The alarm clock numbers change again.
“Well”, you think to yourself, “not the worst.” But here’s the problem — you went to bed over two hours ago.
There aren’t many feelings worse than watching your alarm clock work flawlessly with no emotion, showing you little mercy in counting time upwards.
Insomnia isn’t anything to take lightly, and no matter how good your sleep schedule is, we’ve all been struck by its merciless rage. Unfortunately for some, they suffer from it consistently.
The bad news? You may not realize it, but you’re feeding the insomnia directly by some of your habits.
The good news? You can change these habits and enjoy better, more fulfilling sleep on a regular basis.
The following is a list of the most common causes of insomnia, and what you can do to flip the script and lessen the bags showing themselves front and center under your eyes:
Cause 1: Technology
Do I even need to go here?
How many times have you been told to stay away from anything with a screen at night? It almost feels like it’s one step away from a parent scolding their stepchild.
Yet, just like the stepchild, you push the envelope and do it anyway. Why not, right? It’s not physically hurting you or causing any damage, so off you go.
But it is hurting — and it’s hurting big time. Whether you like it or not, we have certain biological tendencies that have been adapted through thousands of years of human existence.
Technology and blue light screens have only been around for 40 (or even less) of those years, and smartphones have cut that number to maybe ten. So now, as you browse Instagram and Facebook in bed, you’re effectively resisting thousands of years of biology by pitting ten years of technology against it.
Who do you think is going to win this one? Here’s a hint — it’s not you.
While you joyfully laugh at the latest viral Facebook video, your brain’s ability to secrete melatonin is suppressed as a result of the blue light from the screen. Melatonin, it turns out, is the sleep regulating hormone.
So put the tech away. You’ve had all day to stare at it, and you can definitely handle the one hour before bed without it.
Having trouble simply putting it away? Try any of the following:
- If you normally plug your phone in on your nightstand, move it away to your desk. If even having it on your desk is too tempting, put it in another room for the night.
- Replace the habit of browsing social media or checking email on your phone late at night (because let’s be honest, that’s generally what you do) with another activity, such as reading. Give the eyes the break they deserve.
- Put your phone on airplane mode for the night so no one can distract you.
Cause 2: Stress
Work. Family. Relationships. Life.
Rinse and repeat.
Any combination of those, or even all of them, can cause undue stress in your life. We all know stress is bad. Yeah, yeah… yeah. We’ve heard it ten thousand times in ten thousand different ways. But what are we doing about it?
Unfortunately, not much. Out of any of those categories, work is one of the biggest sources of stress. It boils down to three reasons:
- There’s pressure on you to perform well on a regular basis.
- Your coworkers are hard to work with or even get along with.
- You probably don’t even like your job that much.
Mix those together and you’ll get a pretty potent shot of cortisol, courtesy of your own body. What is cortisol exactly? It’s the hormone that’s released during stress.
If you’re feeling the full force of it, spend a little time doing any of the following:
- Meditate. The science behind it is proven, and I know you’ve heard it’s beneficial. Give it a shot. Start with sitting still in the mornings for a few minutes. Expand from there. There are a ton of useful guides online, here’s one: The 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime
- Unplug for a bit. Similar to meditation but without actually meditating. Put your phone away, don’t talk to anyone, and just unwind for a few minutes. Let your thoughts go wild if you need to. Take a few deep breaths. It’s ok to spend a little time alone. Don’t feel like going out Friday night? Then don’t.
- Enjoy a little downtime without the guilt. Downtime is in fact very important to your overall performance. We’re so “go go go” in our mentality these days, we almost feel guilty when we take a minute to slow down. Well, I’m here to tell you — slow down more and don’t feel guilty about it. Watch a TV show or a movie. Read a freakin’ book. Veg out on the couch.
Cause 3: Unregulated sleeping hours/pattern
One of the worst things you can do is keep odd hours with your sleep schedule. Your body is a fine-tuned piece of equipment and thus needs to be treated like one. But like all things, it isn’t foolproof.
At the end of the day, we aren’t robots; we don’t have a switch that we can turn on and off. Do you consider that a pro or a con? I happen to think it’s a pro, but that’s just me.
Your body becomes a well-oiled machine when you give it routine and habits. Ultimately, it’s up to you if those habits are good or bad.
If you’re looking to get ahead in life, you might want to make them good:
I’ll even give you one good habit to get you started: Keep your bedtime to a pretty consistent time frame.
The idea is simple:
Aim for a certain time and then keep the bedtime to within 30 minutes, even on the weekends.
Trust me, going to bed one night at 11 PM, the next night at 9:30 PM, and then 1 AM on Saturday night won’t do you much good.
Your brain picks up on these habits, and when you get into a routine of going to bed at the same time, you’d be surprised at how much more quickly you’re capable of falling asleep.
Cause 4: Bad diet and caffeine
We love dessert. We love greasy, cheesy, carb-loaded meals. We could literally eat this every day and not blink an eye. If only it was healthy for you.
What is it about the salt and the sweet that has us craving absolute crap a lot?
I won’t get into the science of why we love to eat everything that’s bad for us, but I will get into the science of why eating unhealthy on a regular basis will absolutely affect your sleep.
Let’s start with the physical discomfort you’ll probably get when you eat a heavy meal close to bedtime. That bloated, gassy, full feeling is never appetizing, let alone when it hits you as you lay in bed.
There’s also the aforementioned weight gain that comes with eating trashy foods all the time. And in turn, your chances of developing sleep apnea increase.
For those unaware, sleep apnea is where you stop breathing for short amounts of time overnight, causing your body to lose out on precious REM sleep. Many times, even after a full night’s sleep, you wake up feeling tired.
Those who suffer from acid reflux due to bad diets can also suffer from nighttime heartburn as well, making it hard to fall asleep.
So, still want to eat a bunch of junk food? I hope not, but either way I’ll add another complex layer: caffeine, and your penchant to ingest a lot of it.
Here’s what I mean:
You’re tired on a regular basis, so you decide that caffeine was your drug of choice to combat the constant sleepiness. That’s cool. It works for a bit.
But as you begin to ingest more caffeine, you have a harder time falling asleep at night because you’re still wired. In turn, you wake up even more tired, and so you decide that more caffeine is the answer.
Get where this is going?
Try the following tips to start a healthy diet:
To start, try ingesting less caffeine. If you drink three or more cups a day, try replacing one of them with green tea, or cut that last cup out completely. Slowly backtrack down to one or two cups a day if you can, and don’t drink any caffeine past lunch time.
If your diet needs some improvement, try to start small again. If you happen to love sugar and find yourself eating or drinking the deliciously sweet stuff on the daily, try to cut out one source of it for the day. In other words, if you drink two sodas a day, try to cut one out and replace with sparkling water or some other non-sugary beverage.
This isn’t rocket science and is more than likely advice you’ve heard before.
If you eat dessert after every lunch and every dinner, try to skip one of them. Then, like with the caffeine, backtrack until you either completely eliminate it or have just a tiny amount.
I’m a firm believer in moderation — nothing wrong with enjoying a little coffee shop rendezvous with caffeine or a midnight meeting with chocolate…but when given an inch, we take a mile. Regulate your intake.
Cause 5: No exercise
Exercise has been proven as one of the most beneficial sources of stress relief, but more importantly, as a way to regulate your sleep.
Just think about it — exercise means you expend a ton of energy in a short amount of time. Naturally, you get tired from this expense of energy and it follows you throughout the day even if you don’t actively feel “tired”.
When you don’t exercise, you’re robbing your system of a chance to release this energy. With nowhere to go, it stays bottled up, and you guessed it — your sleep cycle takes the hit.
Try the following ways to get out there and get moving, people:
The source really doesn’t matter, but here’s what does:
Finding some physical activity that you enjoy. The fastest way to fall off the wagon is to do something you don’t enjoy and get bored (here’s to looking at you, career sufferers).
If you enjoy playing a sport, get more involved. If you enjoy the feeling of lifting some iron, get a membership to a gym. If you enjoy both, then guess what…do both.
If you prefer working out in groups, join any number of gyms that offer group classes. Your choices are pretty much unlimited. Go move.
You can flip the script
There are a number of factors that can trigger insomnia but lucky for you, most of them have solutions and ways you can tackle them to lessen their impact. A lot of them require discipline and effort, though.
Are your waking hours spent in a daze, full of brain fog? Are you getting mad that you can predict the mid-afternoon slump that accompanies you on a daily basis?
These five ways are some of the most time-tested, easiest solutions to implement.
Give it a go, because I can guarantee you one thing if you don’t: nothing will change.
Want to know more about hacking your sleep cycle, check this out:
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com
|||^||Harvard Health Publishing: Blue light has a dark side|
|||^||Health: Weight Gain and Sleep Apnea: How 2 Patients Beat the Vicious Cycle|
|||^||National Sleep Foundation: Diet, Exercise and Sleep|
|||^||Sleep.org: How Exercise Affects Sleep|