Insomnia, or difficulty in falling or staying asleep, is a very common concern and affects millions of people all over the world. During the summer months, both children and adults struggle with falling asleep because of the change in our schedules and the time change which causes regular bedtime hours to remain light until well past the norm. Even though trouble sleeping is more common in the summer, people can have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up at healthy times, or all of these in combination anytime during the year. Below you will find ways to help improve falling asleep, staying asleep, and the quality of the sleep you require.
There are four stages of sleep that our bodies go through nightly. The first stage of sleep is called NREM Stage 1. This stage of sleep involves very light sleep where disturbances can cause you to fully wake quite easily. This stage lasts for 1-10 minutes. During NREM Stage 2, your heart rate begins to slow and body temperature drops which prepares for your deep sleep. Stage 2 lasts for about 20 minutes and is still considered a light stage of sleep although it is harder to awake compared to stage 1. NREM Stage 3 occurs about 30-45 min after you fall asleep and is very similar to stage 2. It is much harder to wake during this time and sleep studies show that if woken during stage 3, people feel disorientated for a few minutes after waking. This is likely due to the brains decrease in activity. REM Sleep is the final phase of sleep. REM stands for ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ and that is exactly what takes place; your eyes rapidly move around in every direction. Your heart and breathing rates also begin to increase. REM is the deepest sleep and this is typically when sleepwalking, vivid dreams, and bedwetting takes place.
Sleep is important to our bodies for so many reasons. During deep sleep, the body is repairing and regenerating. A lack of sleep has been associated with health problems such as memory loss, depression, elevated blood pressure, poor concentration, headache, irritability, depressed immune function, low libido, and weight gain. Anyone who has had a bought of insomnia can tell you the about the frustration that goes along with it.
Like with many disorders, the cause of insomnia differs between individuals. It can be caused by drug use, pain, hormone changes — such as pregnancy and menopause, psychological problems, sleep hygiene problems, or other medical conditions. For optimal treatment, it is important to seek advice from a health-care provider who can properly assess and work on treating the cause of sleeping problems.
For many people, simple lifestyle changes can result in drastic changes in sleep quality. Try making the following changes to your daily routine for a medication and supplement-free way to get back to sleep.
Establish a Consistent Bedtime: Your body craves this consistency. If you go to sleep and wake up later on the weekends, you are forcing your body to be on different time zones — which stresses us out. When you establish a sleep and wake routine, the circadium rhythm of cortisol and melatonin release is consistent, which is important.
Have a Before Bed Time Routine: It may have been a long time since you had a story and warm drink, but we never really outgrow a wind-down period. Having a power-down hour is really important. Before that hour make your lists and finish up your must-dos, so that you can shut-off your brain and have some you-time. Dim the lights and spend that hour showering, brushing teeth, pyjamas, doing something relaxing like meditation, gentle yoga, or reading a book. Melatonin, the sleep hormone made in your brain, is secreted in response to light cues, so low lights before bedtime is a good idea.
Do Not Eat or Drink Anything Two Hours Before Bed: It is important to give the body time to finish digesting food and to settle down. Water avoidance prior to bed is especially important for those of us who wake frequently to use the washroom. Many people find that alcohol helps them fall asleep. Yes, a big glass of Pinot can make you drowsy initially but as your body metabolizes the alcohol while you sleep, a drink or two before bed prevents your body from entering deeper, more restorative phases of sleep and can wake you up in the night.
Exercise: Studies examining the link between sleep and exercise have consistently shown that people who exercise get better sleep at night. Aim for at least 20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise in the morning or early evening. Exercise that is too intense later at night actually hinders sleep due to elevated stress hormones.
Watch Your Caffeine Intake: Caffeine has a half-life of eight to 10 hours (meaning that eight hours after your last latte, half of the caffeine is still in your system), so drinking too much too late in the day may inadvertently be arresting your sleep. The ability to detoxify caffeine from the body varies dramatically between individuals due to genetic differences in liver enzymes. What’s more, caffeine metabolism slows as we get older.
Relax However You Can: If you wake in the night, you don’t necessarily need to get out of bed. If you’re awake in bed, but feel relaxed and peaceful, it’s perfectly fine to lie there and wait to fall back asleep. If you automatically jump out of bed the minute you find yourself awake, this only arouses you more; same goes with checking the clock. This elevates adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that make you feel stressed. Whereas, if you’re in bed, anxious, and your mind is running a million miles a minute, you are better off getting out of bed. Just stay away from anything too stimulating, like checking email or social media. Pick an activity you look forward to doing, like knitting or reading.
Acupuncture: I’ve had a great deal of success using acupuncture to treat insomnia. Many acupuncture points help promote healthy sleep, but the best approach is usually one that treats the whole person, rather than only the symptoms.
Try to incorporate some of these suggestions to get a good night’s sleep! If insomnia is causing you undue stress and is affecting your quality of life, please speak with your physician or a naturopathic doctor.