Imagine waking up refreshed, and looking forward to the coming day with good energy and focus. A good night’s sleep can do just that, and more with benefits spanning heart, immune, and hormone health. We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. During sleep, our brain and body stay remarkably active, removing toxins that build up in the brain while we are awake.
Chronic sleep deprivation makes pain worse, while sleeping soundly has added benefits of reducing risk of heart attack, hypertension, diabetes and stroke. It is also has benefits for weight-loss and reduction of inflammation. Below are my top recommendations to help promote deep sleep. If you suffer from insomnia, the first step is to rule out the major causes. There are two types of insomnia: sleep-onset and sleep maintenance. Common causes of sleep-onset insomnia or difficulty falling asleep, include:
- Anxiety or tension
- Environmental change
- Emotional arousal
- Fear of insomnia
- Phobia of sleep
- Disruptive environment
- Pain or discomfort
Common causes of sleep-maintenance insomnia or frequent or early awakening, include:
- Environmental change
- Sleep apnea (breathing stops while sleeping)
- Nocturnal myoclonus (repeated muscle contractions)
- Hypoglycemia (low nighttime blood glucose levels)
- Parasomnias (sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome)
- Pain or discomfort
The most common causes of insomnia are psychological: anxiety, depression, and tension. Cultivating an ability to “let go of the day” and trust that it is safe for you to release control of responsibilities, can be helpful. Other causes of insomnia include food, drinks, nutrient deficiencies and medications. Iron deficiency, for example, is a common cause of restless leg syndrome contributing to sleep-maintenance insomnia. Lastly, there are a number of lifestyle changes that can help insomnia.
Behaviors to promote sleep quality
1. Follow a regular sleep schedule
- Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time.
- Adults need at least seven hours of sleep, and on average 8 hours in bed
- Avoid naps. Naps can decrease the amount of sleep we need the next night, which can lead to difficulty falling asleep
2. In the two hours before going to bed, be mindful of what you eat and drink
- Limit drinking caffeinated beverages after 12PM in the afternoon. This includes: Green tea, Black tea, Coffee, Lattes, Soda (Coca Cola, Sprite). On average, the effect of caffeinated beverages like coffee can last 4-6 hours
- Avoid heavy or large meals before bed
- Alcohol can disturb sleep later at night, though it may initially help fall asleep. This is because it blocks REM sleep, which plays an important role in learning and memory function.
3. Exercise guidelines:
- Exercise regularly and early in the day, preferably before 2PM.
- After 2PM, exercise in moderation as strenuous exercise can lead to release of the stress hormone cortisol, which could make it difficult to fall asleep
4. Create a quiet, comfortable bedroom
- A little colder temperature is more helpful for creating a deep sleep
- Check that your bedroom is dark. Turn off bright lights and add blackout curtains if necessary
- Avoid working while in your bed.
5. Create a relaxing routine before going to bed
- Avoid watching TV, especially the news, and checking your phone for at least 20 minutes before going to bed. The light from TV and your phone contains blue light. Exposure to blue light can make it difficult for your body to make Melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. Use the free App Twilight on your phone or Flux on your laptop to filter out blue light.
- Make time for meditation or quiet time before going to bed. Some Apps for meditation include: Calm, Headspace, Zenfie Mindfulness Meditation App, Meditation Now, and the website https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditations/
- Journal for a limited amount of time
- Try an herbal tea such as Chamomile or Nighty Night Herbal Tea to relax before bedtime.
- Consider diffusing or applying a few drops of Lavender essential oil on your pillowcase if anxiety or racing thoughts contribute to difficulty falling asleep for you.
6. If you snore, inform your doctor so that she or he can evaluate you for difficulty breathing while sleeping, also known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can be treated with the help of a breathing mask while sleeping. Sleep apnea left untreated can increase your blood carbon dioxide levels, and increase your risk for high blood pressure, fatigue and cognitive decline. If you suffer from insomnia, ask your doctor if a sleep study is right for you.