I don’t know many people that haven’t struggled with sleep at some point. Whether triggered by a traumatic event in our lives, too much stress at work or the inability to switch off. I believe we have all had at least one night wondering whether we were ever going to drift off to that blissfull place that Garfield makes look so easy.
What most of us don’t know is how sleep works and why we struggle to find it. Our bodies work off many cycles and one sleep cycle is the Circadian. This cycle appears to be motivated by light and dark stimuli and the release of hormones. Cortisol is the hormone that wakes us up brought on by daylight but is not designed to be in our bodies for long periods of time so tapers off as the day goes on. Two other hormones responsible for our active day state are Serotonin and Adrenaline. As daylight starts to fade the body starts to convert Serotonin into Melatonin. Increases in melatonin cause the body to tire. Within two hours of the on set of this lethargic state, Melatonin is flowing fast. The most effective time to sleep is in the hour that follows. The hormone slows its release as the night goes on and therefore sleep becomes more elusive. As daylight breaks in the early hours, the body stops producing Melatonin, this is usually a couple of hours before waking.
Generally challenges with sleep are associated with an inbalance in hormones. Some other symptoms of a hormone imbalance are lack of energy and moodiness. You may have heard Serotonin is responsible for mood and low levels are linked with depression. Also you are probably aware that cortisol is the fight or flight hormone that is released when you are stressed so this explains the affects of stress on sleep.
You are probably thinking, yeah, yeah, enough with the science jibberish, give me the tips. I won’t give you the obvious ones like going to bed at a regular time each night, don’t nap, avoid drugs and alcohol, we should all know these mess with routine and hormones so are going to impact your sleep cycles. With a better understanding of how sleep works, hopefully you can apply your own techniques in conjunction with the below tips to better your sleep and therefore increase your energy during the day 🙂
Strong morning light and dark evenings
This will promote an accurate release of hormones and help synchronize your circadian cycle. So make sure you get some bright light first thing in the morning, and your room is dark when you go to sleep. I have block out curtains, so I open them when I do my early morning feed for my 3month old girl. What can you do in your room to increase early morning light?
Reduce unnecessary cortisol. How you say? A couple exercises you can do during the day, before you go to bed or even if you are having trouble sleeping.
- Breathe in for 30secs breathe out for 30secs – do this 5 times
- Hold your hands over your tummy, breath in trying to inflate your stomach, then breathe in some more and fill your chest so it rises. Hold and suck in a little bit more, hold and suck in a little bit more. Repeat 5 times. (Its important you don’t lift your shoulders as you fill your chest)
- If your body doesn’t know how to relax you can teach it. Tense your toes, while holding your toes tense, follow with your legs then your bum, then your stomach, chest, arms, face. And then release one body part at a time. This teaches your body to know the difference between tension and being relaxed. Great while you sit at traffic lights!
This keeps popping up everywhere as the solution to so many health issues, so just do it! As adrenaline increases over the day, afternoon is the best time for exercise however be careful not to leave it too late as this can impact sleep. The best time would be 4-6 hours before bed. But hey if afternoon doesn’t work for you, stick to what works. It’s best you exercise at a time that suits rather than not at all 🙂
I know this is a short term fix for many different issues but long term use will always complicate your health. Your body is just not meant to have synthetic drugs flowing through it. Medication can affect the quality of your REM sleep that repairs your body, same with drugs and alcohol. So while you may go to sleep easier your body is not repairing itself as effectively and therefore you will wake up tired. So take meds in the short term if you must, but your body is giving you a symptom – address the cause. This includes sleeping pills and some herbal remedies as well, they mess with the balance of hormones in your body.
Wind down –
It seems oddly simple but babies are the same as adults when it comes to going to sleep. I learnt this the hard way by misreading cues and overstimulating my daughter when she was tired :p We all need to wind down into sleep. Here are some tips on how to wind down:
- Dim the lights and hour before bed
- Decrease the noise stimuli – perhaps some relaxing music?
- Stretch you muscles for the exercise you have done today 🙂
- I like to have a bath, even if it is interrupted when baby gets hungry…
Clear your head –
ok i know I said 5 tips but this one is sooooooo important. For this one I like to remember the quote “The past is history, the future is a mystery, embrace the gift of the present”. When you are lying in bed you can only be in the present. Thinking about the past or future causes depressed thoughts and worry. Have a pen and paper close by so when you drift into thoughts outside the present (breathing) such as worries, things to do, what you should have said in that argument today, you can move them out of your head. Either write them down or cut the thought loose with some imaginary scissors.
How do you help yourself have a goodnight sleep?