Oh No! I Can’t Fall Asleep!
Not getting enough sleep can cause many issues including mood swings, irritability, depression, poor concentration, mental confusion, and even hallucinations. Generally you need about eight hours of sleep each night to keep your body healthy. Many people report that they have difficulty sleeping due to symptoms of a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Other people have physical pain, stress, or racing thoughts that keep them awake. No matter what the reason for your sleep deprivation, there are things that you can do to improve your sleep.
Most of us have very busy schedules that require us to be “on the go” for much of the day. These demanding schedules, can create feelings of stress and anxiety. And, with stress and anxiety there is often a constant stream of thoughts, referred to as “racing thoughts,” that keep you awake. When you are stressed or anxious your body is producing chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline meant to help you stay active. They are responsible for your “fight or flight” response, and too much of them will keep you awake and alert. There are a few things you can do to address this.
Exercise is one way to combat this issue. Exercise helps your body relaxed by producing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid). There are many forms of exercise (yoga, Pilates, jogging, swimming, etc) and all will work to address the brain chemistry. Likewise, meditation has the same affect on your body. Thirty minutes of exercise or mediation a day will improve your ability to relax and fall asleep.
One more way to address the body’s need to relax is by adding daily supplements. I will quickly list several supplements that can be added. Niacinamide (vitamin B3) has been said to induce sleep by affecting receptors in the brain that cause calmness and relaxation. Taurine inhibits the release of adrenaline therefore helping you relax. Oatstraw powder (avena sativa) is another herbal remedy that is said to have many health benefits including decreasing anxiety, nervousness and insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the circadian cycles (the sleep-wake cycle). It is found naturally in the brain and can be supplemented to improve sleep. Valerian root has been used for centuries to improve sleep and decrease anxiety. It is not pleasant smelling in its natural form and can cause grogginess the next morning. It can be taken nightly in capsules, which appears to lessen the unpleasant side-effects. Drinking chamomile tea has also been said to cause sleepiness and relaxation. Green tea contains the amino acid L-theanine which is said to stop racing thoughts. A natural amino acid called 5HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is the “precursor” to serotonin. Supplementing this amino acid will produce a relaxation response that is conducive to sleep. Vitamin b6 helps create serotonin and helps the body relax. If you are a person who is kept awake by body pain, give magnesium a try. It is a natural muscle relaxer and sedative. This is a quick run-down of potential supplements. Please feel free to do your own research on them and speak with your physician before adding them to your diet.
Another way to improve sleep is to receive adequate amounts of natural sunlight. Your photo receptors utilize the sunlight to help regulate your circadian cycle. Melatonin (as discussed above) is released at night to help the body relax and fall asleep. If you live in an area where there is not enough sunlight, your circadian cycle may be affected. You can purchase a daylight simulating lamp that will help to regulate your cycle.
Taking mid-day naps is one way to break up your sleep cycle. Not getting enough sleep at night may leave you feeling tired during the day. However, taking a nap (especially one lasting longer than 60 minutes) will throw of your circadian cycle and often times keep you from being able to get into a normal sleep pattern. Try to force yourself to stay awake during daytime hours. This may leave your body tired enough to fall asleep at night.
Having a normal “before bed” routine is also a good way to teach your body to relax and sleep at night. Set a daily bed time and have a series of things that you do before getting into bed that help you wind down. For example, you may get into pajamas, brush your teeth and use the toilet. Then, turn off the lights and lay down with the intention of going to sleep. Usually a completely dark room helps your circadian cycle know that it is time to sleep. Also, remove the TV, video games, and radio from your room. If you are actively engaged in these activities, it is difficult for your body to know that you intend to sleep. If you are a person who enjoys reading before bed, do so in another room or in a chair beside the bed. The idea is to teach your body that the bed is a place used only for sleeping and sex.
Relaxation or self hypnosis is also useful in helping your body relax. You can incorporate these into your bedtime routine. There are many relaxation methods including muscle relaxation, visualization exercises, autogenics, and breathing exercises. Some people utilize a sound machine to help them relax and/or visualize a relaxing place. Self-hypnosis is a deep relaxation technique that requires some training, but is generally easy to learn.
A final method to improve sleep is to decrease caffeine and nicotine intake. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants. Stimulants will keep you alert and awake. Stopping your use of nicotine and caffeine after 8pm will generally be conducive to resting.
In conclusion, there are many methods to help improve your ability to sleep. It may take some time for your body to adjust using any of the above methods, but generally the more consistent you are with utilizing behavioral methods the better your sleep will be.