Taking a Closer Look at What Causes Disrupted Sleep + Tips from Psychologists

Reviewed by our psychologist : Carlos Hoogenboom

Sleeping problems can be very frustrating. So, it makes sense if want to know what causes them and what you can do about them. There are many different types of sleeping problems and at least as many possible causes. Read on to learn more about the most common causes of sleeping problems and what you can do to help address them.

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Taking a Closer Look at What Causes Disrupted Sleep + Tips from Psychologists

Psychological problems as causes

Sometimes depression is the cause of your sleeping problems. You have trouble drifting off and often lie awake in the middle of the night. This means that you have a disturbed night’s sleep and struggle to get the rest you need. In the morning, you wake up tired and feeling far from rested. Your hormonal balance (serotonin) is out of synch. This makes you even more tired. All of this explains why people with depression often fall asleep during the day, but can’t get to sleep at night.

Anxiety disorder
Similarly, an anxiety disorder can also interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. The main reason is that if you worry a lot before you go to bed or feel restless when you lie down, you’ll struggle to fall asleep. During the day there are plenty of distractions, but once you’re in bed everything goes silent: There’s suddenly a lot of space to think. That doesn’t help when you’re trying to sleep. If you wake up at night, it sometimes feels like you’re all alone in the world. It’s dark, quiet and you have nothing to distract you, which makes it all too easy to start worrying (again). These anxious thoughts keep you awake and it becomes increasingly difficult to go back to sleep. As a result, you’re at risk of developing a fear of (not being able to) sleep.

Stress & tension

Stress and tension can also affect your sleep quality. You might not even be aware of it. Your body holds stress and tension, meaning you’ll find it harder to fall asleep and sleep very lightly: This stops you from getting the relaxation you need.

Physical symptoms

As well as psychological symptoms, physical problems can also keep you awake. For example, pain, itching, shortness of breath, coughing, needing to pee at night, heartburn, heart palpations, hot flashes, calf cramps or restless legs. You’ll find that any kind of physical discomfort makes it harder to fall asleep at night and you’re less likely to sleep through till morning.

Sleep hygiene: Common bad habits & tips

Want to tackle the cause of your sleeping problem? Below you’ll find a list of common bad habits and tips or alternative approaches that are more likely to contribute to a good night’s sleep.

  • Doing things in your bedroom other than sleeping and having sex.
    Try not to watch television in bed, or use your phone too much. Screens in general aren’t good when you’re trying to sleep. If you spend too many of your waking hours in your bed or bedroom, your body is going to associate this room with a space where you are allowed/need to be awake.
  • Irregular working hours
    A good night’s sleep requires rhythm and regularity. Try to avoid keeping irregular (working) hours as much as possible. This can have a negative effect on your hormonal balance, causing your rhythm to go out of synch. Are irregular working hours part of your job? Then at least try to go to bed around the same time each day.
  • Drinking coffee after 3 pm.
    For many people, starting the day with a cup of coffee is essential. But what not everybody realizes is that it takes caffeine around 5 to 7 hours to work its way through your system. The same applies to other caffeinated drinks, such as green tea, energy drinks or Coca-Cola. Even chocolate contains substances that can keep you awake at night.
  • Doing intense (physical) activities right before you go to bed.
    A lot of people sleep really well after a heavy workout because they’re nice and tired. But don’t do it too soon before you go to bed. While exercising, your body releases hormones that make you happy and alert (endorphins) as well as raising your body temperature. For a good night’s sleep, your body temperature needs to drop and you can’t be too alert. So, try to save these intense sporty activities for earlier in the day. Obviously, yoga or gentle exercise isn’t a problem.
  • Looking at screens before you go to bed.
    Watching TV, reading an e-reader or even scrolling through social media on your phone while you’re in bed can have a detrimental effect on your melatonin production (disrupting your sleeping pattern) and keeping you alert (your brain can’t relax). The best thing to do is to limit your screen time and avoid blue light before you go to bed. These days, there are also apps and glasses to block out blue light.
  • Going to bed too early or getting out of bed too late
    Don’t go to bed when you’re still wide awake. There’s a good chance that you’ll just end up staring at the ceiling and worrying that you can’t fall asleep. It’s best to go to bed when you start to feel exhausted. A cup of chamomile or sleep tea can help to make you feel drowsy. Don’t forget to set your alarm. If you lie in bed for too long, you’ll actually feel more tired. Try to maintain a routine where you’re always going to bed and getting up again at the same time.
  • Staying in bed when you can’t sleep
    Don’t spend too long tossing and turning if you’re struggling to fall asleep. Instead, get out of bed and even out of your bedroom for a while. If you’ve lain in bed for longer than 45 minutes, get out of bed and go and do something relaxing for 20 minutes. Read a few pages in a book, for example, or drink a cup of tea on the sofa.
  • Smoking and consuming alcohol
    Cigarettes contain nicotine and this substance has a stimulating effect. That’s the exact opposite of what you want when you’re trying to fall asleep. For this reason, it’s a good idea not to smoke right before you go to bed. Alcohol, on the other hand, actually helps you to fall asleep, but it makes it harder for you to sleep through the night. You’ll wake up more frequently if you’ve been drinking alcohol.
  • Eating a heavy meal before bed 
    If you’ve just eaten a heavy meal right before going to bed, your body will still be busy digesting this. This can disrupt your sleep schedule, making it harder to fall asleep. Are you still hungry or looking for a little snack right before bed? Then choose something easily digestible.

The vicious cycle that perpetuates sleeping problems

Your sleeping problem could have a range of causes and, if you don’t address them, you run the risk of getting trapped in a vicious cycle. For example, if you’re stressed. This will disrupt your sleeping pattern and you’ll – therefore – get less sleep. As a result of sleeping less, you’ll become more irritable and this will make you more stressed. Soon, you’ll be expecting to have trouble sleeping. These thoughts will create even more stress and intensify your sleeping problem.

Treatment for sleeping problems

Do you feel like you’re stuck in a vicious cycle and that you need help breaking out of it? The psychologists at iPractice can help you to figure out the causes of your sleeping problem, so that you can finally put an end to it. Why not make an appointment with one of our psychologists? They offer various treatment methods that can help you break out of that vicious cycle.

Do you have any questions about sleeping problems and how you can treat them? Call us on +3120 214 3004.

GZ-Psychologist : Carlos Hoogenboom

“Maintaining regular sleep times and discontinuing excessive use of coffee, alcohol and drugs prevents worsening sleep problems.“

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Contact one of our psychologists today without obligation. You can talk about your feelings and symptoms and get information about a suitable treatment programme for you.