by Lucy E.M. Black
“O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee. That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down, And steep my senses in forgetfulness?” William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2 (act 3, Scene i)
In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, we see King Henry wandering his rooms in his nightgown. Having prepared documents for the Earls of Surrey and Warwick, he is weighed down by worry, remorse, and anxiety. Plagued by insomnia, he remarks that those in positions of power do not sleep as well as those who are not. King Henry’s struggle is not an unfamiliar one to many of us. Disrupted sleep, broken sleep, or sleeplessness are quite common complaints, as are factors such as worry, remorse and anxiety as sources for them. Old Henry may have more in common with us than we think.
There are, as I understand it, many different causes of disrupted sleep. In an effort to better understand my manic fits of wakefulness at night, I have been doing some reading on the topic. Some of the articles I’ve read indicate at least sixteen different culprits.
- Jet Lag – a major disruption to our biological clocks, including napping.
- Depression, Anxiety and Stress – the worriers among us recognize this including Henry IV.
- Diabetes – apparently glucose swings and frequent urination can contribute.
- Menopause – hot flashes and night sweats are to blame for this one.
- Arthritis – or other major aches and pains.
- Heartburn – acidic juices in our stomach flow the wrong way.
- Heart Disease – a lack of blood flow causing pain and potentially irregular heartbeats.
- Obesity – sleep apnea is the culprit here.
- Screen Time – tablets, smartphones, computers, and televisions all keep our brains over-stimulated before bed.
- Thyroid Imbalance – can disrupt your sleep with night sweats.
- Sleep Disorders – including restless leg syndrome.
- Prescription Drugs – some medications can interfere with sleep schedules.
- Disruptions – as we age, we sleep more lightly and are more prone to be woken up by sounds and disruptions.
- Stimulants –in the evening avoid alcohol and stimulants such as including cigarettes and caffeine.
- Lunar Cycle – a research study in 2013 in Switzerland was able to definitively confirm that the lunar cycle has an impact on our sleep schedules.
- COVID-related reasons – new research is coming out explaining the ways in which our sleep patterns are changing as a result of the pandemic.
Depending upon how much the pandemic has disrupted your daily routines, you may find that your sleep patterns have changed. Early research on this seems to indicate that people are not setting their alarms and are getting up later, and that when they sleep, they are having vivid dreams, or are struggling to both fall asleep and stay asleep. We have long understood that a good night’s rest is important for our body’s overall health. If you are plagued by sleepless nights, you might consider speaking with your family doctor and participating in a sleep study or exploring the use of supplements such as melatonin. There are also a few things that we can try on our own that may be helpful.
Developing some healthy sleep-inducing habits is one of the ways we can hope to combat our sleep difficulties. A balanced diet, no late-night heavy meals, no eating at all two hours before bed, and physical activity during the day are some of the ways in which we can assist our bodies to prepare for sleep. Some experts also recommend meditation and deep breathing or yoga as a way of clearing our minds and letting go of our stress. Reserving our beds for sleeping (and sex) only, can be helpful. This means no laptop or work in the bedroom. Surprising to me, was the recommendation that we consider taking short power naps during the day. Brief naps are apparently one way of keeping our bodies refreshed without disrupting our evening slumber. Personally, I feel a little vindicated by this as I really enjoy a nice nap!
Sleep “hygiene” in conjunction with healthy habits is considered to be very important to healthy sleep. Following a regular bedtime/waking-up routine is said to be of paramount importance. I’m afraid this is a huge challenge for me. If I’m writing something or am stuck in a good book, I’ll stay up until two or three in the morning. I know that I need to be more disciplined about this. It’s also important that we avoid stimulants in the evening. Reducing our use of electronic devices before bed is important, and this means TV, laptops, and cell phones. Blackout curtains and a sleep mask are said to be helpful in combatting excess light. Ear plugs or white noise machines can be used to block out noise. If possible, cooler temperature settings in the bedroom make a difference, as does the use of a comfortable and inviting bed. Weighted blankets are another sleep aid you can try. We have used them therapeutically in schools for years as a way of providing calming and stress relief. According to current research, they can also be helpful for those struggling with sleep apnea, insomnia, and mid-sleep problems.
I hope there’s something here that is helpful for any of you who may experience difficulty with disrupted sleep. I for one, am going to bed now.
Cajocher, Christian and Songul Altanay-Ekicki, Mirjam Munch, Sylvia Frey, Vera Knoblauch, Anna Wirz-Justice, Evidence that the Lunar Cycle Influences Human Sleep, July 25, 2013, Current Biology: A Cell Press Journal, Switzerland, Evidence that the Lunar Cycle Influences Human Sleep: Current Biology (cell.com), as accessed 01-6-2022.
Cline, John. Dr., Weighted Blankets Can Help with Insomnia, Psychology Today, March 26, 2019, Weighted Blankets Can Help with Insomnia | Psychology Today, as accessed 01-16-2022.
Kretchmer, Harry, 5 Ways COVID-19 has disrupted our sleep, World Economic Forum 2022-01-12,
This is how coronavirus is disrupting our sleep | World Economic Forum (weforum.org), as accessed 01-13-2022.
Mann, Denise, ‘Disrupted’ Sleep Could Be Seriously Affecting Your Health, HealthDay Reporter 2021-04-22,
‘Disrupted’ Sleep Could Be Seriously Affecting Your Health (webmd.com), as accessed 01-13-2022.
Reimers, Elliot, The 10 Most Common Causes of Sleep Disruption and How to Fix Them, Prepared for NuU Nutrition 22-05-18, The 10 Most Common Causes of Sleep Disruption and How to Fix Them – Nu U Nutrition, as accessed 01-13-2022.
Suni, Eric and medically reviewed by Heather Wright, Interrupted Sleep, Prepared for Sleep Foundation, 2021-11-29, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-deprivation/interrupted-sleep, as accessed 01-12-2022.
Photo credit by: Kate Stone Matheson, ambassador for @ShakeItUp (those with early onset Parkinson’s disease)
Lucy EM Black is the author of The Marzipan Fruit Basket (Inanna Publications), Eleanor Courtown (Seraphim Editions), and Stella’s Carpet (Now or Never Publishing). Her award-winning short stories have been published in a number of literary journals and magazines in Britain, Ireland, the US, and Canada. She is a dynamic workshop presenter, experienced interviewer, and freelance writer. She lives with her partner in a small lakeside town north-east of Toronto. The Brickworks (Now or Never Publishing) will be released in the Fall of 2023.