Sleep. We all know it’s important. Scientists continue to discover additional benefits associated with a good night’s sleep, including boosted immune function, cognition, and metabolism!1 Many individuals are surprised to learn that inadequate sleep (less than 7-8 hours per night) can even increase the risk of obesity!2 This risk is likely due to the role of sleep in hormonal balance, as quality sleep helps the body balance satiety (leptin) and hunger (ghrelin) hormones.2 (I know I’m much more likely to make poor food choices when I’m tired)! Furthermore, sleep affects insulin sensitivity, making sleep-deprived individuals more susceptible to elevated blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes.2 Lastly, human growth hormone (HGH) is secreted during sleep.2 This hormone promotes the repair of cells and tissues, helping your body regenerate and recover tough workouts.2
Now that I’ve highlighted the importance of sleep, let’s talk about the real issue: insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 48% of Americans experience occasional sleeplessness, with 22% of the population complaining of nightly insomnia!3 The most common causes of sleeplessness include anxiety, depression, stress, pain, and certain medications.3 I think we’ve all experienced the frustration of lying awake with racing thoughts. So, what should we do when sleep eludes us? Check out my tips and tricks to help you catch some zzz’s!
- Practice yoga. Yoga can bring your mind into a more restful place, while simultaneously working out the kinks in your body.
- Drink tea. Chamomile blends are particularly relaxing!
- Exercise regularly. Research demonstrates that regular exercise (at least 150 minutes/week) can significantly improve sleep patterns.4 Just make sure to give yourself at least a few hours to wind down from your workout before bedtime!
- Keep a list. Is your mind spinning? Are you worried about all the things you have to do tomorrow? Keep a notepad by your bed to jot down those “to-do” thoughts that pop into your head. After you write it down, promise yourself you’ll worry about it tomorrow.
- Institute an Electronic Curfew. The light emanating from our smartphones, laptops, and ipods can hinder the release of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.5 Vow to turn off the electronics at least 60 minutes prior to bedtime.
- Read. Many articles claim that one’s bed should be a sanctuary from any type of brain-stimulating activity. However, I whole-heartedly disagree. Though everyone is different, I find that reading light fiction helps relax my mind and lull me to sleep.
- Indulge in tryptophan. L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps your body produce serotonin, a key component to restful sleep.6 If sleep alludes you on a regular basis, you may wish to increase your intake of tryptophan-rich foods, including turkey, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, salmon, cod, halibut, beans, peanuts, lentils, milk, and yogurt, just to name a few.6
- Take a valerian supplement. This herbal remedy has been used to combat insomnia and anxiety since the second century, A.D.7 Scientists believe that this herb may increase the amount of calming gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, just like Valium and Xanax!7
- Throw away “sleeping rules”. Know thyself. If your racing brain quiets down by watching a movie to fall asleep, don’t be ashamed. Do what works for you! Proudly keep your light on if it makes you more comfortable! (Of course, I should mention that you need to respect your sleeping partner’s wishes as well. A book light or headphones can be helpful in this situation.)
- Pray. If prayer is a part of your life, use it during those “dark” times. I often have to “let go and let God” by giving him my worries and cares.
- Think about that “time to get up” feeling. This is a tip from my dear Mother. She always tells me to think about how I’ll feel when it’s time to get up; that bleary-eyed moment when I’d give anything to stay in bed.
- Give up caring if you sleep. I know, I know, it sounds silly. It’s totally counterintuitive. However, not placing pressure on yourself to sleep can be the most effective method for inducing a restful night. Tell yourself, “The worst thing that can happen is I don’t sleep tonight. Then I’ll be even more ready for sleep tomorrow!” Your body has to sleep eventually. It’s impossible not to. So give yourself a break, sip some tea, read a book, and enjoy some “me” time. Challenge yourself to stay awake until the next chapter. Chances are you’ll be catching flies before chapter 2!
P.S. This post is dedicated to Pam. Thanks for the great idea!
- Benefits of sleep. Harvard Medical School Website. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep. Accessed August 31, 2015.
- Why is sleep important? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Website. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why. Updated February 22, 2012. Accessed August 31, 2015.
- Sleep aids and insomnia. National Sleep Foundation Website. http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/insomnia/sleep-aids-and-insomnia. Accessed August 31, 2015.
- How does exercise help those with chronic insomnia? National Sleep Foundation. http://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/how-does-exercise-help-those-chronic-insomnia. Accessed August 31, 2015.
- Dotinga R. Using electronics before bed may hamper sleep. U.S. News & World Report.http://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/how-does-exercise-help-those-chronic-insomnia. Published March 7, 2011. Accessed August 31, 2015.
- Stephens L. List of foods high in tryptophan. Livestrong Website. http://www.livestrong.com/article/247974-list-of-foods-high-in-tryptophan/. December 18, 2013. Accessed August 31, 2015.
- Valerian. University of Maryland Medical Center Website. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/valerian. Published June 26, 2014. Accessed August 31, 2015.