"Ugh, I'm awake, and I want to be asleep!" How many times have I said something like that through the years? I, like many, suffer from insomnia from time to time. It's a nuisance, and it's draining. So many things can keep us from sleeping well:
too much light
WHAT CAN HELP?
For some, insomnia is a serious problem and requires professional help. However, these tips, primarily from John Arden, PhD, are neurologically sound and a great place to start getting better sleep.
Breathing slowly and deeply
Stretching loosens tight muscles that come from sitting at a computer, or even from anxious thoughts. Tight muscles consume energy and keep you from the relaxed state necessary to sleep. Stretching is helpful throughout the day, but evening stretching is best done an hour or two before going to bed.
Exercising can also help. Even a short 20-30 minute walk after dinner reduces anxiety and helps you sleep. If you still have trouble sleeping, try doing your most vigorous exercise 3-6 hours before bedtime.
Lighting. Using softer lights and avoiding screen use during the hours before bed can aid your circadian rhythm.
Temperature. Another aid to a healthy circadian rhythm is temperature. Your body sleeps best when it is cooler, rather than warmer. (Getting exercise promotes having a lower body temperature at night.)
Because complex carbohydrates, like whole wheat, are digested differently, they aid in reducing the rise in glucose which can wake you up.
Calcium and Tryptophan, both found in milk, aid in the production of the calming hormones we need to fall asleep.
We also need B vitamins and magnesium to sleep well. Eating three well balanced meals a day and avoiding sugar also helps maintain good sleep. Don't eat things with sugar, salt, or that are high in protein before bed.
Foods that help: brown rice, whole wheat breads, other whole grains, dairy products, and vegetables like beans and lentils.
Sound. Your brain is geared to be alert to novel noises. Do what you can to reduce the opportunity to hear unusual sounds by using steady white noise, like a fan.
Relaxation or meditation. Giving yourself enough time during the day to process important issues can help your brain be ready to relax at night. If anxious thoughts keep you awake, instead of using the time to think about how you are not sleeping, use the time to practice relaxation or meditation. Try taking a mental tour of one of your most peaceful places. Meditate on a favorite encouraging truth. Repeat or contemplate something you want to more fully believe about yourself or God.
WHAT TO AVOID
Alcohol. Many people like to have a glass of wine, for example, to relax. While alcohol does help people get to sleep initially, it reduces your deep and REM sleep needed for you to feel rested. Alcohol actually increases stress, anxiety, and depression, because it lowers GABA and Serotonin levels, both critical in your ability to calm down.
Caffeine. This chemical increases stress hormones and depletes B vitamins and GABA, which calm us.
Screens. When used at night, the light from computer and tablet screens can suppress the body's natural production of Melatonin, a hormone critical to the sleep-wake cycle. The brighter the screen, the greater the disruption.
Sleep aids. Over-the-counter medications can help you sleep initially; however, they tend to diminish the quality of your sleep. Like alcohol, they suppress or dampen deeper sleep stages.
Using your bed for other stuff. Using your bed for things other than sleep (and sex) can trigger your brain to be stimulated, rather than relaxed, at night.
We hope some of these tips will help you sleep better in the nights to come. However, if they don't, we'd encourage you to seek professional support. If you suspect your sleep problems may be caused by anxiety, depression, or grief, consider talking to a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.