June 27, 2021 4 min read
Everyone likely has, at some point, tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep. An estimated 10-30% of adults live with chronic insomnia.
Sleep is critical for our physical and mental health. A crappy night’s sleep can result in daytime sleepiness, fatigue, irritability, and even psychomotor impairment that can be dangerous if driving or operating machinery.
The cycle of worrying about not sleeping leads to even more sleepless nights, a catch-22 that repeats itself night after night.
If you, like many others, suffer from acute or chronic insomnia, here are some tips that might help.
Our body’s natural clock is known as the circadian rhythm. If you keep regular sleeping hours, this helps regulate your internal clock and makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up without an alarm. However, if you are constantly waking up to an alarm, you might need an earlier bedtime.
It can also be tempting to sleep in on weekends. However, the more your weekend sleeping patterns differ from your weekday habits, the more your circadian rhythm is destabilized.
Naps are great to take but can disrupt your internal clock—limit naps to only 15 or 20 minutes in the early afternoon.
If you get sleepy after dinner and way before bedtime, get off the couch and go for a walk or do something else around the house.
Melatonin is the hormone in our brain that controls our sleep. It is secreted more during the night when it is dark and less during the day when it is light.
Exposure to natural sunlight or bright light during the day keeps your circadian rhythm stable. Your body naturally will want to wake with the sun and sleep in the dark.
A study on people living with insomnia showed that bright light exposure could reduce the time taken to fall asleep by 83%. In addition, they enjoyed improved sleep quality and duration.
Another study showed that two hours of light exposure increased the duration of sleep by 2 hours.
In addition to the health benefits of regular exercise, exercising can also improve sleep.
Exercise causes your heart rate, temperature, and adrenalin levels to increase, so engage in vigorous activities at least three hours before bedtime. Save the low-impact activities like yoga or stretching for the evenings.
Exercise also reduces the risk of obesity, making the person less like to suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Approximately 60% of all moderate to severe OSA cases have been linked to obesity.
Even a light 10-minute walk can result in better sleep quality, so develop that morning or afternoon workout and amp up your activity levels!
You might be surprised to know that caffeine can affect you for up to 10 hours after consumption! This is because caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours, which means if you drank your last cup at 4 pm, half of the caffeine would still be in your body at 10 pm.
Keep your caffeine intake to that early morning coffee and avoid it from the mid-afternoon.
Eating too late in the evening can not only lead to weight gain, but digestion also slows during sleep and puts your body out of balance, especially when it needs to digest a big meal.
Some research has found that higher caloric meals and saturated fat can result in a decreased amount of sleep.
Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, pasta, and saturated fats can lead to poor sleep.
Instead of refined carbs, switch to high-fiber, complex carbohydrate foods such as whole wheat, brown rice, oats, leafy greens, nuts, and beans.
More refined sugar also leads to shorter sleep duration. In addition, a few studies have found that the consumption of sweet drinks before sleep leads to poor sleep.
Light of any kind suppresses the production of melatonin, and blue light even more so. For example, Harvard researchers found that 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light shifted circadian rhythms by 3 hours. In comparison, exposure to green light moved them by 1.5 hours.
Avoid bright screens about 2 hours before bedtime. These screens can be from your phone, tablets, laptops, and televisions.
Use heavy curtains to block any lights from windows or use an eye mask. If you get up and need to use the bathroom during the night, opt to use a small nightlight or a flashlight instead.
If you live in a noisy environment, try masking ambient noise with a fan or consider wearing earplugs.
Evaluate your mattress and bedding to ensure optimal comfort. If you wake up feeling achy or sore, your mattress might not support you the way it is supposed to. Mattresses need to be changed every few years, so perhaps it might be time for a new one.
Control the temperature of your room and keep it between 15.6 to 19.4°C (60 to 67°F). It varies depending on the individual, but most doctors recommend this as the best temperature for sleeping.
Easier said than done when you’re tossing and turning with all kinds of worrying thoughts in your head! More worry means less sleep, and less sleep brings more worry. Gosh.
Try to incorporate “winding down” exercises in your head as part of your sleeping routine. For example, take a relaxing bath, listen to soft music, or meditate to clear your head of the stimulation from the day.
Deep breathing exercises and meditation can also help lower your blood pressure, stress levels, and heart rate, all ideal for preparing to sleep. Numerous apps can guide you through breathwork and meditation and help you prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Whether acute or chronic, insomnia isn’t pleasant. We hope that these tips help you gain better habits and enjoy a more restful sleep!