Stress is considered by most sleep experts to be the number one cause of short-term sleeping difficulties. Common triggers include school- or job-related pressures, a family or marriage problem, and a serious illness or death in the family. Usually the sleep problem disappears when the stressful situation passes. However, if short-term sleep problems aren’t managed properly right from the beginning, they can persist long after the original stress has passed. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to a physician about any sleeping problem that recurs or persists for longer than one week. He or she can help you take steps early to control or prevent poor sleep.
Without realizing it, you may be doing things during the day or night that can work against getting a good night’s sleep. These include drinking alcohol or beverages containing caffeine in the afternoon or evening, exercising close to bedtime, following an irregular morning and nighttime schedule, and working or doing other mentally intense activities right before or after getting into bed.
Likewise, if you are among the 20 percent of employees in the United States who are shift workers, sleep may be particularly elusive. Shift work forces you to try to sleep when activities around you—and your own biological rhythms—signal you to be awake. One study shows that shift workers are two to five times more likely than employees with regular, daytime hours to fall asleep on the job.
Still another sleep stealer is jet lag—an inability to sleep caused when you travel across several time zones and your biological rhythms get “out of sync”.
A distracting sleep environment—such as a room that’s too hot or cold, too noisy or too brightly lit—can be a barrier to sound sleep. Other influences to pay attention to are the comfort and size of your bed—and the habits of your sleep partner. If you have to lie beside someone who snores, can’t fall or stay asleep, or has other sleep difficulties, it often becomes your problem too! Help your partner get the professional advice he or she needs.
A number of physical problems can interfere with your ability to fall or stay asleep. For example, arthritis and other conditions that cause pain or discomfort can make it difficult to sleep well; so can breathing disorders such as asthma and sleep apnea. Hormonal shifts—including those that cause premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or menopause and its accompanying hot flashes—can also intrude on sleep. Likewise, pregnancy—particularly during the third trimester—can disturb sleep as well.
In addition, certain medications—such as steroids and some medications for high blood pressure, asthma, or depression—can cause sleeping difficulties as a side effect.