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  • Writer's pictureMartha Lewis

What causes insomnia? Why can't I sleep?

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

These are some of the most googled phrases on the topic of sleep these days. And there's good reason since at least 1/3 of Americans don't get enough sleep. Our collective challenges with sleep only started in recent history. It turns out that our sleep challenges have also coincided with certain historical events and changes in the way our society views sleep. So let's dive deeper to find out why we are having a such a hard time sleeping these days!

Reason #1: The Industrial Revolution

Approximately 250 years ago, new manufacturing processes were invented in the western world. Called the Industrial Revolution, these changes led to a focus on efficiency and productivity. Since you can't be productive while you're sleeping and we didn't know why our bodies need to sleep, society started to see sleep as a waste of time.

Reason #2: The Light Bulb

Then came the invention of the light bulb which enabled us to have the light we need to be productive and work any hour of the day or night. Before then, we used oil lamps but those weren't bright enough or practical to allow for efficient work. So the lightbulb really changed everything.

In fact Thomas Edison himself was quoted as saying, "Sleep is a criminal waste of time inherited from our caveman days." He was knows for sleeping only a few hours a night but it was rumored that he took lots of naps during the day.

With the invention of the light bulb, we also started getting less sunlight. The light from lightbulbs is not nearly as strong as the light from the sun. But we need strong light to set our body clock every day. So it's important to get sunlight first thing in the morning and at noon to reinforce your circadian rhythm.

If you live in a place like Jackson Hole like I do, you can't get sunlight first thing in the morning and it's overcast many days. So sitting in front of a happy lamp with at least 10,000 lux is a great substitute for natural sunlight.

Reason #3: Screens

Now in our recent modern history, of course we have TV's, computer, tablets, smartphones, etc. that enable us to be connected and work 24/7. The blue light emitted from these screens suppresses melatonin, our sleepy hormone, making it hard to fall and stay asleep at night.

That's why I suggest taking a power down hour before bed in which you turn off all electronics to encourage melatonin production.

Reason #4: Modern Society

We also live in times where we are super busy and stressed. From the moment we wake up in the morning until our head hits the pillow at night, we are on the go. But our brains and bodies aren't capable of being constantly stressed and then falling asleep quickly without any time to wind down. To overcome this, I recommend having a relaxing routine in the morning to start your day, taking short breaks throughout the day to decompress and then taking some time to wind down in the evening before bed.

I hope that understanding where your sleep problems come from will motivate you to make the changes you need to make to sleep better. Sleep is so important to our life, our mood, our productivity, and our health that it's well worth prioritizing.

If you have any questions or want to talk to me about why YOU aren't sleeping, I'd love to chat! You can schedule a call with me here.

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