There is nothing worse that the feeling of frustration that comes over you when you can't fall asleep. Tossing and turning all night long, only to wake the next morning feeling depleted and exhausted, it is not the prescription for good health. What can you do to make for a better night's sleep? Here are my tips for giving yourself the best chance at catching deep and restful sleep.
Getting ready for bed
- Make your room as dark as possible. You shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. If you use an alarm clock, turn it away from you. Why? When light hits your skin, it disrupts the circadian rhythm of the pineal gland. As a result, this hinders the production of melatonin. Use low lighting in your bedroom and avoid using overhead lights and lamps with high-wattage bulbs. Be aware of electromagnetic fields in your bedroom as they disrupt the pineal gland and production of melatonin and serotonin. EMFs are emitted through digital alarm clocks and other electrical devices. If you use them, leave them three feet away.
- Turn off the TV
- Use your bed for sleeping and sex only
- Create bedroom “Zen” by trying to remove clutter, homework/work, calendars etc. If you can, think about painting the room earthy or soft tones. Making it your relaxing place: diffuse lavender essential oils, or peppermint.
- Choose comfortable, soothing bedding, nothing that makes you too warm or itchy
- Avoid using a loud alarm clock to wake you up suddenly. This can be a shock to your body; you’ll also find you’ll feel groggier when you are roused in the middle of a sleep cycle. If you get enough sleep on a regular basis, an alarm clock will not be necessary. If you do use an alarm, you should wake just before it goes off. Try a sunrise alarm, an alarm clock with natural light build in that simulates a sunrise, OR an alarm that gradually gets louder, or emits soothing classical music.
- If you go to the bathroom during the night, keep the lights off. Brief exposure to light can shut down the melatonin production. If you really need a light, get a flashlight, or a nightlight.
- Think about a comfortable mattress.
Now that your room is ready, let’s talk about sleep!
- Establish regular sleeping hours: try to get up each morning and go to bed every night at roughly the same time.
Over sleeping can be as bad as sleep deprivation, how you feel each day is an indication of how much sleep is right for you.
- Sleep nude (or as close to it as possible) wearing tight clothing (bras, underwear, girdles) will increase your body temperature and interfere with melatonin release while you sleep. You can also try a loose t-shirt and shorts, or a nightgown.
- Get to bed by 11p.m: stress glands, the adrenals, recharge or recover between 11pm and 1am. Going to bed before 11pm is optimal for rebuilding your adrenal reserves. Start by going to bed 15-30 minutes earlier each night until you reach this goal.
- Sleep 7-9 hours a night consistently. Needing more than 9 hours of sleep every night warrants a visit to your doctor for further investigation as this may indicate, hypothyroidism, depression or a deficiency of folic acid, vitamin B12. If you can wake with an alarm and feel rested, you’re probably getting the right amount of sleep for you.
- See the light first thing in the morning. Daylight and morning sounds are key signals that help waken your brain. Turning on lights or opening the blinds is the proper way to reset your body clock and ensure that your melatonin levels drop back to “awake” mode until the evening. Also the exposure to morning light is one of the easiest ways to get a boost of energy.
- Keep household lighting dim from dinnertime until you go to sleep. Believe it or not, this simple step not only prepares your body and hormones for sleep, but it also helps your digestion.
Now you’re sleeping, but if you’re having trouble staying asleep, read on...
- Avoid stimulating activities before bed, such as watching TV or using the computer. Computer use in the evening raises dopamine and noradrenalin, our brain-stimulating hormones that should be higher during the daytime.
In the evening you need do engage in activities that make you more serotonin dominant, such as reading or meditation. Choose relaxing reading materials that have nothing to do with work!
Stop all your work-related activities at least 2 hours before bed.
- Develop a calming bedtime routine. Breaking bad habits often requires making good ones instead. Try reading something spiritual or listening to soft music. This can become cues for your mind to relax.
- If you cannot sleep, get out of bed and do something else until you feel the urge to sleep. Tossing and turning in bed will only make you feel frustrated. Try getting up for a while, but keep the lights low and the TV and computer off. Make a to-do list or try writing in a journal if you have problems sleeping because you feel that you have one million things to do. Write everything! Emptying those thoughts onto paper, but knowing that they are somewhere you may access them when you are ready, may create relief.
- Exercise at the right time: exercising fewer than 3 hours before bedtime may be too stimulating and can impede your ability to fall asleep yoga and strength training are exceptions to this rule because they are less stimulating than cardiovascular exercise. Work out 3 to 6 hours before bed – this can help maximize the benefits of exercise on sleep, since the body actually increases deep sleep to compensate for the physical stress of your workout exercise. Exercise promotes healthy sleep patterns because of its positive effect on body temperature (after a workout, our body gradually cools down, which naturally makes us feel sleepy)
- To relax muscles and trigger the sleep response after exercise, try a hot bath with Epsom salts. Soak in water as hot as you can stand with 1 to 2 cups of Epsom salts for at least 20 minutes. Place a cold towel around your neck if you feel too warm while in the bath.
- Exercise your mind too. Try Sudoku or a daily crossword. People who are mentally stimulated during the day feel a need to sleep in order to maintain their performance.
- Avoid napping. If you are getting enough sleep in the night, you shouldn’t feel the need to sleep in the day.
- Avoid caffeine at any time of the day. Caffeine may be metabolized at different rates. A dose of caffeine usually takes 15 to 30 minutes to take effect and lasts for 4 to 5 hours. In some people it may last much longer, making usage in the afternoon a bad idea. If you must have it, have it in the morning. Caffeine may also negatively affect the natural release cycle of cortisone, which is generally highest in the morning and lowest in the evening. Cortisol release rises slightly at 2am and 4am, and then hits its peak around 6am. If this pattern is disrupted, you may awaken at these times and find you are unable to fall back asleep.
- Avoid bedtime snacks that are high in sugar or simple carbohydrates like breads, cereals, muffins, cookies, or other baked goods. These prompt a short-term spike in blood sugar, followed by a sugar crash later on. A blood sugar drop means adrenalin, glucagons, cortisol and growth hormones are release dto regulate blood glucose levels – all of these stimulate the brain, making you become more awake. Try to avoid eating for at least 2 hours before going to bed and if you do need to eat, go for protein-rich (source of tryptophan that will be converted to serotonin and melatonin), high-fiber snacks like a few almonds and half an apple, sugar from the fruit may help the tryptophan reach your brain and take effect more readily.
- Try to avoid fluids in the 2 hours before bedtime avoiding the drinks may help you avoid the washroom at night. Go easy on the alcohol, the body metabolizes alcohol as you sleep, which can result in sleep interruption. It appears to affect brain chemicals that influence sleep and to shorten total sleep time. Alcohol can prevent you from failing into deeper stages of sleep (where you do most of your healing!)
If you try these tips and still struggle to fall or stay asleep, or to get a restful rejuvenating sleep, please reach out for help. We might need to take a look at what's happening for you.