“I Tossed and Turned All Night,”
“I woke up in the middle of the night and just couldn’t go back to sleep,” “I couldn’t stop thinking about this project due today, so I didn’t get any sleep.” These are common statements heard at work every day – comments made by millions of people. So, what has happened to us since our toddler years, when restful, uninterrupted sleep was the norm? Adulthood has happened to us, and with it has come all of the stressors, worries, and brain activity that prevent a good night’s sleep. If this loss of sleep were to occur only rarely, it would not be a problem. Unfortunately, too many adults report that it is a frequent problem, and it does affect mood and cognitive abilities the next day.
So, how do you turn this around? Many of us address the problem with our doctors and get sleep aid medications – you know them – they are advertised on TV every day. Or, we can purchase over-the-counter products that combine pain relievers with antihistamines that promote drowsiness. In both cases, a dependency develops which may require stronger doses and put us on medication for the rest of our lives. Before you take this option, consider some lifestyle changes that you can easily adopt and give them a try!
There are lots of research studies pointing to a direct relationship between sleep and dietary habits. Here’s what they say:
- The higher the calorie count during the day, the less restful you sleep is at night.
- Unhealthy fats tend to have a negative impact on sleep; healthy fats, on the other hand, (vegetable and nut oils, fatty fish, like salmon and tuna) promote better sleep. Unhealthy fats reduce a brain chemical called orexin – a chemical that appears to regulate sleep
- There is a direct relationship between belly fat and sleep. A high level of body fat can obstruct airways and cause sleep problems. Switching to healthy fats reduces belly fat and thus promotes better sleep.
- Vitamin B1 and magnesium supplements should be tried, because most of us do not get enough in our diets, and these lacks cause sleep disorders. (This comes from a University of Maryland Medical Center study).
Your Daily Activities
If your daytime job or activity requires a lot of energy and is stressful, then you are a prime candidate for sleep problems. The issue is this: you cannot shut your brain down to allow restful sleep at night. Here are some suggestions that research shows to be effective:
- Direct Sunlight: Research shows that exposure to sunlight increases serotonin and melatonin levels. Melatonin especially is a sleep inducement. If you cannot get 30 minutes a day, try a melatonin supplement.
- Exercise: this does not have to be rigorous, so don’t go out and get a gym membership! 15 minutes of brisk walking just three times a week has been shown to positively affect sleep. I walk my dog every morning – his does it! And, don’t forget, house cleaning can count as long as you do it briskly!
- That Blue Screen: Blue light has a short wave length and colors with short wave lengths can lower your melatonin levels. So, your computer, tablet, and TV screens may be harming your sleep patterns. There is an app you can download called “f.lux,” that will automatically reduce blue light later in the day, based on your specified times. It might be worth a try.
- Get a Routine for Bedtime: Your brain needs signals that it is bedtime, so that it can send those signals to your body. If you get into a bedtime regime that you use every night. Maybe you take your dog out one last time, shut down your computer and TV, wash up and brush your teeth, and hop into bed with a good book. If you do this in the same pattern every night, your brain develops a routine too, telling your body to shut down.
- Turning Off that Brain: This is perhaps the hardest thing to do if we have had a stressful day and unfinished tasks/projects that we must get to first thing in the morning. We can’t stop thinking about them. One of the best pieces of advice I was given several years ago was to keep paper and pencil by my bed. When I can’t shut down, I sit up and make a list for myself. Somehow, getting everything down on paper allows me to stop thinking.
Your Sleep Behaviors
The two biggest problems during sleep are snoring and tossing and turning, because you cannot get comfortable.
- Snoring: If you or your partner is a “snorer,” you will need to take some steps to resolve the issue. Getting a mattress with adjustable base that allows separate elevation for each side may help; try the breathing strips sold over the counter; consider a sleep device – they are much less bulky and intrusive now. Consider white noise machines so that your partner is disturbed less.
- Tossing and Turning: The usual cause is lack of comfort. Try different pillows. Also, you need to sure that you rotate your mattress – do a 180-degree turn, so that your head is where your feet used to be. If you do not have a pillow-top mattress, you can also turn it over, giving a total of 4 different positions. If this fails, you probably need to consider a new mattress.
Lack of sleep is can be debilitating. You are never at the “top of your game” after a poor night’s sleep, and you are certainly much more irritable and less tolerant. If sleep problems are plaguing you, try these remedies before you consult a doctor – you may find your solution is lies in some lifestyle changes.