrome and sleep disrupted breathing, including sleep apnea, are associated with sleep difficulties. According to the American Psychological Association, certain medications such as decongestants, steroids, and some medicine for high blood pressure, asthma, and depression can cause sleep disruptions as a side-effect.1

Some psychiatric disorders have fatigue as a major symptom, including: major depressive disorder (includes postpartum blues), minor depression, dysthymia, mixed anxiety-depression, seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder. Interestingly, depression and these other disorders can cause fatigue and irregular sleep patterns of falling asleep during the day-time.5 Then day-time sleeping interferes with the ability to fall and stay asleep at night resulting in overall insufficient restful sleep. Meanwhile, insufficient sleep is associated with an increased risk for depression, creating a vicious cycle of sleep disruption. Thus, alerting one’s doctor to any day time fatigue or difficulty sleeping at night is important. A doctor will need this information to make decisions for treatment choices for individuals experiencing both psychological disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, The National Sleep Foundation identifies that there are numerous environmental conditions that affect a person’s sleep.6 Click here to read our blog on the connections between sleep and scent. Also, check back throughout December as we explore the science behind our other senses and sleep.

Written by Marci L. Hardy, PhD

1.      American Psychological Association. Why sleep is important and what happens when you don’t get enough. Accessed September 1, 2016.

2.      Van Dongen & Dinges, Principles & Practice of Sleep Medicine, 2000.

3.      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Epidemiology Program Office. Perceived insufficient rest or sleep among adults: United States, 2008. MMWR. 2009 Oct 30;58(42):1175-9.

4.      Savage VM, West GB. A quantitative, theoretical framework for understanding mammalian sleep. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2007; 104(3): 1051-6.

5.      American Psychological Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5™),2013.

6.      National Sleep Foundation. Inside Your Bedroom: Use Your Senses. Accessed September 1, 2106.

Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href=’’>stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo</a>


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