You are not alone if you find yourself laying in bed for hours, tossing and turning, struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40 million people in the United States don’t get an adequate amount of sleep.
Besides being super tired the next morning, lack of sleep has also been linked to a variety of health issues.
Data from numerous studies suggests that insufficient sleep can be linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, early death, high blood pressure and a wide range of other health problems.
In today's world, our brains are finding it more and more difficult to "shut off" despite knowing our bodies generally need 7-8 hours of sleep to function optimally.
If you have trouble getting quality sleep, here are some practical strategies to calm the mind and body, allowing sleep to be a time of physical, mental and emotional recovery.
1. Create a bedtime routine, and be consistent with it
When you do things prior to bedtime that call upon the sympathetic nervous system to be active (e.g., check emails, play video games, or watch graphic television) your brain thinks you need to stay awake.
Hand-held devices that utilize blue light to illuminate the screen can actually trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, so you don’t get a release of the sleep-inducing hormones (like melatonin). In this case, it’s harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Prior to bedtime, develop a ritual of activities that do not cause a stress response. Avoid stressful phone calls, emails or interactions, if possible.
Dimming the lights, deep breathing and other calming activities such as yoga can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to help you get to sleep.
Going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning can help regulate how and when your sympathetic (you want this to help wake you up) and parasympathetic (you want this to calm you down) nervous systems are impacting you.
2. Limit caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine functions to trick the brain by blocking the neurotransmitters that are responsible for making you tired. When this happens, your sympathetic nervous system takes control and makes you alert and excited.
Despite the negative affect on sleep, it’s estimated that roughly 70% of people consume caffeine in the evening, prior to bedtime. The maximal effects of caffeine lasts for about four hours, but this time period may double in some people.
To decrease the negative effects of caffeine on sleep, refrain from caffeine intake at least six hours prior to sleep.
Alcohol in high doses is recognized by the body as a poison and disrupts a variety of physiological functions, including sleep. Additionally, the perceived poison in the body prevents the adequate release of essential hormones necessary to recover and wake up feeling rested.
To get better sleep, keep alcohol intake to a minimum, particularly in the evening, and avoid it within two hours of your intended sleep time.
3. Exercise during the day.
In addition to benefiting other aspects of health, regular exercise can help increase the quality and quantity of sleep.
Moderate to intense exercise triggers a variety of physiological interactions that increase alertness, both during and immediately after exercise, and contribute to a great quality of sleep hours afterward.
Possible factors that link exercise to better sleep include: Thermoregulation: Exercise increases body temperature during the day, which appears to create a more dramatic decrease in body temperature when sleeping, allowing for deeper sleep cycles.
Energy expenditure: Rest after physical exertion is part of the natural cycle of daily life. When we do not exert ourselves physically during the day, this cycle can be disrupted.
It appears that people who challenge themselves physically every day sleep more naturally.
Performing 20-60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise can improve both sleep and overall health.