OK – honesty time. I have a hard time staying asleep at night – and, I mean a really hard time. I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat – but, when 1 – 2 AM rolls around, my eyes are open and it’s like ‘again?’. At least this problem has a name “sleep-maintenance insomnia”. But, even though it is identifiable, it gets frustratingly old and quite frankly – I am have had a hard time dealing with it. In the evenings, there are times when I act like a different person – not at all what I want.
Could I try prescription sleeping pills? Sure, at one time I took Eszopiclone (the pretty Lunesta butterfly) – but, one look at the side effects made it sound worse than not sleeping. And, I am not big on taking a drug for long periods of time.
So, I did some investigation on what I could do more naturally to improve my sleep patterns.
What Lack Of Sleep Does
When we speak about ‘Wellness’ – it generally makes us think about what we are eating and our exercise patterns. Sleep always seems to be secondary. A “certain someone” that I know keeps saying that there is ‘plenty of time to sleep in the grave’. To which I always say –“‘that’s not sleep’ and you will get there sooner if you don’t get sleep.”
Sleep is important in ensuring your nutritional, physical, and mental needs are met. Frankly, I don’t think you can meet any of those needs without this key pillar of your health. So, you need 7 – 9 hours a night.
During sleep, certain hormonal patterns and cellular messengers (like cytokines) are produced that help to repair cells, maintain muscle mass, fight infection, and build your body tissues. Therefore, in summary – you may get sick more often, take longer to recover and because the hormones aren’t working well, it can even raise the risk of chronic illness because of its impact on high blood pressure and other organ functions.
Sleep is even more critical in children and adolescents as their bodies are undergoing massive growth and hormonal changes. Bottomline: We must ensure that our children get the sleep they need – that is generally 10 -11 hours per day for 7 – 12 year olds; and 8 – 9 hours a day for 12 – 18 year olds.
Have you ever had a time when your brain just didn’t ‘fire on all cylinders’ after a poor night sleep? Besides just being tired, sluggish, and cranky, you had a hard time making decisions – or even paying attention? So, you have numerous cups of coffee or other caffeinated beverages.
Guess what – your brain is hardwired to require sleep. Your neurons are very active during the day – and your nervous system needs sleep to let them rest – but, also to build new neurons and provide for cellular repair. This is critical for appropriate function (like concentration, emotional control and creativity – to name a few) and new learning (yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks). Oh, and as an aside – remember the old adage that you can’t build new brain cells? Wrong! We are constantly building new brain cells – but, we do need sleep to assist with that work.
Poor sleep does cause an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol does get a bad reputation – it is necessary for appropriate body function. I won’t get into the details of how it acts in our bodies – but, one of the things that it does in high concentrations is increase insulin resistance. Hence the reason why lack of sleep is a risk factor for obesity. Being sleep deprived also reduces your levels of leptin (which is the hormone that tells you that you are full) – then, to add insult to injury, also raises your levels of ghrelin (which is a hormone that says ‘it’s time to eat’). So, now you are eating more and your body needs more insulin to move the blood sugar into the cells. No wonder that this is a perfect recipe for Type 2 diabetes and obesity!
What Are The Causes of Insomnia?
I am sure that this isn’t an all-inclusive list – but, this is what I’ve found out from my investigation.
- Depression – it is often the first sign.
- Stress and anxiety – thank you cortisol!
- Stimulants – like caffeine, alcohol or nicotine.
- Pain – including heartburn
- Sleep apnea
- Thyroid (hyper and hypo)
- Blue Light in the bedroom
What Are Some Simple Ways To Resolve The Issue?
First, I am going to tell you that I am not a doctor – and, if this become a major issue – see your physician. What I am going to give you here are some ideas that may assist you in getting a good night’s sleep.
1. Remove the ‘Blue Light’ in the bedroom. Remember when our parents used to watch Johnny Carson prior to going to sleep (OK – I am dating myself). Now, we not only have Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Fallon – we have Kindles and tablets, and our trusty smartphones. The TV, reading tablets and smartphone displays ALL emit blue light. Blue light is the frequency that we see in the morning – you are effectively tricking your body to make cortisol and keep you awake. And, we now know what else cortisol does!
2. Limit the use stimulants. I know that this is tough – we need our morning jolt after all, and our afternoon glass of wine. But, if we can’t wean ourselves off of these beverages – at least limit them to before certain times of the day.
- For example, try to avoid caffeine consumption after 1 – 2 pm.
- Limit alcohol to no more than 1 drink a day (for women)* and no more than 2 drinks a day for men. And, if you DO imbibe – make sure that you don’t drink within two hours of bedtime.
- Stop Smoking – period!!!
* Some may say that 7 drinks per week is too much for a woman. They are likely correct – but, that is why I state NO MORE than one drink a day. Watch your intake carefully.
3. Get some exercise – regular exercise improves your ability to sleep. But, don’t do you training in the late evening. Again, depending on the exercise involved, it could raise your cortisol levels and impact your ability to get to sleep.
4. Have consistent times to go to bed and wake up. The best thing to do is start setting up certain ‘patterns’ that tell your body to prepare for sleep. How about reading a good book (the paper kind)? Leave the workday behind and instead write down what you are grateful for in a journal. Even meditation helps you decompress – I love to listen to sounds of the surf at night and the sounds of birds singing in the morning! It beats listening to what happened overnight (although, I must admit, that as a news junkie – this is a hard one to break).
5. Create a ‘sleep sanctuary’. As I mentioned, electronics are not your friend. Remove them from the bedroom. I like to think of the bedrooms and rooms at spas and nice hotels. They are simple in design, not cluttered and have an organic feel to them. Try to make that part of your bedroom design. Also, keep the room cool. I would suggest 65 – 58 o F (or 16 – 20 o C). Our bodies find it easier to sleep in lower temperatures. Plus, the ‘snuggle’ factor improves (sex improves sleep as well).
6. Watch what you eat. Try to eat 4 – 5 hours before bedtime. And, contrary to Western thinking – make that meal lighter. Also, if you do feel the need to snack before bedtime – make sure that it is a food that is L-tryptophan rich. This would include some nuts and perhaps cheese (sounds good to me)
7. Take some GABA (g-amino-butyric acid). I take this every evening to calm my brain and it does wonders. Estrogen inhibits the production of this compound in the brain – so women are always at risk here. With that said – there are some studies that show that orally administered GABA does not impact the level in the brain. But, since I’ve seen an improvement with this – I would still try it – it may have a similar effect on you as well.
8. Try some Melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that helps us sleep. Unfortunately, the production of the hormone decreases with age. It is suggested to take 3 – 6 mg of melatonin (available as an over the counter tablet) prior to bedtime
9. Magnesium. This is also been shown to be beneficial for problems with sleep. It is vital for the function of GABA receptors and deactivates adrenaline. It is suggested that you take 400 -500 mg prior to going to sleep.
If these do not work – please see your physician to ensure that something else isn’t awry (like sleep apnea, depression, or a thyroid condition).
What have I done?
So, this is an ‘n=1’ experiment and I am still a work in progress. But, I have improved. So, what have I done?
- First, I no longer read my ‘books’ on a tablet. It has to be a paper copy. I have my phone in the room – but, it is only there as an alarm clock in the morning (and the sound and light is off). I will be transparent here – we still have a TV in our bedroom – but, I try to turn it off as quickly as possible.
- Second – I only have coffee in the morning, and no more than one glass of wine (prior to dinner) at night.
- Third, I now try to eat smaller meals at dinnertime. Last night, I had a bowl of soup and some veggies – I slept wonderfully.
- I continue to take my GABA as part of my evening ritual – but, because of the need to use Magnesium as well. I have started to use a new product called ‘Rest Well’ This ‘tea’ like drink is part of my evening ritual and contains GABA, magnesium and L-theanine (which is supposed to improve the action of GABA). And, it contains chamomile which always relaxes me. For more information on the product please click here: Rest Well from Well and Company. To order – please visit my website at: (http://thecavewomandiva.mywellandcompany.com/).
- Finally, I love to meditate. This is a non-denominational form of meditation. In the morning, it is listening to the birds or the sounds of surf in the background and giving thanks for all I have. I declare my blessings and am grateful for all that is coming my way. I will also do a relaxation meditation at night to get my head in the right place for sleep.
What am I still working on?
I love dogs (we have 4). One, in particular, loves to sleep at my side – which makes turning over tough. I can’t bear to force her off the bed (she will just jump back up and wake me up). So, if I can control some of the issues impacting my sleep – hopefully, this one will not bother me as much.
What habits do you have?