So what is it that is suppose to happen when you lay your head down on your pillow after a long day of work? Typically your heart rate slows, your blood pressure begins to drop, your respiratory rate decreases, and melatonin begins to flow throughout your brain telling your body it's time to slow down. Ideally at this point you begin to drift off and fall asleep.
This however is not how it works for many of us. A large majority of people lay down only to begin tossing and turning unable to find a comfortable position. They just can't seem to let go of the hectic day they just endured, and the anticipation of all the things that need to be accomplished when they wake up. Seconds lying in bed awake turn to minutes, and minutes then turn to hours. We lay in our beds wide awake and now the stress of not being able to fall asleep enters our minds. At this point frustration and even panic can set in as we begin to think about the how a poor nights rest will have on our productivity the next day.
So why is it that this happens? What is it that causes us, as tired as we can sometimes feel to not be able to drift off into dream land as soon as our head hits the pillow? Factors such as light sensitivity, stress, and increased neural activity can all lead to these sleepless nights. Much like anything else the longer we go without addressing the issue the worse the problem can become. One or two sleepless nights can turn into five or six and before long we find ourselves trying to "fix" the problem with sleep aids and increased caffeine intake.
Although there are a plethora of reasons for this inability to snooze, there are a few sure fire solutions that are almost guaranteed to help you in your quest for a betters night rest.
Put Down The Screens!
Watching television, playing video games, or spending time searching the web on your tablet all cause increased activity in your brain. As neurons start firing your brain is reved up and eventually reaches a level of high stress. This increased brain activity is what prevents us from then being able to quiet our minds enough to reach a point where we are able to fall asleep. Think about the last time you watched a suspenseful movie or television show that left you sitting on the edge of your seat. You may have noticed that your heart rate increased as your eyes were glued to the television screen. Our brains can actually go into a fight or flight response as a result of this increased brain activity. This causes hyperactivity of the adrenal gland, which in turn causes an increase in cortisol levels in our systems. Increased cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone", increases stress levels in our bodies which leads to difficulty sleeping. Many of us believe that watching television or playing on our tablets before bed helps us to relax us, but ultimately it has the opposite effect. If you are someone that enjoys your screen time in the evenings try to avoid doing so for 1 - 2 hours before you plan on heading to bed. This gives your brain time to ramp back down. It may take a few days to adjust to the change in your routine, but could very well aid you in finding that good nights sleep that you have been looking for.
Keep the Same Sleep Schedule
How many of us are such creatures of habit that we find ourselves eating dinner, going to the gym, or walking our dogs at the same exact time every day? By nature humans inherently crave routine. With the busy lives that many of us lead it tends to be beneficial and more productive to form a daily routine. So why should our sleep habits be any different? By falling into a sleep schedule with specific times set for waking up and going to bed our body's internal clock will begin to adjust accordingly. By sticking to this schedule (even on the weekends) we begin to form patterns in our brain that remind it to slow down when approaching these scheduled times for rest.
Eat the Right Foods
This may be the most well known sleepy time remedy. Chamomile tea is associated with glycine which is a chemical that works like a sedative. Try making yourself cup an hour or two before getting ready for bed. Try adding honey and spearmint to further enhance the taste. Honey can also enhance the properties of the tea as it spikes insulin levels which then allow tryptophan to enter the brain more easily. Tryptophan is an amino acid that aids in the production of melatonin and seratonin which help to regulate our sleep cycles.
Walnuts are another good source of the amino acid tryptophan. The increased production of melatonin is involved in the synchronization of circadian rhythms which effects things such as sleep time and blood pressure.
Most fish, especially salmon and tuna contain ample amounts of the vitamin B6. B6 is an intricate ingredient when creating melatonin. Try one of the many walnut crusted salmon recipes found online for both a power packed sleepy time punch and a healthy dinner alternative.
Cherries or Cherry Juice
Cherries have been proven to work as a powerful sleep aid. Try having 1-2 servings of this melatonin packed fruit a dayto help battle the insomnia that you have been struggling with.
Sleep is one of the most basic needs that we have as human beings. Without the correct quantity and quality of sleep it can be very difficult to function as efficiently as our bodies are capable. This can have negative effects on our productivity at work and in the way we spend our free time. Sleep should be valued just as much as exercise and eating well. Just like anything else in life try implementing each of these habits one at a time. Trying to change too much at once is often times counter productive. Set yourself up for success, remember you only have one mind and one body...treat them right!