Struggling to fall asleep can be a truly miserable experience. But “unrest” assured that you are not alone. According to the American Sleep Association, as many as 70 million adults in the U.S. have some form of sleep disorder.
There are numerous supplements and medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, proven to assist those with sleep disorders. Consider talking to your primary care physician about available options. Here are a few natural sleep techniques and tips for getting the rest you need:
Consistency is key: Keeping a regular bedtime, even through the weekend, helps the body maintain a natural sleep cycle. Sleeping in on the weekends can result in almost jet-lag-like conditions when trying to return to your regular sleep schedule at the beginning of the week. Consider taking a nap (30 minutes to an hour) on Saturday and Sunday if you feel more sleep is required.
Get the right amount of light: A 2010 study from the Endocrine Society shows that exposure to light before bed – from TVs, electronic devices, overhead lights and lamps – can suppress the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Prolonged light exposure was shown to reduce melatonin by as much as 50 percent.
The brain game: It happens to everyone at some point. The mind starts racing right as your head hits the pillow, and all chances of a good night’s sleep vanish. Purposely focusing on the positive aspects of your day and life in general can help train your mind to avoid anxious thoughts. Before tucking yourself in, try a few of these relaxation techniques:
- Research from Columbia University shows as little as five minutes of deep, purposeful breathing can calm the central nervous system, steady heart rate and aid in digestion.
- The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recommends progressive muscle relaxation to help reduce stress and tension. Take a few deep breaths, then, starting at your toes, tighten and flex your feet. Hold that for a 10-count then gently relax. Work your way up the whole body, keeping a deep, steady breathing pattern until you finish with your head and neck. Be still for a few moments and assess your body. If there is remaining tension in some parts, work those areas again. When you’re done, take a few minutes to breathe deep and create calm in your mind.
Work it out: Regular exercise has been shown to help the conditions of insomnia and sleep apnea as well as increasing the amount of time spent in deep, REM sleep. Exercise can speed up metabolism, raise body temperature and release stimulating hormones, so try to schedule intense workouts at least eight hours before bedtime. Low-impact, relaxing exercises like yoga or gentle stretching, done at least three hours before bedtime, can help promote sleep.
Eat right: What you consume throughout the day and evening can have a significant impact on your sleep. Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can disrupt sleep. Caffeine, even if it’s consumed 10 hours before sleep, can disrupt regular nighttime patterns. A little alcohol before bed may help you relax, but it can interfere with the regular cycle once you’re asleep.
Avoid late meals: Sleeping after a big meal may lead to weight gain and throw off the body’s circadian rhythms (sleep cycle). It’s recommended to stop heavy eating approximately two hours before bedtime.
A study from Northwestern University showed that insulin – the hormone responsible for helping control blood sugar – runs with the circadian clock. A late meal followed by a long sleep may result in significant changes in blood sugar levels and, over time, lead to fat buildup, insulin resistance and potentially Type 2 diabetes.