I Can’t Sleep

The most common frustration I hear from others in conversation is typically surrounding insomnia and trouble sleeping.  I think today alone I’ve seen 10 memes about sleep alluding people.

Why does this problem seem to affect so many people and is there an answer to help you achieve an adequate amount of sleep?  What if I told you … you are most likely the problem.

Most people have terrible sleep hygiene.

Throughout the day and prior to bedtime, most people are not practicing hygiene that promotes tiredness. Does hygiene seem like an awkward word to use in terms of sleep?  When it comes to staying healthy, most of us practice some sort of hygiene.  We wash our hands after going to the bathroom  We all wash our hands before preparing food.  We avoid contact or use precaution around people who are sick.  We bathe so we don’t stink.  We brush our teeth so they don’t fall out.  In general we spend a lot of time on hygiene for the purposes of staying healthy.

The consequences of not getting adequate sleep also effects your health.   Lack of sleep is associated with weight gain, increased blood pressure, and directly impacts brain function, which impairs your memory leading to higher stress and a higher likelihood of accidents.  For this reason, appropriate hygiene that promotes sleep and staying asleep is essential to good health.  Here are some basics when it comes to sleep hygiene.

Get off your phone.

Browsing social media or using any device that has a screen, such as a television or iPad, can have an awakening effect on the body causing you to be more alert.  About an hour before bed, you want to start alerting your body it is time to wind.

I think of the elaborate bed time routines I had for my kids when they were little.  I would dim the lights, turn off the TV, start a warm bath, get them in bed, read them two stories, and then lay with them while we listened to two relaxing songs that would lull them to sleep.  It was serious business!

What does your current wind down routine look like?  Are you sitting on the couch, answering texts/emails/Facebook messages, catching up on your favorite shows on Netflix while you are simultaneously catching up with all the people you don’t really know on social media?  Then when it’s time for sleep you are puzzled about why your brain won’t shut off?  It is important to establish a scheduled routine that lulls you to sleep.  Put the phone on the charger, make a glass of warm tea, take a relaxing bath, stretch, journal, or read.  Do things that trigger rest not alertness.

No napping.

If you have trouble sleeping napping is the enemy.  It is important for your body to be tired and ready for sleep.  If you have trouble sleeping at night, naps in the middle of the day to catch up on the sleep you missed last night will just cause you to miss more sleep tonight.

Exercise and eat healthy.

Exercise fatigues your body.  Getting an adequate amount of exercise during the day promotes tiredness in the evening.  Healthy eating also promotes better sleep, and it is important not eat too close to bed.  Weight gain is often associated with insomnia because people are eating when they should be sleeping.  A good rule of thumb is no food two hours before bedtime.

Also avoid caffeine if you are having difficulty sleeping.  Caffeine can stay in your body for 12 hours, so drinking caffeine through the day to keep you awake because you couldn’t sleep last night is going to keep you up tonight.  Even though alcohol is a depressant and can often induce sleepiness, it affects the quality of sleep and often causes you not to be able to stay asleep.

Use your bed only for sleeping.

It is important that your body associates your bed with sleeping.  If you are using your phone or watching TV in bed, then your body associates the bed with activities you do while you are awake.  Also, make sure your bedroom is quiet, comfortable, dark and peaceful.  Your body associates all of these things with winding down, which promotes tiredness.

Don’t try to force sleep.

Lastly, if you can’t fall asleep, don’t stress about it, don’t turn on the TV, don’t pick up your phone, and don’t lay there thinking about the 5000 things that are running through your head.  Do something calming that doesn’t stimulate your brain too much.  I tell my children to practice gratitude if they can’t fall asleep by naming the things they are grateful for using the alphabet method, starting at the letter A and going through the letter Z.  I often use this time for prayer, and in order to stay focused on the prayer I follow a format of prayer that increases mindfulness rather than mind wandering.  Reading and journaling are also options that don’t over stimulate.

You only get one body.

As you are thinking about the new year and goals, I encourage you to think about incorporating these simple steps into your sleep practice for a more alert and well-rested you!  You only get one body and is important to treat it with the care and respect it deserves.

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