So What Else is Keeping You Awake?



1. Stress

Day-to-day worries can lead to that can’t-shut-it-off sensation that quickly takes on a momentum of its own. And serious life events—death in the family, job loss, divorce—can leave anyone unable to sleep for weeks after the fact. Because stress has a physical component, you need to learn to relax. This is something most of us are bad at: if you can’t go completely limp on command (try it—it’s harder than you think), take it one muscle group at a time. Start with your toes. Stop cranking them into some position they don’t want to be in. Next, your ankles. Same deal here: let your feet fall where they will. Move on up through calves, thighs, and so on. By the time you get to your head, the big muscle between your ears will be out for the count.


2. Depression

If you repeatedly wake up at two or three in the morning feeling overwhelmed about the future or stewing about things you wish you had or hadn’t done, you could very likely be depressed. Other psychological conditions, especially post-traumatic stress disorder, also disrupt sleep. See your doctor: treating your mood will help you sleep better. You might even find that insomnia was the cause and effect of your depression.


3. Drugs

One of the main ingredients in bathtub meth is a decongestant found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy remedies, and just like meth, it can wire you up so tight that sleep can’t touch you. Many prescription drugs (for blood pressure, inflammation, and even some antidepressants) can also disrupt your sleep. If you suspect meds are robbing you of rest, talk to your doctor. You may be able to get away with a lower dose or switch to a different prescription.


4. Nicotine

The chemical that keeps you smoking deserves its own dishonourable mention, primarily because people are often surprised to hear that it’s a stimulant. And yes, it can keep you awake at night. Do you need another reason to quit?


5. Pain

Transient pain, like the sore throat that comes with a cold or the sensitivity of sunburnt skin, causes most of us a restless night now and then, but chronic pain can make sleep just a dream. If you’re over 40, you may start to find that a backache wakes you up hours before you’re ready for the day. It’s called osteoarthritis. Extended-release acetaminophen is made precisely for low-grade chronic pain that might be keeping you awake (but, as always, consult your doctor before using this or any other medication, especially on a regular basis).


6. Late-night snacking

Nobody knows if a belly full of food will give you nightmares, but a good case of heartburn is nightmare enough for most people. Best to stop eating two hours before you go to bed, or longer if the snack is especially fatty (chips, for instance)—it takes your stomach much more time to process fats than protein or carbohydrates.


7. Exercise

While a good workout earlier in the day can be the best guarantee of a steady production of Z’s that night, exercising late in the evening will do just the opposite. It’s hard to sleep when your metabolism is all cranked up and your core body temperature is elevated. Keep up the good work—just aim to finish at least three hours before hitting the hay.



 Words by T.E Holt, MD. Photograph by John Midgley