Insomnia is something I struggle with frequently. When it’s 3 in the morning and I’m either staring at the ceiling or tossing and turning, I feel like the only person alive that isn’t happily exploring dreamland. My research tells me that’s not true at all. From informal conversations among my friends, to national research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, statistics show that up to 30% of adults struggle with insomnia.
So how do you sleep better tonight? Lets take a look at what might be keeping us awake and what we can change. Remember that we are all different people and there is no one size fits all answer.
1.) Technology: As a society, technology is ever present in our lives. We are seemingly connected 24/7 to the outside world. From phone calls to social media, to texting, there is no end to the constant stimulation to our brains. Studies are showing that whether it’s scanning for updates on your social media sites, texting with your friends, or even just watching TV, these all affect our brain’s ability to slow down so we can rest. Researchers around the world recommend turning off the devices such as phones, tablets, or other computers an hour to two before bed, and keeping them out of the bedroom. They also recommend no television in the bedroom and shutting it off an hour before you plan to sleep as well.
2.) Caffeine: Whether you drink coffee, tea, or soft drinks, caffeine intake can affect you hours after you consume it. While everyone is different, it’s probably best to have you last sip at least 4 hours before you plan to hit the hay. Switch to water or caffeine free beverages then, but avoid things that are filled with sugar. Only you can know for sure how it affects you, so experiment with timing and see how your body responds.
3.) Food: Most studies suggest that eating a large, heavy meal right before bed can lead to insomnia. When you eat, your metabolism kicks in to digest the food. This is exactly opposite of what needs to happen to get a restful sleep. The other factor is that eating a large meal before bed can lead to acid reflux as your body hasn’t had time to digest what you just ate. Most researchers recommend planning your last meal no less than 3 hours before you go to bed. This is something I struggle with myself. As a nurse I work crazy long 12 hour shifts. My lunch break usually happens no later than 2 pm, so by the time I get home at 8 pm, I am usually pretty hungry. I have learned to combat this by packing snacks that I can eat quickly late in my shift so I am satisfied with a small snack after work instead if a large meal. I look for things that are high in protein but not filled with sugar. Nuts, string cheese, peanut butter with an apple or celery sticks, even lean meats such as turkey. Foods like these help keep me full without overloading my system. If I do need a late night snack, I choose non starchy veggies such as broccoli paired with lean protein like grilled chicken breast. Some studies suggest that eating a banana late in the day can help as it is rich in magnesium.
4.) Exercise: Regular exercise is great for your health, and can certainly promote better sleep. As with so many other things that affect our sleep, timing is everything. While a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood in the evening may help you unwind and relax for the day, going full force at the gym will kick start your metabolism and probably keep you awake. Better to do that type of the workout in the morning to give you energy for the day ahead.
5.) Booze: Having a glass of wine or your other favorite beverage can help you unwind after a stressful day, thus helping you relax and get to sleep easier. The danger is that having more can have the opposite affect. Science tells us that although you may fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly initially, but later in the night sleep will be more fitful, so no real benefit is gained.
Now that we talked about what prevents a good nights sleep lets look at some solutions.
1) Stress relief: We all have stress in our lives and that stress is keeping us awake at night. So what can you do to minimize stress and maximize sleep? First you have to identify what is the main source of stress in your life. Money, work, family are probably the big three in all our lives. while there is no quick fix, there are things you can do to deal with the stress in your life.
2.)Meditation is a great way to calm the mind and body. It requires no special training, no special equipment. Start slow, setting aside a few minutes everyday to clear your mind. Focus on breathing. Imagine yourself somewhere peaceful and calm, such as a forest, by a lake or stream, or any imagine that makes you feel calm and peaceful. Focus only on that, keeping your mind clear. If you notice other thoughts creeping back in, refocus on your peaceful place. It takes a little time to get the hang of meditation, but it can make a huge difference. It is something you can do anywhere, anytime and you can notice a change right away.
3.)Exercise is another great stress reliever, remember though that timing is important. Exercising too vigorously too late in the day can trigger insomnia so keep that in mind when planning your exercise program.
4.) Essential oils are wonderful to help with insomnia. I have written about them previously here
5.) Sleep aids are multiple. Go to any drugstore and you will see shelves lined with them. Beware however that most of these contain antihistamine such as diphenhydramine( brand name Bendaryl) which can leave you feeling drowsy and dragging the next day. Try more natural alternatives such as Magnesium, Melatonin, Valerian root. As always, if you have any health conditions or are taking any medications talk with your doctor first.
6.) Physical environment is a huge factor in sleep. Be sure your bedroom is as dark and quiet as you can make it. If necessary consider using earplugs or a sleep mask to help block out light and noise. Temperature is another factor. For example, I prefer my room to cooler and I will add covers if I need them. White noise is something that is a must for me. I sleep with a fan on year round just for the noise. Find what works for you.
I hope you have found some helpful information in this post and here’s wishing you sweet dreams for many nights to come!
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