Sleep Disorders: Genetic and External Factors to Getting Good Sleep

Fifty to 70 million adults in the United States are losing some serious shut-eye because of sleep disorders, which is a common issue that affects an abundance of people worldwide. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control deems insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.

A sleep disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association, includes any problems or issues with the quality, timing and quantity of sleep, which may result in a number of problems in our waking hours, like daytime distress and impairment in functioning.

Genetics and hereditary factors may explain the cause of some sleep disorders, but external sources, like stress and lifestyle choices, also come into play. Thankfully, understanding the causes can reveal the cures, helping individuals like you take the necessary steps to get some much needed zzz’s, and improve your sleep and overall health.

What are the genetic factors?  

One of the more significant genetic components that may contribute to sleep disorders is a family history of insomnia or other sleep disorders. Research shows that heritability may account for 31 to 58 percent of a person’s likelihood of experiencing insomnia. Certain genes may increase one’s risk, and women are more likely to experience insomnia than men due to genetic factors, according to the Sleep Foundation.

Additionally, certain genetic variations have been linked to an increased risk of insomnia, such as variations in the circadian “CLOCK” gene, which plays a role in regulating the body’s internal clock.

What are the external factors?

Apart from genetics, external forces also play a significant role in the development of sleep disorders and deprivation. 

Stress and Sleep

Studies have shown that stress and sleep are linked, with 49 percent of adults who experience high stress levels in their day-to-day lives reporting not getting enough sleep, compared to 10 percent of adults with low stress.

Stress can be caused by a variety of factors, such as work-related issues, personal relationships, financial troubles and health problems. And lack of sleep can cause stress; according to the American Psychological Association, adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep eight hours or more.

Additionally, lifestyle choices can also affect sleep, such as poor diet, lack of exercise and the use of certain medications or substances.

Poor Sleep Hygiene

Healthy sleep habits and practices that promote good sleep — also known as our sleep hygiene — are important for both our physical and mental health, which can — according to the Sleep Foundation — improve our productivity and overall quality of life. But poor sleep hygiene can disrupt the body’s internal clock, making it difficult to fall asleep and, in turn, stay asleep. And it’s more common than you think. Seventy percent of American adults report obtaining insufficient sleep at least one night a month — with 11 percent lacking sleep every night, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. 

How to improve your sleep hygiene? Take some of these tips into account to better improve your sleep patterns and feel more rested:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Create a comfortable sleep environment free of any noise or distractions.

Exposure To Light

Another external factor that can contribute to sleep disorders is exposure to light. The body’s internal clock is regulated by light, and natural light — sunrise and sunset — also helps align our circadian rhythms, the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Excessive light exposure at the wrong time can disrupt this process. This is especially true for blue light, emitted by electronic devices such as our smartphones, tablets and computers. During the day, blue light (most of which is from exposure to the sun) stimulates segments of the brain that keep us alert and improve our daily performance and attention. 

But too much blue light in the evening can, notes the Sleep Foundation, disrupt those circadian rhythms. It can suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles, making it harder to fall asleep at night. Blue light tricks our brains into thinking that it’s still daytime and makes us continue to feel awake and alert when we should be inducing sleep. Limit screen time at least 30 minutes before bed to mitigate the effects of blue light on sleep.

Incidental Factors

Shift work sleep disorder can affect the sleep patterns of people who work irregular hours (such as night, early morning or rotating shifts that fall between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.), according to the Sleep Foundation. Shift work, which affects one in five people, can disrupt the body’s internal clock, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep during the day.

Jet lag, which occurs when traveling/flying across time zones, can also disrupt and negatively impact the body’s internal clock, making it difficult to adjust to the new time zone and, most importantly, catch up on much-needed sleep.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep — With Whitney Sleep

Taking the time to understand the factors behind sleep disorders such as insomnia can help individuals take the necessary steps to improve their sleep, as well as their overall physical and mental well-being. Protect your sleep by practicing good hygiene and being aware of your increased risk if you have a family history of insomnia or other disorders.

Whitney Sleep specializes in treating a range of sleep disorders that, left untreated, can lead to increased risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and motor vehicle accidents. If you suspect you or a loved one may have a sleep disorder, learn more about it here, and schedule a visit by contacting us today.

Remember that a good night’s sleep is essential for overall health and well-being, and it is important to take steps to ensure you are getting the sleep that you need.