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How To Fall Asleep When Stress Creeps Over You At Night

How To Fall Asleep When Stress Creeps Over You At Night

You’re so tired, you can hardly drag yourself through the clean-up from dinner.  By the time 9pm rolls around, you fall into bed, grateful the day is done.

You turn off the light and take a breath.  Finally!  You wait for the sleep to settle over you.

It doesn’t.

Instead of the desperately needed shut-eye, thoughts of the credit card debt you still haven’t paid off begin to nudge your mind.

You roll onto your stomach. You mull over the rumors of upcoming layoffs at work. You flip over your pillow. Those bad headaches you keep getting–could they be a symptom of something worse? You roll to your left.

And then there’s the car’s sporadic engine problems and the unknown cost you imagine it will take to fix it…Your heart picks up its pace and you are now wide awake, filled with dread.

Enough! you shout at yourself. You demand that your brain shut down…but you don’t know what to do to stop these mental invaders. So you grab your phone and click on your Facebook app. Maybe the distraction will help.

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You just sabotaged a good night’s sleep.

I do it, too. In fact, millions of us do it every night. A recent study showed that 75% of us have trouble sleeping 3-4 nights a week. Chronic sleep problems can contribute to cardiac disease, a decrease in immune function, depression, anxiety and weight gain.

Got your attention with that one, didn’t I? Yes, the fat-storing hormone cortisol rises when we do not get enough sleep.

Getting a good night’s sleep is far more important that just being alert when you drive and being sharp when you work. Sleep, or lack of it, directly affects our longevity and quality of life.

Below are 21 effective methods for turning off the endless loop of worry and floating gently into the Land of Nod.

1. Read an instruction manual

Boring is good. Robert Ludlum and Stephen King are bad…at least from the stand point of getting your noggin to quiet down. No new appliances to bone up on? How about a book on nutrition or web design? You want something with no plot, no excitement, just some how-to info and facts.

2. Alphabetize fruit

I have no experience with sheep. I’ve never known anyone who actually counts sheep. (Can they really jump over fences?) So forget the sheep. For monotonous distraction, think of a fruit for each letter of the alphabet. If you make it to Z (good luck finding a fruit starting with X), start over with vegetables.

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3. Use tactical breathing

When I was in the US Army Nurse Corps, I learned all kinds of hacks for keeping your head together when under fire. Tactical breathing is by far the most effective in reducing tension and anxiety, and it works in under 30 seconds. Try it now: Slowly take a long, measured breath in through your nose counting to 4, then hold it for a count of 4. Slowly blow it out through your mouth for a count of 4, and hold your breath for another count of 4. Repeat it one more time: in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4.  Not to get too technical, but the magic here is in holding the breath–it balances the oxygen/carbon dioxide mix in the blood, and that decreases fear while also clearing the mind.

4. Problem-solve or come up with a plan of action

This is my #1 defense against anxiety-driven sleeplessness–I get a pen and paper and I make notes. I write down the thing that has me the most torqued up–maybe it’s an avalanche of tasks that must be done or maybe my company is going to be bought out and it will be time to change jobs. Regardless, I plan out what I’m going to do the next day to move through the unknown. Once that’s done, it’s all there on paper and my mind is empty enough to sleep.

5. Strip

Get out of your night clothes and lie naked between the sheets. Sometimes the wrinkles in pajamas can activate the skin sensors just enough to keep you wakeful. And if you sleep with a partner, is there anything more comforting than the warmth of skin on skin?

6. Take a bath or shower

I cannot stand having sticky, sweaty skin. Since I live in Florida, where we have only two seasons (Summer and Not Summer), I have to shower pretty much every night before bed, because if I don’t, the stickiness keeps me awake…and that can lead to anxious rumination. If showering wakes you up too much, and you have a bathtub, take a bath for just 5-10 min. It will relax you and make your skin feel oh so good.

7. Cool it down

Turn the temperature in your room down enough that you need at least a light blanket. The weight of the blanket helps to calm those skin sensors I mentioned earlier and the cool temperature is more conducive to sound sleep.

8. Clean your room

I’m not saying you should be up scrubbing your floors. All I mean is, tidy things up in your sleeping space. I can’t explain it, but I’ve heard from many of my clients over the years (and I’ve experienced it myself) that having a calm, organized sleeping space helps us to feel calm and organized internally. But (I hear you ask) the room is dark so how can it make any difference? Some say it decreases the energy in the room, but there’s no scientific evidence yet that supports that. Still…that’s how I and many others experience it. So take 5 minutes to tidy things up a bit. What could it hurt?

9. Turn on some white noise

Or put in some ear plugs. Background noise can be irritating at night and that can increase overall anxiety. I’m a big fan of fans. I like the soft white noise they create and I love how they drown out everything else.  Earplugs are a distant second, but are certainly better than listening to the garbage truck roaring down your street at 3am. It’s possible that you’re more sensitive to noises outside than you’re aware, so give it a try.

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10. Put on socks

Cold feet can keep you awake for hours, and warm socks can solve that problem quickly. (Don’t use a heating pad–it can scald you without you realizing it and it’s a fire hazard.)

11. Journal

If you’ve turned your pillow over…and over, and sleep has still kept its distance, call a truce. Turn your light on, grab a notebook or journal, and start writing from the heart. Don’t correct your spelling, don’t work at crafting the perfect sentence. Just get it out. It’s astonishing how far down you can drill into your own hidden thinking by doing this. When you have nothing left to say, put it down and turn off the light. You’ll probably fall asleep within minutes.

12. Practice head to toe progressive relaxation

Start by curling your toes and relaxing them, curling them and then relaxing. Point your feet and relax, point and relax. Move up the body, doing this with every major muscle group, ending with the most important muscle group–the face. Pay especially close attention to relaxing all the muscles in your face, because those muscles are tied directly to your emotions. It’s very tough to be anxious when your face is completely in repose. Try it, you’ll see.

13. Use aromatherapy

Smelling the essential oil of lavender has been shown in multiple research studies to ease emotional distress and promote restful sleep. Anecdotally, others also include lemon balm, peppermint and chamomile as calming agents. Our sense of smell has a lot more to do with health than anyone previous understood, so take a whiff and see what happens.

14. Remake your bed

Kind of like the PJs, wrinkled, disorganized sheets can make it tough to relax. And the National Sleep Foundation says that the scent of fresh, clean sheets helps people fall asleep faster. So, remake your bed…assuming of course that you’re sleeping alone.

15. Spend some time in prayer or mediation

Sitting in bed, back up against the wall, legs crossed or straight out, close your eyes and put all of your attention on your breath. Work at slowing it down, making it measured and full. Spend some time on this. Maybe do some progressive relaxation while continuing to do conscious breathing. As something floats into your thoughts, just tell it you’re a bit busy and will tend to it tomorrow. Imagine yourself surrounded by angels who completely love you and want to guide you to the happiest life possible. Smile when you think of them, thank them for that love and support.  In a few minutes, you may find your head dropping down as you drop off. Again thank them for helping you get the rest you need, and slide down into your comfy bed.

16. Rock yourself gently

Some find that the motion of a rocking chair lulls them to sleep just like a baby. If you don’t have one, sit up in bed and gently rock back and forth with your eyes closed. See if that motion calms you enough to drift off.

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17. Listen to sleep-inducing music on YouTube

There is a treasure trove of wonderfully soothing music in playlist form (some of which play for more than 8 straight hours, if you want to just leave it on all night). Scroll through the options on YouTube to find the perfect one for you. For people who are especially auditory, this can be quite helpful.

18. Sing a lullaby

Hearing music that you used to listen to as a baby can trigger the pre-verbal memories of being safe and warm with love. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to let go for the night.

19. Force yourself to stay awake

Reverse psychology? Maybe, but more likely it’s a way of stopping the panic we feel when we are trying to force ourselves to drift off. And research supports this as a viable way of getting yourself to fall asleep, despite your best efforts to stay awake.

20. Make it dark

Really dark. Remove even the smallest lights from your room. Or wear an eye mask. Light pollution is a real thing and something to take seriously in your bedroom. Those electronic blue lights are the absolute worst for sleep (so maybe you want to buy a new alarm clock?), causing brain stimulation, not relaxation.

21. Just say no…

…to your beloved electronics. Smart phones, Kindles, TVs, laptops…think of them as your sleep enemies.   Their light shoots through the eyes and straight into the center of the brain that controls sleep and wakefulness. It’s the neurological equivalent of downing a Red Bull. And the mental engagement (or shall I say, rabbit hole) that social media hooks us with will blast our brains like an air horn. Smack your hand if you reflexively reach for them

So the next time you’re mind isn’t cooperating with your body’s need for sleep, don’t toss and turn, wasting the night away. Take charge of the situation by trying some of these antidotes, and you’ll grace yourself with a solid night’s rest.

Featured Photo Credit: © Bialasiewicz | Dreamstime.com – Woman Lying In Bed Sleepless Photo

Featured photo credit: http://www.dreamstime.com/bialasiewicz_info via dreamstime.com

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Feeling tired all the time?

Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

What Happens When You’re Too Tired

If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

  • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
  • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
  • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
  • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
  • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
  • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

Unfortunately, yes!

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

  1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
  2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low stamina
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Low motivation

These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

  1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Using stressbusters
  4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

  • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
  • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
  • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
  • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

L — Living Healthy

Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

1. Unplug

Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

2. Unwind

Do something to relax.

Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

3. Get Comfortable

Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

E — Exercise

Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

That’s what happened in my case.

But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

That made sense to me.

So, I decided to swim.

I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

A — Attitude

Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

Breathing.

But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
  3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
  4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
  5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
  6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

N — Nutrition

Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

  1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
  2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
  3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
  4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
  5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
  6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
  7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
  8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
  9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

The Bottom Line

If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

  • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
  • Regular Exercise You Love
  • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
  • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

More Tips to Help You Rest Better

Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
[2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
[3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
[4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
[5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
[6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
[7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
[8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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