Sleep

Neurons in Your Brain Wake You Up and 16 Other Unexpected Things That Are Stealing Your Sleep

From the moon to your marital status, here are some zzz's disruptors.
Neurons in Your Brain Wake You Up and 16 Other Unexpected Things That Are Stealing Your Sleep
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Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
7 min read

Without sleep, your health -- both mental and physical -- as well as your ability to focus seriously suffers. A recent study even found that when you get less than eight hours a night, you're more likely to experience anxiety and depression. Clearly, without an adequate amount of rest, none of us are fun to be around.

There are a few tried and true ways to get a better night’s sleep, such as not consuming caffeine after a certain hour or keeping your devices out of your bedroom. But there are also factors that you wouldn’t expect to be sapping valuable hours of shut eye. Read on for some of the most stealthy sleep saboteurs.

Age
A recent study found that as a person gets older, the parts of his or her brain that deal with regulating sleep essentially start to decay, which leads to less non-REM sleep. This drop off in non-REM sleep can start sooner than you think: around your mid-30s.

Related: Sleep In and Make Millions: Why You Don't Need to Wake Up at 5 A.M.

Genetics 
If you have a tendency to stay up all hours, it may be because of a gene mutation. Scientists at Rockefeller University in New York City studied a gene called “CRY1,” which helps regulate our circadian rhythms and when we feel tired. People who have a variation of CRY1 have a longer circadian cycle than others, leading them to stay awake longer.

Gender
Recent studies have found that women need more shut eye than men because of the more complex ways they use their brains during sleep. Women tend to sleep 15 to 20 minutes longer than men.

Career
People who work shifts -- doctors, firefighters, bartenders -- certainly have sleep schedules that get thrown off due to their schedules. But there are workers in some industries that you wouldn’t expect to run into this issue. A recent study from the CDC found the top occupation groups where workers had sleep troubles were communications equipment officers, transportation workers and rail transportation workers.

Related: 18 Science-Backed Sleep Tips to Make You More Productive (Infographic)

Weekends 
After a long, stressful week, of course your inclination would be to get as much rest as possible, but sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday can lead to disrupted sleep during the rest of the week due to chronic social jet lag.

Your hometown
A recent study from the CDC looked at the sleeping habits of people across the United States and found the most well rested state in the country was South Dakota. The one that reported the worst time falling asleep was Hawaii.

Marital status
That same research from the CDC also looked at different demographics to figure out how well people slept based on their relationship status. The study found that folks in a relationship got better sleep compared to single people. Sixty-seven percent of married people slept seven hours or more a night compared to 62 percent of people who never married and 56 percent of those who were divorced, separated or widowed.  

Related: Need a Quick Snooze? A Nap Cafe Has Opened in Tokyo.

Education
The CDC also identified that “the prevalence of healthy sleep duration was highest among respondents with a college degree or higher” at 71.5 percent. So if you find yourself tossing and turning, maybe consider auditing a few classes or pursuing an advanced degree.

Your choice of toothpaste or tea
Peppermint is a prime way to keep you alert and focused, as evidenced by a study conducted by Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia in 2011. If you're fading and need to meet a deadline, peppermint tea might be a helpful solution to help perk up, but if you want a soothing beverage before bed, try something else. Just avoid citrus, which has similar effects to peppermint. And maybe brush your teeth earlier in the evening.

The full moon
Yes, really. A 2016 study found in particular that children’s sleep patterns were disrupted by the phases of the moon.

The environment 
New research from Harvard found a correlation between rising temperatures due to climate change and a loss of sleep. And a recent study identified that air pollution, specifically nitrogen dioxide, impacts our ability to sleep well. City dwellers in particular are at risk on top of the other stressors inherent to living in bustling metropolitan centers. Air pollution has increased by 8 percent across the world since 2011, according to data the World Health Organization released last year. 

Pets
A study from the Mayo Clinic found that there are sleep benefits to letting your dog get some shut-eye in your bedroom, but only if it has its own bed. Unsurprisingly, participants in the study had more disrupted sleep if their dog hopped onto the mattress with them.

Closed doors and windows
Your inclination might be to close the door to prevent outside noise from disrupting your sleep, but it turns out that open doors and windows can actually help. A recent study found that opening your bedroom windows and door before you go to sleep can reduce carbon dioxide levels in the room, which could adversely affect the quality of sleep. The researchers found a connection between better sleep depth and efficiency and fewer instances of waking up in the middle of the night

Your pillow
If you lay your head down on a pillow that doesn’t support you enough, it could lead to back, neck and shoulder pain. This could eventually lead to trouble breathing, snoring and have an impact on your posture during your waking hours. If you want to test if your pillow is due to be retired, see how it bounces back from being crushed or having a weight put on it. If it doesn’t return to its full form, then you know it’s time to get a new one.

Your body
A recent survey conducted by Women's Health, the American Sleep Association and Thrive Global found that 99 percent of those polled said that body issues ranging from allergies, muscle pain, acid reflux, low blood sugar and hunger and frequent trips to the bathroom keep them up at night. But there is hope. To sleep better, you can do things such as replace your mattress to alleviate back pain, use a pillow to elevate your stomach to help with reflux and eat a tablespoon of honey a half hour before bed to quell hunger and avoid the need for a midnight snack.

Your workplace relationships
It can be tough to completely unplug from work when you get home, but not in the way that you might expect. According to a recent study from the University of Iowa that surveyed of 600 workers in the U.S. and China, the researchers found that when people behaved badly at the office -- getting angry or aggressive, casting blame when things go wrong, gossiping about someone behind their back -- those actions made it hard for them to sleep because they would be thinking about the stressors and issues of the day rather than clearing their minds to rest.

Neurons in your brain
It isn’t just anxiety rolling around in your head that can keep you up at night -- it turns out the actual physical inner workings of your brain can interrupt your sleep as well. On average, people can wake up around 100 times a night, for less than 15 seconds every five minutes or so. A recent study from Bar-Ilan University physics professor Ronny Bartsch posits that the reason for these disruptions are because of neurons known as “wake-promoting neurons.”

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