6 things that can wake you & interfere with your sleep

Sarah Hyland

21 July 2020

Your age.

The different stages of life, will have an impact on sleep. New babies need many of hours sleep while an older person will get by on very little. Sleep architecture1 also changes as we age.

Fun fact - a newborn baby can spend up to 80% of their sleeping time in REM2. By the time you reach eighty you may only spend 17% of your sleep in the dream zone3.

Older people often nap during the day. They are early to bed and to rise. They spend much of their sleep in a light sleeping stage, so are easily woken. There is a theory that this reduced need for sleep enables them to contribute to the safety of the tribe by being on guard through the night! Also, to be more available for wakeful children during the night. Rock on, granny!

Sleep Architecture

I love the expression 'sleep architecture' - so elegant. They use it to describe the way sleep is structured, as if, a protective canopy. There are two types of sleep stages; rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM).

REM is the sleep stage when dreaming occurs. Thoughts and memories are processed during this stage. It works like a mental systems-reboot.
NREM is a light to deep sleep that is divided into three different stages. This is important for rejuvenation and repair. It keeps the immune system in working order.

We sleep, passing from one stage to another of NREM and onto REM. A sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes. As the night unfolds, each cycle of REM we have is a little longer than the last.

Issues that affect the ageing body can worsen sleep quality. Many of these are easily treatable.

Back and joint pain affect people of all ages. As we age, our joints experience more wear and tear. Common conditions, like osteoarthritis, cause inflammation and damage. Inactivity, as we get older, can stiffen muscles and make them weak. Much of our fluid is stored in our muscle tissue and skin. Hydration is therefore very important - to lubricate. Try to drink 1.5 litres/ 3 pints of plain water a day to keep yourself nice and juicy.

Your sex.

As men age, their testosterone levels can wane. Some of it is converted to di-hydrotestosterone, which is inflammatory. This, and other factors, can affect the prostate gland. It can develop a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The prostate gland swells and presses on the urethra. This makes peeing less efficient; it can be quite hard to empty the bladder. Your poor man with BPH can be up and down to the loo many times during the night. They say that this condition affects 50% of men over the age of 50.

I don't need to tell women that sex can keep them awake! Hot flushes are the devil and can happen at any stage - not just the menopause. Young women can experience hot flushes too. Oestrogen levels fall every month, at the end of each menstrual cycle. There are one or two days during the period when the thermostat can go bananas and run very hot. If you find it difficult to sleep during your period, here are a few tips and things to avoid.

  • Avoid alcohol. It is inflammatory. It puts pressure on the liver and can contain sulphites which can trigger hot flushes
  • Spicy food and hot drinks can make you feel hotter.
  • Caffeine makes the heart race and can be a hot flush trigger. It can stay in the system for about five hours, which will feel terrible if you have overdone it.
  • Avoid fermented food, it's healthy but it promotes the production of histamine. This widens the blood vessels - ace flush trigger. Examples are sauerkraut, marmite, kombucha, cured meats, tinned fish, vinegar and alcohol, alcohol, alcohol...
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Make sure that your bedding is not too heavy.
  • Keep calm, as stress and anxiety will make it worse. Use stress-reducing herbal remedies if things are hotting up.
  • Use a natural deodorant. These allow you to sweat while keeping you fresh. That way the body can still cool down and release toxins.

A.Vogel Self-Care Tip: Learn how to use Dormeasan to aid sleep.

Sometimes, a herbal sleep remedy, can be a really useful tool. It can help promote sleep or it can be used on waking, to help you get back to sleep. This video shows different ways to use Dormesan, depending on the type of sleep disturbance.

Other people.

Outside has neighbourhood dogs, car alarms and drunks. Inside can be a cacophony of snoring that isn't any better. A life partner may be a human treasure by day – bless. Under the cover of darkness, it may as well be a pig - aurally speaking. It starts with an orchestral wheezing and whistling. Lip flapping and cold breeze follows. Building to full pneumatic crescendo and.........no sleep!

Snoring can be caused by allergies or sinus issues that are not being addressed.

There are solutions! A good nasal spray may help to keep the airways clear. Try Pollinosan nasal spray to keep the airways clear, if allergies are an issue. It's so much nicer to sleep without the swine herd sound effects.

Your medication.

There are quite a lot of prescription and over the counter medications that can keep you from sleeping well.

  • Asthma and other steroidal medications.
  • Certain anti-depressants
  • Medication that treats epilepsy
  • Certain blood pressure medications.
  • Certain cold, flu and allergy medication
  • Weight loss products often can be full of ingredients like caffeine that will keep you awake.

Your pharmacist or doctor can tell you if this is a potential side effect of your medication. A review of your medication is a service that most pharmacies offer. They can tell you which medications may cause this side effect. They can tell you if any medications are interacting with each other. They may be able to suggest alternatives, hopefully, nice natural ones.

Your diet.

Imagine that the food you eat is like the fuel that you put on a fire. If you are damping down the fire for the night, you don't want to create a blaze. If you have a fine feed before bed, it is putting stuff on your own fire. The poor old digestive system is looking forward to a rest. The body wasn't planning on expending very much energy at all. There are foods that are particularly bad at keeping you awake:

  • Caffeine – it's a stimulant; think battery bunny. It can take up to five hours to get out of your system, so even a coffee after lunch can keep you awake.
  • Sugar – it's everywhere. The body will use this as quick energy (not relaxing). Like putting lighter fluid on that fire. Look at the ingredients list on a packet. Then look at the bit where they list 'carbohydrates as sugars'. Many savoury foods are actually full of sugars; they are just hidden.
  • Alcohol – this suppresses REM sleep. This it may impair the value that you get from your sleep. It makes the liver work harder. It can trigger GERD and heartburn, which is like an alarm clock that hurts.

Your fitness.

Why would your fitness matter in bed you ask? Besides the obvious. Inactivity affects your health and sleep in many negative ways. Getting fitter is one of truly best ways of improving your health and life expectancy. It's free and you will feel great. Many studies have been done linking exercise to improved sleep4. My granny was a great believer. She called it, 'Knocking the taspy out of them'. Her method was chasing us, wooden spoon flaying – would no longer be acceptable. We slept very well.

I suggest instead, gentle techniques like yoga, or walking. If you want to do something more energetic – knock yourself out!

For some ideas visit our Get Active pages.


1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19956/#:~:text=SLEEP%20ARCHITECTURE,a%20continuum%20of%20relative%20depth

2. https://www.livescience.com/59872-stages-of-sleep.html

3. https://jamesclear.com/sleep

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341978/

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