"Good night, sleep tight!". Remember when that was just something your parents said as you easily drifted into a blissful sleep? Is it still so easy? If you're like many people today, getting a good 7-8 hours of uninterrupted, restful shut-eye at night isn't a common occurrence. Whether it be nodding off in the first place, staying asleep through the night, or a combination of both, there can be many reasons, and every person will typically have a combination of them.
Listed here are a few of the common causes of insomnia, as well as some hints for what you can do about them!
Reduce stress and Resolve emotional Conflict
Sleep issues and emotional stress feed each other, worsening both conditions. Often, people are unable to sleep due to emotional issues causing their minds to race, however after a poor night’s sleep, one is less able to cope with daily stresses… and the cycle continues.
Today, our lives are filled with stress and emotional issues, it is no surprise that one of the first symptoms that you are overwhelmed is that you have difficulty sleeping. Finding ways to manage your daily stress is possible but does take some dedication on your part.
Looking at your diet:
Avoid all caffeine
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, giving you that “boost” to get you going in the morning, but even that morning cup can affect your sleep in the evening. The caffeine from coffee has been shown to remain in the body even 20 hours after consumption!
Caffeine is also a diuretic, keeping you running to the bathroom all night when you should be sleeping.
Sources of caffeine include: coffee, black teas, soft drinks, energy drinks and many over-the-counter medications
Eat a healthy diet.
Whole foods like fruit, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, clean proteins will ensure you get all the nutrients you need to facilitate a restful sleep.
Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates (high glycemic index foods)
These foods offer a very quick source of glucose, giving you a quick energy boost. These effects are short lived however, and blood glucose levels crash just as quickly leaving your brain and body starved for food, a condition called hypoglycemia. Some symptoms of hypoglycemia include dizziness, irritability, headache, anxiety, sweating, palpitations or rapid pulse, feelings of weakness and possibly double vision.
Ensure sure you have regular meals and include a snack a couple of hours before bed.
This is because when blood sugar is low, cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) are released which tells the brain that food is needed. If this happens during the night, the brain will rouse you or prevent a deep sleep.
Avoid food allergies or sensitivities
Avoid use of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, alcohol and nicotine
Many OTCs contain caffeine, which as previously discussed can be a big problem.
Nicotine is a stimulant which induces the release of stress hormones, which stimulate the body, increase heart rate and blood pressure, keeping you alert and awake.
Alcohol is a sedative which, though it can ease the transition into sleep, prevents the body from reaching the deeper more restorative and rejuvenating stages of sleep. Alcohol is also a simple sugar, which can lead to nighttime hypoglycemia and waking as previously described. Add to these negative effects, alcohol is a diuretic, keeping you running to the bathroom.
Reset your internal clock
Our bodies naturally cycle through times of wakefulness and sleep during each 24hours regulated by the internal clock known as the circadian rhythm in conjunction with melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. The circadian rhythm can be disturbed by things like inappropriate exposure to light (too little during the day or too much at night), poor diet, some medications and stimulants and emotional stress.
Keep your sleeping environment as dark as possible and then let in the sun in the morning.
Keep the same sleep cycle every day, even weekends! This sets your internal clock and makes Monday morning easier to take!
Keep a regular meal, work and activity cycle to help maintain the circadian rhythm.
Foods such as bananas, oats, rice, corn, walnuts and tomatoes contain melatonin, and their consumption a couple hours before bed can help improve sleepfulness.
Melatonin production can also be increased by a warm bath.
Instill a ‘wind-down’ routine to help set the tone for sleep. Starting an hour or so before bed, choose quieter, calming activities with low lighting such as reading, meditation, journaling or knitting.
Create a healthy living and sleeping environment
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have been shown to decrease melatonin production leading to sleep disturbance. To decrease EMF exposure:
Remove electronic equipment devices from the bedroom or at least 3 feet from the bed.
Avoid sleeping with an electric blanket.
Avoid standing next to microwaves or dishwashers when in use.
Turn off electronic devices such as TVs and computers when not in use, and keep them out of the bedroom as much as possible.
Get a new mattress (mattresses should be replaced approximately every 8 years)
Keep the bedroom for sleeping, intimacy and times of illness.
Don’t study, work or watch TV in bed. This prevents your brain from making inappropriate associations with the space.
If you cant sleep within 30 minutes, get up and leave the room. Find a relaxing activity you can do with low light and noise, then return to bed when you’re tired again. Don’t allow yourself to fall asleep in a place other than bed.
Keep your feet warm!
Adequate sleep is essential for health, productivity and for feeling good during the day! If you have lots of trouble with getting to sleep or staying asleep, visit your Naturopath who can help to identify why and then offer some options to help!
Dr Katarine Holewa, ND