Trouble Getting To Sleep
Trouble Getting To Sleep
Dear Tacit,

Now that it’s sunny out again and the days are longer, I am having more trouble getting to sleep.  Any suggestions?

Signed: Eyes Wide Open

Dear Eyes Wide Open,

As the clocks roll back, and the hours of lightness stretch longer, many people find their sleeping patterns start to hiccup a bit.  As a general rule, our circadian rhythms are highly influenced by the patterns of natural light that surround us.  Our bodies actually absorb more light through our skin than through our open eyes.  And the production of hormones that give us energy (like cortisol) and trigger relaxation (like melatonin) are directly influenced by this exposure to light.

But there are also other factors that can also influence our ability to get a good night sleep.  We need three things to be able to the deep sleep part of our cycle – our body temperature must drop, our brain wave activity must slow, and our metabolism must decrease.  If we have eaten too late our body may still be trying to digest when we climb into bed, or we may be hit with a surge of energy after we have fallen asleep.  If we have not been active enough during the course of the day, our body may still have energy that is resisting the relaxation effects needed for sleep.  If our bedrooms are too warm, we may struggle to cool off enough to reach the deep sleep states that we need for rejuvenation.  If we are over stimulated in any way (from exposure to screen time, or from thoughts/feelings not yet processed from the day), it could take hours before our brain wave activity can drop to the level that allows the full sleep cycle to happen.

Here are some strategies that can help counter-balance the extended light and warmer temps of the summer months, if you find that you are struggling with your sleep patterns:

Make sure your room is dark and cool.  Try eye masks; use black-out blinds; tin foil the windows; have a fan running (but don’t point it directly at your body or you will have temperature regulation issues all night long, esp if the fan is oscillating).  In hotter months, try draping a damp towel over your body to cool off, or use rice/bean bags that have been stored in the freezer.

If you like to work out at night or enjoy hot baths/showers, be sure to leave enough time for your body temperature and metabolism to re-regulate and allow a sleeping state BEFORE you climb into bed (this usually takes at least an hour).

Watch what you are eating/drinking before bed.  If you have trouble sleeping, caffeine consumption should be halted no later than 2pm (for a bedtime of 11pm).  Alcohol and marijuana may seem like helpful tools for falling asleep, but they often actually prevent your brain from entering into the deep sleep parts of your cycle.  Avoid eating at least 2 hours before bedtime so digestion is complete before you want to be asleep.  And make your last snack something that increases the natural production of your body’s melatonin (pistachios, cherry juice, bananas, turkey/chicken, milk, etc). Avoid sugars and carbs.

Avoid all screen time or any activity that stimulates your brain activity, for about an hour before bed.  This might include listening to music (unless it is specifically designed to slow your brain waves) or reading (which can trigger great imagination).

Transition yourself into a state of pre-sleep by practicing a wind-down routine before you get into bed.  Incorporate 3 components into this routine.  1) Process the thoughts/feelings of the day by “dumping your mind” (journal or talk out loud to yourself).  Keep a “don’t forget” list as well, and write down anything you need to remember for the next day, so your brain doesn’t have to keep playing the thought in your mind during the night.  2) Engage in activities that take only a bit of focus and are not emotionally stimulating in any way (brush your teeth, wash your face, do the dishes, fold clothes, etc).  Let yourself get bored.  And 3) practice physical and mental activities (like progressive muscle relation, night-time yoga movements, deep-breathing exercises, visualization or meditation techniques) that create heaviness in your muscles and slow your breathing.  This sends the message to your brain that you are ready for sleep and triggers the shut down process internally.

And finally, don’t jump to over-the-counter, synthetic sleeping aids.  Opt instead for natural ways of increasing your body’s production of melatonin and decreasing your cortisol levels.  Boost your magnesium, vitamin D, iron and B vitamin levels at proper times throughout the day/evening, and your sleep cycles can improve greatly.

Take care!

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