I used to be plagued by insomnia. I would toss and turn before falling asleep, and sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep for hours. That was before I learned what sleep is actually for. Once I learned the major function of sleep, I was better able to arrange my life to insure a good night’s rest. When you live in harmony with your body’s natural processes, everything just flows. Read on to learn how you can make falling asleep and staying asleep a breeze.
It is estimated that one in three Americans suffer from insomnia. That is an astronomically high number! More than 30% of us are not sleeping well, which is affecting our health, work performance, and our relationships.
One day I came across the fact that while we sleep, the brain and body are focusing on cleaning and repair. The National Institute of Health reports that “sleep helps restore the brain by flushing out toxins that build up during waking hours.” The brain also works to consolidate memories and resolve conflicts that were triggered during the day.
And the body performs many other cleaning functions while asleep. The immune system releases cytokines (infection-fighting proteins) during sleep, which are tied to specific sleep stages. These processes can’t take place if you you disrupt the natural rhythm of the body.
Here is the basic rhythm of the body: We eat, we digest, we eliminate, and we repair. (Elimination is the movement of waste out of the body. Repair refers to the repair of brain cells and the body’s tissues.) It has to go in that order. You can’t eliminate before you eat, and you can’t repair during digestion.
Here are some problematic habits that negatively affect sleep:
- Full Belly – If you eat late in the evening and you go to bed with a full stomach, your body will be busy working on digestion instead of cleaning and repair. It may never even get to some of the important processes and your sleep cycle may be thrown off. You may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Empty Belly – If you eat too early or have a very light dinner, your blood sugar may be too low and you might have trouble staying asleep. The brain needs glucose to stay asleep.
- Full Brain – If your mind is too full of thoughts or if it is stuck on a particular problem, you may have trouble falling asleep or you may wake up in the middle of the night, with the unresolved issue demanding attention.
- Jacked Up – It’s a vicious cycle: go to bed late, wake up, drink coffee, get a burst of adrenaline, burn energy, end up depleted and exhausted, and you can’t fall asleep, wake up groggy and reach for the coffee. This is when life is out of whack. You are basically burning energy you don’t have and creating a deficit that cannot be fixed with more coffee.
- Too Late – If you go to bed really late at night, your brain will be missing some vital immune system processes that take place between 10 PM and 2 AM. You can’t get this sleep time back and your health may suffer as a result.
Here’s what to do to solve all of these problems and improve your sleep:
- Eat dinner between 6 PM – 7 PM. Make sure this meal is neither too large or too small.
- Try to go to bed around 10 PM.
- Create a Bedtime Routine, do the same things in the same order as you get ready for bed. That way your brain will begin preparing to sleep.
- Become aware of your thoughts as you lie down. If you can’t resolve something before going to sleep, consciously tell your mind to set it aside and that you will deal with it tomorrow, and that you will be more effective after a full night’s sleep. Otherwise, you will be tossing and turning as your brain tries to resolve the conflict while you sleep.
- Start a Gratitude practice – As you are lying there, preparing for sleep, try to think of at least one thing (preferably 2-3 things) that you are grateful or happy about that happened during the day. Really savor the experience. This both changes the train of thoughts and relaxes the mind. You will begin to feel happy and sleepy. Before you know it, you will be fast asleep.
- As soon as you wake up, drink a large glass of water. This will help continue the elimination process and will jumpstart your metabolism to get you energized for the day.
I made the above changes and now fall asleep easily and stay asleep most of the time. I rarely get insomnia. When I do, I try to retrace my steps and get back on track. If you are able to implement some or all of the above changes, you will be well on your way to better sleep! I really hope these tips help you. Drop me a line and let me know.
National Institute for Health, How Sleep Clears the Brain, October 13, 2013
Mayo Clinic, Lack of Sleep – Can it make You Sick?
National Institutes of Health, Sleep and Immune Function, November 2011
HuffPost Science, November 2013
Geva Salerno has a bachelor degree in biochemistry, a masters degree in international policy, and is co-founder of Creative Connection, which provides stress management and wellness programs to groups in Southwest Florida.