Insomnia: Beyond Counting Sheep—Your Action Plan
This month I am discussing insomnia and how it can affect us in all areas of our bodies. There are some serious health risks linked to chronic insomnia. The National Institute for Health states that insomnia can increase your risk for mental health disorders as well as overall health concerns. Here is a list of how insomnia can affect your body:
Increased medical conditions:
· Weak immune system
· Asthma attacks
· Sensitivity to pain
· Heart disease
· High blood pressure
Increased mental health disorders:
· Mental clarity/cognition
Increased risk for accidents:
· Work performance/productivity
· School performance/productivity
· Sex drive
Daytime sleepiness is a big concern as lack of energy can cause problems with your motor functions, cognition and cause feelings of anxiety, depression, frustration, anger and irritation. It can also increase your risk for car accidents.
Having insomnia has been shown to shorten your life expectancy. A study that covered over 1 million participants and 112,566 deaths researched the correlation between sleep duration and mortality. They found that sleeping less increased the risk for death by 12 percent. This was compared to participants who slept seven to eight hours every night. Another study took place for over 38 years and looked at how persistent insomnia played a big role in an increase of death by 97 percent.
Basically, sleep is extremely important and should be a priority in your life. If you read last week’s article you should have a clear idea on what type of insomnia you have. If not, read that article and then come back here. This week I am going to go over some long-term sleep solutions for you to try.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to establish a regular bedtime routine, even on the weekends. Create a flow for yourself that you can follow every night. Here is a quick example of what I do each night:
· One hour before bedtime, turn off all electronics (TV, phone, Ipad, laptop etc.). The blue light from these will trigger your brain to stay awake thinking it is daytime. You need to retrain your brain to know that it is time to shut down.
· Do some light stretching or yoga moves to inhibit sleep (Child’s Pose, Standing Forward Fold, Legs up the Wall, Corpse Pose).
· Take a warm bath or shower using essential oils.
· Wash your face and brush your teeth.
· Grab a book, newspaper or magazine article and read a chapter. The actual book or magazine is easier on your eyes and brain to comprehend and will make you sleepier instead of the blue light emitting from your Kindle or Ipad.
· Listen to some calming delta waves music or a guided meditation (plenty of options on YouTube to choose from).
· Do some breathwork to lower your cortisol levels and your central nervous system. Inhale for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of two and exhale for a count of four. Do that four times and then increase to a count of six, hold for a count of four and exhale for a count of six.
· Lie down and get comfy. Put in some ear plugs, turn on your fan and drift off to sleep.
Another tip is to use your bed for sleep only. Don’t bring your work into the bedroom as that will discourage your quality of sleep. If you have laundry that needs to be put away, do that before going to bed. Believe it or not, your mind will go to that pile of clothes that need to be put away and you will be up and racing in your mind all night long.
Create an oasis in your bedroom. Upgrade your mattress, sheets, pillows and blankets. An uncomfortable mattress has been linked to poor sleep quality as well as chronic pain in the body. Having super comfortable sheets is a plus when you want to sleep. I splurged a few years back and got 100% bamboo sheets and bamboo pillows and haven’t looked back. I sleep like I am on a cloud and love how comfy they make me feel. Invest in yourself and your sleep, it really pays off. Buy the light blocking curtains as they really make a difference. Use a white noise machine if you can’t stand a fan blowing air on you. The sound is so peaceful and can lull you into a deep sleep.
Smokers have more trouble with insomnia than non-smokers. This is a great reason to quit and be able to help your body heal and sleep. Smokers will experience nicotine withdrawal during the night. A friend of mine has a client who would wake up every 2 hours in the night to smoke a cigarette. That is how bad his addiction has become. They are working on his smoking cessation so he can finally get some good quality sleep because his doctor is worried about the increase strain this is having on his other organs.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been used for insomnia and has proven to be a good technique. It involves self-monitoring, mental strategies including changing negative thoughts about sleep to more positive thoughts as we as crating an environment apt for deep sleep. If you are not open to seeing a therapist, there is a digital program, Sleepio, that can help you learn the CBT practices and implement them in the comfort of your own bed.
Check in with your doctor, especially if you have tried a lot of different things. It could be that you are on a medication that may be altering your sleep, or you may have sleep apnea which can be diagnosed and then a treatment plan is created.
In order to help you sleep better at night, there are some short-term sleep solutions you can do during your day to help prep your body and mind for a deeper rest.
Exercise or move your body every day, but earlier in the day is best to get better sleep. Studies have found that moderate aerobic activity can improve the quality of sleep in insomniacs. Exercising at least three hours before bedtime is best so that the body and mind are able to wind down. When I started teaching my Pilates class two nights a week from 6-7pm I noticed an incredible shift in my sleep on those nights. I was more relaxed and able to wind down faster to get to sleep quicker and stay asleep longer on those nights.
Take time to add a “worry time” to your daily schedule. This may sound crazy, but studies have shown that if you mark it on your calendar and give yourself 15 minutes writing down all the things that you are worrying about like paying for dental bills, filling out the financial aid for your son’s fall semester, retirement funds etc. you will be able to sleep better at night. Take time each day to jot down the things that are running around in your head. If you have the time, write down one to three things that you can do about the situation now to help you. A great way to empty your mind before bedtime is to write down three things you are grateful for and one thing you accomplished that day. If you have more than three great! If you can only think of three that’s awesome as well. Going to bed in a positive light will help your subconscious drift into a peaceful rest and not a tossing and turning nightmare. Keep your gratitude journal next to your bed. You can also jot down those worry thoughts too if you find that you are thinking of them before bedtime. Getting them off your mind and on to paper will help your brain settle down about the situation.
Limit your caffeine intake. It is tempting and probably part of your normal morning routine to make a pot of coffee in the morning and then grab for another one in the afternoon, but drinking caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to six hours, so if you have that cup of iced coffee or a caffeinated drink at 3:00pm to get you through the last few hours of work, you could be adding to your disrupted sleep cycle. If you cannot quit, look at how you can cut down on the amount that you have. Make it a rule that you will not have any caffeine after 1:00pm each day and see how that helps your sleep. Make sure you are looking at the foods you are eating too. The top worst foods that disrupt your sleep are high-glycemic foods, high-fat foods, alcohol, acidic foods, spicy foods, honey, curry, ice cream, salty foods and cheese. The best foods for sleep would be things like raw honey, cherries, bananas, turkey and unsalted almonds.
Add in a power nap into your day. Power naps have been proven to help you feel rested and can boost your creativity, productivity and memory. The key is to nap for 10 to 20 minutes max and take your nap before 4:00pm. Set your phone alarm and sit back to take a quick little nap. You will feel a big difference once you start doing this on a regular basis.
Get outdoors as much as possible, even in the winter. Natural light exposure will promote health melatonin balance and keep your circadian rhythm in sync. Vitamin D receptors and the enzymes that control their activation are conveyed in areas of the brain that help in sleep regulation. Vitamin D is also a big contributor to the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm and sleep.
Make your dinner meal comprised of foods that will inhibit sleep. Eating foods high in magnesium like halibut, almonds, cashews and spinach will help your body relax and prepare for shut down. Foods high in vitamin B complex like legumes, nuts and leafy greens will also help your body connect with the magnesium in the other foods and you will be able to regulate your blood sugar better. When this happens, your body switches from an adrenaline cycle (go, go, go) to a “rest and digest” cycle. Tryptophan in turkey, brown rice, fish and yogurt can balance the hormones in your body and fights anxiety which can help with inducing sleep.
Try some of these tips this week and see if they help. It may take a week to three weeks for you to really notice a difference, but stick to it and see what you notice.