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Is Sleep Difficulty Getting Worse in 2021?

Posted by Dr. Matt Hand on May 25, 2021 11:10:09 AM


Sleep disturbances are off the charts and have been for quite awhile, with at least 33% of the population struggling to get a good night’s rest. 2021 doesn’t fare well for improvements to sleep quality—in the face of stress, uncertainty, and financial insecurities, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.[1]

The most common cause of sleep difficulties is not being able to relinquish the day, or the upcoming day. Simply put: lots of people are lying in bed, unable to turn their brains off.

No supplement will extinguish your thoughts, and after not sleeping well for an extended period, something called sleep pressure can occur. Sleep pressure involves feeling anxious and pressured to sleep, making it even harder to do so. Because day-to-day worries and stressors will never disappear, it is critical to form healthy habits that allow you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

importance of a good night's sleep

Sleep deficit causes more than just feeling tired the next day. Research links ongoing sleep difficulty with trouble maintaining a healthy weight, memory and other cognitive issues, lowered immune function, and hormonal imbalances.[2]

A good night’s sleep supports:

  • Weight maintenance
  • Appetite control
  • Increased workout performance
  • Improved mental clarity and focus
  • Productivity
  • Heart health
  • Healthy glucose metabolism
  • Mood
  • Robust immune system
  • Normal inflammatory response
  • Better school performance in kids
  • Optimal detoxification
  • Less likelihood of accidents[3]

Cleary, sleep difficulties can pave the way for a host of problems, and the bidirectional link between sleep and stress is paramount. Now, let’s consider common causes, and what you can do about them.

Read our white paper on how nutrition impacts your sleep.

what causes difficulty sleeping?

Difficulty sleeping and staying asleep can be tied to many factors, and some of them are fairly simple to address:

  • Irregular bedtime routine or sleep schedule (sometimes due to shift work)
  • Poor sleep hygiene habits
  • Racing mind
  • Screens and blue light
  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Body discomfort or other physical conditions

This is not an exhaustive list, and sleep difficulties can sometimes be hard to tie to a specific cause. While an inability to turn off the brain can take intentional practice and time, other sleep hygiene-related adjustments can be easier to implement right away.

Healthy habits to fall asleep and stay asleep

In many cases, getting better sleep comes down to building healthier habits around sleep and bedtime. Sleep troubles in young children require specific considerations, which you can learn more about in this article: how to improve bad sleep habits in young kids. 

  • Form a consistent sleep schedule
  • Use the bed only for sleep and sex
  • Turn off screens at least one hour before bed
  • Invest in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses if you do need to be on screens, or to use throughout the day
  • Limit caffeine or other stimulants to the morning or early afternoon
  • Exercise in the morning or earlier in the day
  • Adopt relaxation techniques to practice before bed
  • Keep a journal next to your bed in case you wake up at night with racing thoughts

These and other sleep hygiene techniques have helped many people with sleep difficulties.

A special note on meditation and relaxation techniques

First and foremost, keep in mind that meditation and relaxation techniques take practice and dedication. Many people think that after one meditation session they will see improvements, or find it difficult and give up. It’s important to be gentle and patient with yourself, and know that the circadian rhythm usually takes between six and eight weeks to shift.

Children can also greatly benefit from stress-reduction techniques, particularly guided imagery, mindfulness practice, self-hypnosis, and other techniques to calm the brain as tools to get back to sleep on their own in the middle of the night.

Key Nutrients and herbs for sleep

While no supplement or herb can immediately turn off your brain, there are relaxing natural supports that can help you to maintain a calmer state all day long, which is important for sleep at night.*

  • Melatonin (particularly for shift workers)
  • GABA
  • Ashwagandha
  • Lemon balm
  • Passionflower
  • L-Theanine

For children, drinking chamomile tea and taking certain nervine herbs on a regular basis can help. Low-dose melatonin can be useful for resetting the circadian rhythm.*

In both children and adults, more practitioners will recommend certain herbs and supplements throughout the day, not just at night.

related content: naturally offsetting the unexpected increase in blue light

final thoughts

Sleep difficulties have been increasing among the general population for a long time, and 2021 continues to bring additional stressors and pressures to the surface. A multifaceted approach that encompasses sleep routines and habits, meditation and relaxation techniques, and nutrients and herbs (after consulting with your practitioner), is the best way to settle the mind and improve your sleep.*

Sleep Support

[1] Bhaskar, S., Hemavathy, D., & Prasad, S. (2016). Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 5(4), 780–784. https://doi.org/10.4103/2249-4863.201153

[2] Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006. 3, Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/

[3] Worley S. L. (2018). The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep: The Detrimental Effects of Inadequate Sleep on Health and Public Safety Drive an Explosion of Sleep Research. P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management, 43(12), 758–763.



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