If you’re one in three Americans that suffers from some sort of insomnia—-whether you have trouble falling asleep or waking in the middle of the night and then difficulty falling back asleep—- you know just how maddening the process of trying to fall asleep can be.
You might be simultaneously be thinking about all the things that you could be doing instead of lying there in a fit of frustration, and at the same time telling yourself to, “RELAX already!” Unfortunately, frustration and relaxation aren’t a good pairing, and seem to only exacerbate that enigma of “wired and tired”.
By now you may have already tried the commonly suggested alternatives like melatonin or valerian root, and don’t like the sometimes groggy hang-over or addictive qualities of sleeping pills. You probably wish there were just one magic bullet that could reliably knock you into that sweet revery without all the negative side effects. But, from what I’ve found through my own research and experience with sleeplessness, there are a number of factors that play into good sleep and the more bases you can cover, the better chances you may have at the zzzz’s.
There are the more straight forward things you can do like making sure your room is dark and there aren’t any electronics on while you sleep. There are the obvious things like refraining from sugar or caffeine after a certain time (it’s hard to say what time exactly because everyone has a different tolerance to caffeine—-for some, it’s best to not have any at all.)
But then there are the more complex mechanisms at play like getting lined up with your circadian rhythms, and how even your gut health can play a part in restful sleep.
Get this: melatonin is the hormone that controls sleep, much of which is converted from serotonin, that calm, fell-good hormone. I just recently learned that both of these important hormones are mostly created in the gut. According to Shawn Stevenson, author of the “Sleep Smarter” book, up to 80% of melatonin and 90% of serotonin are made in our guts!
This means that if our digestion is out of whack, we aren’t properly producing these essential hormones. There are so many factors that play into good digestion. Namely, promoting healthy gut flora, avoiding substances that can be irritating to the gut lining, reducing stress, etc. I can’t begin to go into all of them here, but just by pointing you in the direction of the connection between sleep and digestion, you can begin to pay more attention to the health of your gut.
Ever noticed that if you eat a big, heavy meal too close to bed, your stomach can be so active and busy with the work of digestion that it keeps you up at night? This is a good reason to eat larger meals earlier in the day, but still something in the evening so that you don’t get woken up in the middle of the night with low blood sugar.
According to sleep specialist, Alan Christenson, middle of the night wake-ups unrelated to the need to pee are the body’s stress response to low blood sugar. Blood sugar crashes when someone hasn’t had enough to eat or has eaten a high sugar or simple carbohydrate meal, causing blood sugar to spike and then crash dramatically later. The best remedy for this is to eat an evening meal that has complex carbohydrates, is low or devoid of sugar, and may contain resistant starch.
According to Magdalena Wszelaki, even a lot of sugar at breakfast can affect sleep that evening. In the words of one of her clients, “To fix my sleep, I had to fix my day.”
This premise relates to stress as well—-if you lead your entire day stressed out, “go-go-going”, it can be hard to suddenly tell the body to shut down. Stress and caffeine are probably the biggest factors related to that “wired and tired” feeling. So incorporating moments throughout the day to calm the nervous system down can be really helpful. Even writing a list before going bed or writing a stream-of-consciousness to clear your mind of dangling thoughts can help put your mind to rest.
Hypnotherapy is another helpful tool when dealing with sleeplessness. Most hypnotic tools are more effective when experienced in a state of at least light trance, but I will do my best to explain one of them here:
See or hear all of your thoughts, firing one to the next. Having been trained throughout the day to constantly be thinking, those thoughts may be in rapid fire. Now, it’s time to train your thoughts to slooooooow down. Imagine hearing them in slow motion, one word slooooowly annunciated with pauses before the next. It gets pretty boring when thoughts move so slowly. So much so, that you may find a wave of sleepiness sweeping through your brain, cells, and to the core of your being. Each time they speed up, come back to slowing them down again. You can even experiment with quieting them down too, as if you are turning down the volume on a stereo. It’s amazing how such simple tools can be all it takes to lull your mind body to sleep.
Since so much of good sleep is about your mind being in a state of peace, it follows naturally that hypnosis, which speaks to both the conscious and unconscious, would improve sleeplessness. Sometimes, however, there is a deficiency in certain vitamins and nutrients, which exacerbates the task of falling asleep easily.
Magnesium is probably the most commonly known vitamin to affect sleep. According to Shawn Stevenson, it’s estimated that over 80% of Americans seem to be low this key vitamin, which is responsible for over 300 biochemical processes in the body. Leafy greens and whole grains such as buckwheat are some of the foods known to be rich in magnesium. Epson salt baths are an excellent way to absorb magnesium through the skin and wind down after a busy day.
Magnesium isn’t the only essential sleep mineral. Proper levels of vitamin C and D are also key players when it comes to sleep. Another reason to spend more time outside! With exposure to daylight, we boost vitamin D levels and stimulate the release of serotonin, that feel-good hormone that later converts to melatonin and helps us feel sleepy. No wonder we tend to sleep so well after a day at the beach! Add some exercise to the equation and now you’re talking (or sleeping, in this case:-)
According to the National Sleep Foundation,150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, which is the national guideline, provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. Interestingly, other studies have shown that there was less effect when the exercise was all vigorous (all running vs. some walking), so leaning towards moderate aerobic exercise may be better.
When all else fails, and you’ve been laying in bed for too long, wondering when that elusive sleep will finally sink in, but your mind is still somewhat wired, take my advice: Don’t fuel your frustration any longer by just lying there. 1) Take a GABA, a naturally occurring amino acid known to calm the brain from it’s hamster-wheel of thinking. Then, turn on a dim bedside light (drape a T-shirt safely over your light if it’s too bright and try to have it within arms-reach so it’s easy to turn off). 2) Find a book that is only mildly interesting. No gripping or riveting plot-lines here, no lurid romance novels, preferably something that has a little scientific content or something that gets tiring to follow. For me, The New Yorker or the Tibetan Book of Living & Dying work well, but figure out what works for you. 3) Read somewhat sloooowly and before long, you will feel that wave of heavy sleep sweep through your system. Continue reading slowly until your eyes feel so heavy, it’s hard to keep them open, but with enough time to still turn the lights out. 4) Curl up in your favorite sleeping position, and imagine someone stroking your hair as a mother would to a child, softly whispering to you, “Sleep well, my dear.”
To learn more sleep-related tricks and to schedule a one-on-one hypnosis or nutritional session geared towards you and your better sleep, visit my "contact me" page at siriwellness.com.