Friday, January 16, 2015

Why You Aren't Sleeping ... And How to Fix It

Lately, I’ve had a lot of trouble falling and staying asleep for more than a few hours at a time. As I have learned, it only takes a few days of troubled sleep for you to go totally, batshit crazy. After a full week of sleepless nights, I had a full-on meltdown and cried my eyes out for hours in front of my sweet, but helpless, boyfriend.  

I slept that night.  Here’s what I have learned.

There are many contributing factors to sleepless nights.

  • We have too many thoughts racing in our head when we finally hit the pillow.

    The fix: Don’t watch TV or look at any electronic screen two hours before bedtime. The light signals to our brain that it should stay awake, and trolling social media or getting riled up over The Bachelor can keep you from winding down properly. Instead, opt for a book for bedtime entertainment and try to write down your thoughts if your head is feeling particularly stuffed.
  • We just can’t wind down.

    The fix: Take a luxurious bath. Use aromatherapy. Make some hot chamomile tea. Meditate. Do some slow stretches. Ask your significant other/roommate/BFF/mom to read you something pleasant. Say affirmations. If you are religious, pray.
  • Our bedroom is not a tranquil environment.

    The fix: First, de-clutter your room and give it a thorough cleaning. Seeing junk all over your bedroom makes for a stressful environment, and if you do not clean your room often enough there may be an allergen, such as dust or pet hair, that is making you uncomfortable.
    Make sure your room has good feng shui. Is your bed in direct line to the door, facing a mirror, or directly under a window? This can block or trap positive energy. Don’t go crazy trying to follow all the “rules,” but be aware that some simple swaps can greatly enhance the flow of chi. Switch out your bedroom colors for rich earth tones, blues and greens, and lavender (associated with the feminine yin). Bright colors such as red and orange (associated with the masculine yang) are too stimulating. Here’s a crash course on feng shui for your bedroom.
  • We are in chronic pain (sometimes unknowingly).

    The fix: If you need to take Tylenol or Aleve before bed to ease your pain, do so as a temporary solution. Eventually, you will need to consider any or all of the following: See a chiropractor, go to the masseuse, do some lymphatic draining, see a therapist, try acupuncture, use a foam roller or a lacrosse ball at home to ease muscle pain, practice yoga to re-align your body, and try to focus on your posture, gait, or whatever else may be contributing to your pain.
  • Our body doesn’t have the proper nutrients.

The fix: Find a supplement with chelated magnesium, which will relax your central nervous system, and calcium, which helps your body utilize the amino acid tryptophan to create sleep-inducing melatonin. [Note: Find a supplement with chelated magnesium because other forms of magnesium merely relax systems in your body such as your bowels...not cute.]
    Of course, eating a diet with lots of leafy greens, plenty of digestible proteins, and avoiding foods which cause inflammation will also help your body run more smoothly. Avoid eating very heavy meals before bedtime, especially if they contain common allergens such as dairy, soy, or wheat. And please, Do not take melatonin. Yes, it is natural, but once your body ingests it, it will stop producing melatonin for the night, and this can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.

More Useful Tips

If you are waking up in the middle of the night, and it takes you more than 20 minutes to fall back to sleep, a change of location might be useful. Instead of stressing about falling back asleep, do some light stretches, pick up a book, or just rest until you feel you can fall asleep again.

Although it may be tempting, avoid taking naps throughout the day, so that you will be sufficiently exhausted come bedtime. However, if you need to operate machinery or anything else that could make your exhaustion dangerous to yourself or others, nap for up to 45 minutes beforehand. Anything longer can make you groggy.

Obviously, caffeine is a no-no. If you're a coffee drinker, cut yourself off at noon.

If all else fails, wear yourself out. My crying fit did something chamomile tea could not. It tired out every muscle in my body and left me so emotionally drained that I just passed out when I got to bed (I slept 5 hours straight that night. A miracle!). If you have enough energy to exercise, do, but make sure it’s before 5 p.m. so your body has plenty of time to wind back down.

NOTE: Please, please, do not take OTC meds that only treat the symptom, not the underlying cause of this issue. Aside from the unfortunate side effects, and potential to become reliant on them, you could be masking some big issues which need treatment such as chronic joint pain, TMJ, etc.

I genuinely hope this helps you. It may be a work in progress for some time to come, but  you will eventually get there. It might be that each night you see yourself sleeping a little bit longer, going to sleep faster, or waking up more refreshed. Don’t ignore these tiny victories.

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