6 Surprising Sleep Wreckers
By R. Morgan Griffin
Do you wake up in the morning feeling more tired than you did when you went to bed? If so, something is disturbing your sleep – but do you know what it is?
Some reasons for sleep loss are obvious – espresso nightcaps, wailing newborns, and insensitive neighbors playing the drums. But the causes of sleep loss aren’t always so clear.
“People often don’t have any idea what’s disturbing their sleep,” says Thomas Roth, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. “There’s a lot of misattribution. They assume it’s one thing, but it’s actually something else entirely.”
Why such confusion? “People often wake up in the night without realizing it,” Roth tells WebMD. “You can be awake one or two minutes at a time in the night and you won’t remember it the next day.”
While some of these unremembered wake-ups are normal, too many will leave you chronically exhausted. And many common causes of sleep loss result in just this sort of brief, hard-to-catch awakening – making it even harder to sort out the cause.
Here are six surprising causes of disturbed sleep.
Sleep Wrecker 1: Pets in Bed
While lots of people let their pets snuggle in bed with them for comfort, evidence suggests that animals in bed make it harder to sleep.
According to a survey by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, 53% of people who sleep with pets say that their animals disturb their sleep. Animals just don’t have the same sleep and wake cycles that we do. So 3 a. m. to your cat might seem like an excellent time to start pouncing on your feet. Even more subtle disturbances – the clanking of the tags on your animal’s collar as it shuffles around – can wake you up.
If you’re feeling chronically exhausted, take a break from the interspecies slumber parties to see if it makes a difference with your disturbed sleep.
“Really, there are other places for your dog to sleep besides your bed,” says Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, professor of psychology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and author of Sleep Deprived No More. If you can’t bear to kick your pets out of the bedroom, which is the ideal, at least set up a new spot for them on the floor.
Sleep Wrecker 2: Alcohol and Nightcaps
As a cause of sleep loss, this is often a surprise to people. Doesn’t drinking make you drowsy? Isn’t that why people have nightcaps? Isn’t that why college parties always end with everyone passed out on the floor?
But the body’s response to alcohol is more complicated than you might think. “Alcohol affects the rhythm of sleep,” says Mindell. “It acts as a sedative at first, but then a few hours later it will wake you up again.”
To prevent your glass of wine from waking you up later, stop drinking two to three hours before bed.
Sleep Wrecker 3: Undiagnosed GERD
People who have GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disorder – often find the nights difficult. Once they’re lying down, the acid can back into the esophagus, causing heartburn and pain. Some try to sleep propped up on pillows to cope.
“Acid reflux is a biggie when it comes to disturbed sleep,” says Ronald Kramer, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and specialist at the Colorado Sleep Disorders Center in Englewood, Colo. “Whenever I see a person with sleep problems, I always screen for it.”
What you might not know is that GERD doesn’t always cause such dramatic symptoms. Some people might only have one constant symptom: disturbed sleep.
6 surprising sleep wreckers