Expert sleep tips to get a better nights sleep. Why you’re not sleeping and what you can do about it!
We know we need eight or more hours of sleep for our health and wellbeing. Research says a lack of sleep causes a cascade effect of health problems from diabetes, irritable mood, heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain and lack of sex drive. Yikes!
If that’s not a reason to grab more shuteye, how about this? Our brain development is helped by the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep we get when we’re deep in dreamland. So sleep makes us smarter too!
Here’s More Health Benefits You Get with 8 Hours of Sleep:
- Boosts your immunity and your ability to fight infections, cold and bugs
- You’ll be less likely to gain weight
- Experience less anxiety and depression
- Avoid type 2 diabetes
- Improves libido and sex drive
- Helps ward off heart disease due to high blood pressure
Ok I get it. It’s important to get sleep, but sometimes getting a good night’s sleep seems just out of reach. Here’s why. First we have to understand why we’re not sleeping well, then we can learn how to sleep better at night.
Medical & Physical Reasons You’re Sleepless
- Snoring – If you snore, you may be suffering from respiratory obstruction and lack of oxygen. This is enough to wake you. If your partner snores loudly, that noise may keep you awake throughout the night. Oh there’s no maybe about it!
- Sleep apnea – sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder related to snoring. With sleep apnea, you may have abnormal pauses while you breath or your breathing is shallow. Think little gasps. You body is getting deprived of oxygen so it wakes you up throughout the night, saying hey I’m trying to breath here!
- Arthritis – The pain and discomfort of arthritis can make it difficult to go to sleep and stay asleep.
- GERD – Irritation from heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease gets worse when we lay flat in bed. Of course it disturbs our sleep too.
- Restless Leg Syndrome – RLS is the uncontrollable jerking of your legs or limbs at night, which also disturbs our sleep.
- Hormones – Hormone levels decline as we age. When progesterone production is lost, so is it’s natural calming effect. Lower levels of estrogen cause moderate to severe hot flashes making sleep patchy at best. Higher levels of cortisol (the flight or fight one) will keep you buzzing late at night. Not having enough melatonin created in our body- the sleep hormone – is another reason we don’t stay asleep all night.
- Prescription Drugs – Sleep medications may cause rebound insomnia. Some of these prescription drugs also contribute to sleeplessness; steroids, Prozac, Zoloft, decongestants, beta blockers, anti convulsants, diuretics and amphetamines.
What You Can Do To Fix It Medical & Physical Causes
– If you’re overweight, start with a plan to lose some weight
– Alcohol relaxes muscles in throat, so avoid drinking alcohol before going to bed
– Use Breathe Right strips to open your nasal passages
– Raise your head with a wedge pillow or sleep on your side
2. Sleep Apnea
– Again lose some weight if you’re overweight
– Stop smoking, limit alcohol and avoid sedatives because all of these impact healthy breathing
– Ask your doctor about a CPAP machine. This helps to open your airways while sleeping
– Over the counter painkillers such as Ibuprofen, Advil or Aleve may help ease pain. To reduce risk of gastrointestinal irritation, don’t take these in combination with alcohol or use painkillers nightly.
– Try gentle exercise such as yoga or walking daily.
– Physiotherapy or water exercise are other good ways of moving gently and easing pain.
4. GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
– Watch food triggers like coffee, alcohol, red wine and chocolate which can worsen your symptoms
– Smoking and being overweight can also aggravate GERD
– Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight around your waist.
– Don’t eat 3-4 hours before going to bed
– Raise your bed or stack pillows so that your head and chest are higher than your waist.
5. Restless Leg Syndrome
– Avoid caffeine, tobacco and alcohol before bed
– Make regular exercise like walking a habit but do it at least 4-5 hours before bedtime.
– Avoid medicines that may trigger symptoms (check with your doctor)
– Before bed take a hot bath and massage your legs
– Consider hormone supplementation if you’re in menopause to counteract low levels
– Manage high levels of cortisol and stress by practicing yoga, meditation or relaxing activities like walking the dog
– Low levels of melatonin can be adjusted by getting more exposure to daylight and less exposure to artificial light before bed
– Overactive or underachieve thyroid should be tested by your doctor
7. Prescription Drugs
– Ask your doctor if any of your prescription medicines may be contributing to your sleeplessness. Steroids, Prozac, Zoloft, decongestants, beta blockers, anti convulsants, diuretics and amphetamines are ones to watch out for.
Environmental Reasons You’re Sleepless
- Noise – Loud noises can wake us up, from our partner snoring to loud traffic or the neighbors coming in late at night.
- Light – Street lights, car headlights and even a bright full moon can keep you awake.
- Bed – A bed that sags or is too firm can cause restlessness, tossing and turning.
- Temperature – A bedroom that’s too hot or too cold interferes with our sleep. Our body temperature need to cool down when we’re resting. The ideal temp for a bedroom is between 60-67 degrees F (15-19 C)
What You Can Do to Fix Environmental Causes
– Keep your bedroom a quiet zone. Install light blocking and sound dampening drapery if needed.
– Use a white noise sound app or machine by your bed to mask distracting noise
– Consider using ear plugs for sleeping
– Ask your family to observe quiet time 1-2 hours before bedtime
– If necessary consider moving to a quieter location. Your sleep is worth it!
– Keep bedside lights low wattage or if you’re reading, use a reading light
– install light blocking curtains or shades
– Use a folded bandana or soft eye mask to block light while sleeping
10. Your Bed
– Invest in a supportive, natural and comfortable bed
– Use lambswool pads, natural fiber or latex mattress toppers
– Use only pillows which support your sleeping style, side or back etc.
– Bed linen and pillows should be clean, soft and welcoming.
– Your bedroom should be cool, ideal temperature is 60-67 F or 15-19 C
– Make sure your blankets and covers keep you warm but not hot. Change them for the seasons if needed.
– Sleep naked or wear sleepwear you can move freely in. You don’t want layers that tug, pull or wrap around you
Age Reasons You’re Sleepless
- Napping – Napping too long or too late in the day will interfere with the bodies awake-rest cycle.
- Sleep-Wake homeostat – As we age, the window on our internal clock narrows between awake and sleep cycles meaning we wake up earlier and then have trouble falling asleep at night.
What You Can Do to Fix Age Reasons
– Napping for too long during the day shortens time you’ll be able to sleep in bed at night
– Limit nap time to late morning or early afternoon and keep it under an hour
13. Sleep-Wake Rhythm
– Keep your sleep “clock” consistent by going to bed and rising at about the same time each day
– To increase your “sleep drive” rise at the same time even if you had a sleepless night before
Routine Reasons You’re Sleepless
- Technology – Using tablets, phones or laptops in bed or close to bedtime can disrupt our melatonin production. Devices emit blue light waves which interferes with us being able to cycle down. Stimulation from reading or watching news, movies or TV can also keep us awake.
- Eating and drinking – Eating too late can cause indigestion and poor sleep. Drinking too much makes you get up to pee. Alcohol may put you to sleep, but your sleep quality isn’t good. Once the alcohol in your blood wears off, boom you’re awake. Now you’re hungover too.
- Going to bed too early – Hitting the sack before you’re tired can backfire. Unless you’re naturally tired it’s hard to wind down so you end up tossing and turning.
- Bedtime routine – If you skip a relaxing bedtime routine, your body doesn’t get the cues it needs to wind down and get ready to sleep.
- Not getting enough daytime light – Sunshine gives us more than vitamin D, it also cues our brain to it’s natural circadian rhythm. Before artificial light was invented, we slept when it got dark and woke with the sun. Without exposure to early morning light, our rhythm is disrupted.
- Not getting enough daytime activity – Without some kind of exercise or activity during the day our bodies may not become naturally tired. Exercise should happen at least 3-4 hours before bedtime though otherwise it may keep you wired instead of tired.
What You Can Do to Fix Your Routine
– Stop using tablets, phones and computers 1-2 hours before bed. Using screens late in the day messes with our internal clocks and thoughts
– Stop watching TV 1-2 hours before bed and don’t have one in the bedroom. Try using a White Noise machine or app if you need the background noise.
– Eating too late causes weight gain, indigestion, poor sleep. Stop eating several hours before bedtime. If you do need a snack, eat small portions of carbs or dairy (unless you’re sensitive to those foods).
– Avoid drinking alcohol or consuming coffee at least 3-4 hours before bed
– Drink a little water before bedtime but not so much it will make you get up to pee
16. Bedtime routine
– Create a relaxing habit of winding down at least an hour or two before bed
– Turn down lights. Read a relaxing book. Have a warm bath
– Use a bedside pad to take notes to avoid waking up with “what I need to do” thoughts
17. Not getting enough light early in the day
– Research shows getting more daylight between the hours of 8 AM -noon increases your ability to fall asleep quicker with less nightly waking.
– Take a walk outside before noon to reset your internal clock
18. Not getting enough daytime activity
– Exercise early in the day can stimulate your cortisol levels which activates our alertness (so finish exercise at least 3-4 hours before bed)
– Activity naturally wears us out and prepares us to rest. Try to walk or get some outdoor exercise every day.
Emotional and Mindset Reasons You’re Sleepless
- Believing less than 8 hours is OK – Ex President Bill Clinton famously bragged about his 4-6 hour a night sleep habit.
- Believing you can be healthy on less than 8 hours is false science. Bill Clinton did end up having heart surgery for cardiovascular disease. Not getting enough sleep can contribute to heart disease.
- Believing you’re an insomniac – Describing ourselves as insomniacs means we identify with a negative vibe. If we believe we’re suffering from insomnia we’re actually sending our brain a message that we can’t sleep.
- Believing you can’t change habits – Believing we can’t change the habits or conditions that cause our sleeplessness takes away our power to sleep well.
- Feeling frustrated – It’s natural to be frustrated by when you have many sleepless nights. When we can’t sleep through the night we feel out of control.
- Emotions and thoughts – Although physical causes are a root cause of sleeplessness, emotions and thoughts play a huge role in our ability to relax at night. Nighttime can bring nightmares, bad dreams and anxious thoughts about the future. Fears about being able to sleep through the night can be triggered by a stressful day.
What You Can Do to Fix Emotional Reasons
19. If you believe you don’t need 8 hours of sleep
– Research shows humans need at least 8 hours of sleep to function optimally. Remind yourself you’re worth getting the rest you deserve.
20. If you believe you’re an insomniac
– A belief sends a message to our brain and the brain acts as if it’s true, so break the cycle.
– Don’t self identify with being an insomniac, remove it from your conversation and thoughts.
21. If you believe you can’t change your habits
– A belief is hard to break, but if you don’t change the habits leading to your sleepless nights you won’t give yourself a chance to sleep better.
– You can change your habits. Think about a time when you were able to successfully change a habit and believe you can do it again.
22. If you’re frustrated by lack of sleep
– Try relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga
– Support your relaxation by taking nutritional supplements like vitamin D, Magnesium and melatonin.
23. If your emotions and thoughts are keeping you awake.
– Anxiety, depression and nervous tension can keep you awake. Treat the underlying cause using supplements, relaxation techniques and mindset change. Practice meditation and learn to release negative thoughts by staying focused in the moment.
– Release any thoughts or fears before you go to bed by writing them down
– Practice self care by keeping a strict bedtime routine of pampering and relaxation.
Roundup: Use these sleep tips to break your insomnia and sleepless nights :
- Keep your bedroom free of noise, light or devices. No TV.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom as cool as you can make it.
- Keep a consistent schedule of getting into bed at roughly the same time and getting up at the same time.
- Make sure you have a comfortable bed with good quality down pillows, cotton sheets and down comforter.
- Set your phone on airplane mode or turn off the sound. Use an app or machine (White Noiseapp) to mask outside sounds.
- Use an eye cover to block out light. Especially helpful in bedrooms without blackout or darkening shades.
- Keep your bedroom as dark as possible especially during summer hours when it gets light early