Sleep 101 Part 3: Troubleshooting Falling Asleep
There's nothing worse than having trouble with your sleep, whether it's trouble falling or staying asleep. Today, we are going to delve into the first of these two situations, and I'll provide tips and tricks to help you get your best sleep - tonight!
Troubleshooting Falling Asleep
There's nothing worse than tossing back and forth with a racing mind before bed that keeps you from falling asleep. Try out some of these tips to help you fall asleep faster.
Journal Before Bed
When our mind starts racing, it's hard to calm it down! Instead of having an endless stream of thoughts before bed, take a few minutes to journal and get your thoughts out on paper. Write down 3-5 things you are grateful for, as well as anything that is on your mind. You might also write down anything that you have to remember to do the next day so that you won't worry that you won't forget!
Eat PFC Balanced Meals
Eat meals throughout the day that contain protein, fat, and carbs from real, whole foods (meat, eggs, seafood, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, healthy fats) and avoid processed, refined foods (especially right before bed!). This will ensure that your blood sugar is steady throughout the day, which will also help your sleep. Erratic blood sugar levels can keep you from falling and staying asleep. Also avoid large meals before bedtime. Aim to finish eating 1-2 hours before bed.
Stop Caffeine after 12pm
Caffeine is an overused stimulus for many people who are sleep deprived, and its effects can last up to 12 hours. Don't drink any caffeine after 12pm so that your body can start to get back to its normal and regular circadian rhythm throughout the day. This will help you fall asleep and relax in the evenings as well!
Get Exposure to Natural Light During the Day
Natural light right away in morning helps reset our circadian rhythm so that we can get into a proper sleep-wake cycle. I like to look out my window when I get up right away in the morning for just a few seconds. It is also important, especially if you work inside a building all day, to make sure to get some sun/light exposure during the daytime hours, even for just a minute or two! This will help your body recognize when it is time for sleep and when it is time for work.
Exercise Earlier in the Day
Exercising earlier in the day (morning, mid-morning, or early afternoon) can help you fall asleep compared to working out later in the evening. Working out too late in the evening can get your adrenaline pumping too much, keeping you wide awake when you want to be sleeping!
Establish a Sleep Routine
We talked about this in my second post in this series, and it bears repeating! Establishing a sleep routine that you follow each night will help you start to fall asleep quicker and easier.
Cut Out Blue Light Before Bed
This means that all electronics and tons of artificial light need to be turned off or dimmed. I mentioned that you can wear amber-tinted, blue light blocking glasses an hour or two before bed if you want to continue to use electronics but you don't want the stimulating effects of the blue light. In addition, you can also buy orange tinted light bulbs for lamps in your house or simply dim the lights at night. Any action that will help dim the lights you are exposed to at night will help your circadian rhythm naturally regulate so that your melatonin is rising at night and cortisol is falling, enabling you to fall asleep!
Don't Stress Too Much
This goes for both sleep and life - stress is the opposite of calming on the body. Having too much stress in our lives (whether it's from our struggles with sleep, work, family, money, or anything else) will keep our cortisol (the stress hormone) high. When our cortisol is high, it suppresses our melatonin, which is our natural sleep hormone. Reduce stress and relax to the best of your ability, and your sleep will improve - promise!
Set the Room
Dim the lights, cool down the air temperature, and turn the TV off in the bedroom. Make your bedroom a place only for sleep and journaling - nothing else! This will not only help you fall asleep, but it will help your mind correlate your cool, dark bedroom with falling asleep, not staying up watching TV for hours J
Relax Before Bed
It doesn't matter how you do it - listening to music, yoga, meditation, a hot bath - but try to relax and unwind a few minutes before bed. This will help your body switch from the sympathetic state (fight or flight, go-go-go!) to the parasympathetic state (rest and digest, calm). Without making this switch, you will continue to have trouble falling asleep. But on a relaxing playlist of piano music, sit on the floor, and focus on your breath for 5 minutes before climbing into bed. It just might do the trick!
Remember that when you are having trouble falling asleep, the most likely cause is that your circadian rhythm is out of a routine due to stress, blue light exposure, caffeine, sugar, or any other disrupter. Take some time build your sleep routine, eat tons of nourishing whole foods, stay away from electronics at night, and see what happens after a week. Your body might take some time to adjust, but I promise that it is worth it! Your sleep determines your overall health, and is worth every second of investment that you put into it!
In the final post in this series on sleep, we are going to be discussing troubles with staying asleep. Stay tuned!