Do you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling rested after sleeping? If you’re tossing and turning every night, counting sheep to no avail, falling asleep only to awaken in the middle of the night, or waking up and feeling like you haven’t been asleep at all, you are not alone. There are nearly 40 million Americans who are suffering from insomnia or some other sleep disturbance right along with you. (www.sleepfoundation.org). The reasons why you and they are up at night vary, but the effects of sleep deprivation are the same. Sleepless nights can wreak havoc on your mental, emotional, and physical health. Therefore, I’m going to share some suggestions that will hopefully get your sleep back on track.
Why sleep is vital
Before we talk about how to get to sleep, we’re going to discuss why you need to get to sleep. There are many reasons why sleep is important; however, I’m going to share three of the major reasons. The first reason is that it aids in our brain and emotional health. While we are asleep our brain regroups and prepares for the next day’s work. New pathways are formed that enable us to learn new information and remember old information. Not getting enough sleep decreases our ability to learn, remember, and to stay focused. Sleep deprivation wears on us emotionally as well. Insufficient slumber can cause us to have mood swings, be irritable, and lack motivation.
Secondly, physical health and sleep have a strong connection. Sleep deficiency compromises our immune system, weakening it, resulting in us getting sick more frequently. Have you ever wondered why you get so hungry when you aren’t getting enough sleep? Less sleep increases the amount of the hunger hormone ghrelin. This may make us overeat and lead to obesity. Sleep deficiency also impacts our organs and body systems. Long-term lack of sleep increases our risk for heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and stroke.
The third reason it is vital for us to get enough quality sleep is the impact that it has on our performance. When we are sleep deficient we tend to function poorly. We are less productive, it takes us longer to perform certain tasks, and our reaction time is slower. These factors can be dangerous as they make us more prone to mistakes and accidents.
Now that you know why it is so important to get proper sleep, let’s delve into the ways we can improve our sleep quantity and quality. There are numerous things that we can do to improve our sleep, but we are going to focus on establishing a bedtime routine, avoiding substances that decrease our sleep, decluttering our minds, light exposure, and setting the atmosphere for sleep.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”. Does this quote by Benjamin Franklin ring a bell? This reference may be applied to many areas of our life, including sleep. “You mean I need a plan to sleep?” Yes, achieving quality sleep requires a bedtime plan or routine. The same way we train our bodies to perform a task by doing it consistently. Daily performance of a bedtime routine trains and alerts our brain and body that it is time to sleep and allows us to unwind and prepare for slumber. What routine should you incorporate? This will vary from person to person. Here a few suggestions of bedtime habits that you can use to establish a routine that suits you.
Avoid the sleep thieves
Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are three well known culprits that steal our sleep. Do you go through multiple cups of coffee to stay awake or alert during the day or smoke a couple of cigarettes to calm your nerves? Both substances are stimulants, so the same cups of coffee that keep you going during the day and the same cigarettes that made you feel relaxed, will have you wide awake in the wee hours of the night, bleary eyed watching infomercials, and reruns.
Not convinced that caffeine and nicotine are evil insomnia monsters? According to the Sleep Foundation, it can take caffeine six hours to be eliminated from our body. Therefore, that midafternoon get me through the rest of the work day coffee may still be in your system at bed time, blocking your sleep.
Research studies have also shown that smokers are four times more likely to experience feeling unrested after an eight-hour night’s sleep (sciencedaily.com). This occurs because smokers spend less time in deep sleep than non-smokers, impacting the quality of their sleep.
Are you one of the many people who like to use alcohol as a sleep aid – a couple of beers or glasses of wine before bedtime. While a few beers, glasses of wine, or other forms of alcohol may in fact lull you to sleep, at the same time it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM is the restorative phase of sleep. Essentially, it’s a catch 22, alcohol will put you to sleep, but you wake up feeling as if you didn’t sleep or worse with a head throbbing hangover or because it also is a diuretic you spend half the night running back and forth to the bathroom.
Declutter your mind
Clear your mind and sleep will follow. Our sleep is often interrupted by our mind. Obtrusive thoughts about frustrations we encountered throughout the day and/or anxieties about what’s on tomorrow’s agenda can cause sleeplessness. If this is what is standing between you and sleep you need to find ways to rid your mind of the day’s clutter. If you can’t turn your mind off try phoning or texting a friend to vent or journaling your worries away. Getting the frustrations and thoughts out of your head and into the ears or eyes of a friend or loved one or onto paper, releases them opening the gateway to sleep. If it’s tomorrow’s concerns that keep you up at night, try outlining what needs to be done on the next day in an agenda or planner each evening prior to going to bed, knowing that you have prepared for tomorrow can put your mind at ease. Whatever routine you choose, remember that consistency is critical. Do the same routine at the same time in the same order each night.
Bright light, bright light
Do you sleep with your lights on? Bedtime is not the right time to be in the spotlight. Avoiding exposure to bright light at bedtime is critical for sleeping well. Light, both indoor and outdoor, affects our internal clock, with daylight signifying wakeup time and darkness sleep time. Improper lighting can confuse our internal clock. For optimal sleep dim the lights prior to bedtime and use blackout shades or a sleep mask if necessary. The blue light from computers, cell phones, and tablets can be distracting as well. Either turn these devices off or remove them from your bedroom.
Set the atmosphere
What’s your bedroom look like? Is it neat or cluttered? What’s the color scheme? The atmosphere of the area in which you sleep is important for helping to get to sleep. You need to create an environment in your bedroom that welcomes sleep. Here are eight tips for making this area more inviting to the zzz’s:
If you have found that sleep is elusive and you’re struggling with the side effects of insomnia: plan a bedtime routine and stick with it, avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, declutter your mind, dim the lights, and set your atmosphere. Hopefully you will capture sleep or it will find you. Sweet dreams!