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Last Updated on December 18, 2020

Having Trouble Sleeping? 9 Quick Fixes to Help You Sleep Tonight

Having Trouble Sleeping? 9 Quick Fixes to Help You Sleep Tonight

According to surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of people living in the United States don’t get enough sleep.[1] Americans are also the least happy they’ve ever been, based on a recent U.N. report — they’ve dropped in happiness rankings for the past three years running.[2] It’s difficult to say whether poor sleeping habits and sleepless nights are causally related to unhappiness, but there is very little doubt that when you have trouble sleeping, it negatively affects your overall health and well-being.

Whether you want to fall asleep faster or get higher-quality rest overall, improving your sleep isn’t necessarily difficult. Here are 9 easy things you can do to get better sleep right away:

1. Write Before Bed

The difficulty in getting to sleep for many people lies in an inability to shut off their thoughts. As you wind down, you’re often not only thinking about events of the day, but also on the next day’s challenges. These thoughts aren’t aimless chatter, either — they represent feelings, observations, or intentions that your subconscious has deemed important, and doesn’t want you to forget during the night.

One solution is to write as many of those thoughts down as you can. Whether it’s a journal, a diary, or just a stack of post-it notes, writing down your thoughts and feelings before bed will move them temporarily out of your mind. You’ll often find this makes it easier for you to relax.

2. Make Your Bed

Making your bed might seem like too simple of a chore to carry with it the power to change your sleep quality. Interestingly, however, there is a correlation between making your bed and your quality of sleep.

That’s right: the National Sleep Foundation compiled data from a “Bedroom Poll” and found that people who said they made their beds in the morning also reported better sleep overall.[3]

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Why this correlation exists is still a mystery, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploiting it. After all, it only takes a few minutes to make your bed each morning, and chances are that if you’re reading this article, you’re probably lying awake in bed for longer than that every night anyway.

3. Drink More Water

You might think drinking more water would harm your sleep quality by causing you to get up at night and use the bathroom. That can happen, which is why a good hydration practice involves not waiting until bedtime to guzzle water.

If you’re surprised that hydration affects sleep patterns in the first place, you shouldn’t be. Even mild dehydration dries out your mouth and nasal passages, making you more likely to snore or wake up during the night. It can even lead to nocturnal leg cramps.

Whenever possible, drink plenty of fluids (non-caffeinated, if you’re having trouble sleeping) at regular intervals throughout the day. About 90 ounces of fluid a day is appropriate for most women, while most men should be getting closer to 125.[4]

4. Take a Shower Before Bed

During the day, your core body temperature naturally fluctuates in accordance with your circadian rhythm, which, as you may know, controls your sleep-wake cycle.

Body temperature is one of the factors your body relies on to know whether it’s time to sleep or stay awake. A lowered core temperature prompts melatonin release, and the body progressively cools overnight before warming again around “wake-up” time.

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This is called thermoregulation, and you can manipulate it with a warm bath or shower. The warm water heats up your body, and when you get out, your skin dries and cools quickly — triggering melatonin and other “sleep cues” in the brain.

5. Take a Night Drive (In Your Imagination)

This is a visualization technique similar to what many therapists recommend to treat stress and anxiety, and one of many such techniques put forth by the National Sleep Foundation.[5]

Think of a drive or ride you take often (your daily commute to work, for example). Now picture yourself getting in your vehicle, pulling out of your parking space, and commencing the trip. Try your best to focus on the road and imagine each stop, turn, curve, and landmark. Chances are, you’ll be asleep before you reach the second mile marker.

6. Quit Coffee

Of all the ideas on this list, you might be most opposed to trying this one. After all, if you’re already groggy and tired in the mornings from not sleeping well, coffee might be the one thing that seems to help you get going.

Unfortunately (especially for those who drink coffee for the taste), the same caffeine that is your best friend in the morning becomes your enemy at night, disrupting your circadian rhythm and promoting an unhealthy cycle of wakefulness.

You might think, “Sure, but I don’t drink caffeine at night.” What you might not know is that the quarter-life of caffeine is a full 12 hours — meaning if you drink a cup of coffee at noon, a quarter of the caffeine from it is still in your system at midnight.

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Ditching caffeinated stuff for decaf or hot tea might be difficult in the short run, but it will make it easier to relax and wind down later in the day. If you find that you just can’t give it up, try to drink your caffeine as early as possible in the day to help minimize its late-night effects.

7. Try Dinner for Breakfast

While nutritional science is still in its infancy in many ways, its research has already made waves in demonstrating how what we eat affects us. Potassium, for instance, benefits the body in many ways — including acting as a mild muscle relaxant.[6]

Protein, meanwhile, may be billed as the muscle-building nutrient, but did you know it also aids in sleep?[7] Another key to getting quality rest is making sure the body’s blood sugar level stays regulated — something a good source of light carbohydrates can help immensely with.

Put all that together and what do you get? A prescription for breakfast at dinnertime. A banana for the potassium, some eggs for the protein, and some carbs, like a piece of toast or bowl of oats, will prime your body for a relaxing night of high-quality sleep. (Just leave out the coffee.)

8. Try the ARMY’s 2-Minute Technique

If there’s one organization that absolutely can’t afford groggy employees, it’s the military. To guard against mistakes committed by sleep-deprived soldiers, the U.S. Army trains its members in a technique to fall asleep within 2 minutes.[8] Here’s how it works:

  1. After getting ready for sleep (teeth brushed, alarm set, etc.), lie down in a comfortable position (you can also do this in your car, in which case just lean your seat back)
  2. Tighten all the muscles in your face, then let them relax as much as possible
  3. Let your shoulders and arms relax as well
  4. Clear your mind for 10 seconds, trying to think of nothing at all
  5. Picture one of the following: you’re lying in a canoe, in a calm lake with clear blue skies above; or you’re in a velvet hammock, gently swaying in a pitch-black room

If this doesn’t work right away, it may be worth trying again. The best results are reported after several weeks of consistent practice.

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9. Get More Exercise

When it comes to packing everything into your schedule, do you prioritize extra sleep or extra exercise? The truth is you need both to maintain your health. The solution might be to focus on exercises that have been documented to actually benefit your sleep quality.

For example, doing 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise after waking up in the morning has been shown to improve sleep quality in adults. According to at least one survey, those who exercise are almost twice as likely as non-exercisers to report getting good sleep each night.[9]

The Bottom Line

While these tips can be highly effective, it’s important to remember that poor sleep can also be caused by underlying medical conditions. That said, in many cases, lifestyle changes have been shown to be more effective than medication at improving sleep in the long term. Either way, it’s a good idea to discuss these kinds of issues with your physician or healthcare provider.

Whatever you decide, trouble sleeping isn’t something you should ignore. Lack of sleep can contribute to a number of serious health problems, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

You spend up to a third of your life asleep, so if you want to improve your quality of life and overall well-being, it stands to reason that your sleep habits are a good place to start!

More Tips for Better Sleep

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. David Minkoff

Health Expert | CEO BodyHealth | Co-Owner and Medical Director at Lifeworks Wellness Center | Author

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

Why Am I So Tired? 10 Reasons You’re Tired and How to Fix It

Why Am I So Tired? 10 Reasons You’re Tired and How to Fix It

“Why am I so tired?” is a question that people ask themselves pretty frequently. Everyone gets tired at one point or another, particularly after something like an illness, a long night up with a sick child, or a busy week at work. However, when tiredness is persistent—when you feel tired as soon as you wake up in morning or when sleep doesn’t seem to help, no matter how much rest you get—it may often indicate a deeper, underlying problem.

While there are a lot of possible reasons for tiredness, here are some of the most common causes of fatigue.

1. Dehydration

If you’re asking “Why am I so tired?” and want to boost your energy levels, first check whether you are dehydrated. The human brain is 85% water, and it needs to maintain this level in order to perform its essential functions[1].

Signs of dehydration

    If you fail to drink enough water, the brain extracts fluids from your blood to compensate for the deficit[2]. As a result, the oxygen levels in your blood drop, reducing the amount of energizing oxygen available to your organs and tissues. Fatigue and sleepiness set in rapidly, leaving you more vulnerable to the 2 pm post-lunch crash that many of us experience.

    You cannot cure this crash with caffeine; the only long-term, effective solution is to drink hydrating fluids throughout the day.

    2. Lack of Exercise

    A workout will surely leave you feeling even more tired, right? Wrong! As counterintuitive as it may sound, physical activities have an energizing effect. Moving your body releases endorphins, increases your heart rate, and boosts your concentration.

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    Try to fit in at least 30 minutes of medium-intensity exercise every day. It’s easiest if you can make this part of your everyday routine, either as soon as you wake up or right after work.

    3. A Poor Diet

    The food you eat has a direct impact on sleep quality and the amount of rest you get every night. For maximum energy, stick to protein, slow-release carbohydrates, and a moderate amount of healthy (unsaturated) fats.

    The majority of your food should be plant-based, high in fiber, and low in sugar. These choices will prevent blood sugar fluctuations, which can leave you feeling exhausted.

    An easy way to make sure you stick to a good diet is through meal preparation. It’s easy to just get take-out when you’re tired after work, but if you have a meal ready for you in the fridge, you’ll be less tempted by a frozen pizza or cheese sticks.

    Find out more about healthy meal prep here: 10 Meal Planning Apps You Need To Have To Get Healthier Easily

    4. Skipping Breakfast

    Eating breakfast is key to maintaining a good level of energy throughout the day. When you eat breakfast, you are sending calming signals to the areas of the brain responsible for avoiding danger, along with those that instruct the body to conserve as much energy as possible.

    Ingesting food signals to your brain that there are enough calories available to ensure our survival. This encourages it to stay relaxed, which in turn, promotes restful sleep.

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    Some great ideas for healthy, filling, and make-ahead breakfasts include overnight oats, smoothies, and freezer-friendly breakfast burritos.

    If meal-prepping isn’t your thing, stock up on easy but healthy breakfast foods like multigrain cereal, yogurt, and fruit.

    5. Poor Quality of Sleep

    We all know that it’s important to wind down a couple of hours before bed, but did you know that it’s what you do throughout the day that promotes good-quality sleep? It’s not just about the number of hours you sleep, but how restful and deep that sleep is if you want to stop asking “Why am I so tired?”

    To feel rested, try to regulate your everyday routine to make your sleep deeper and better. Get up at a regular time in the morning to ensure that you get regular sunlight.

    Eat nutritious foods in moderate amounts, and make sure you stay hydrated. Go to bed at the same time, and before bedtime, avoid screens that can give off harmful blue light and also keep you stimulated when you need to fall asleep.

    6. Sleep Apnea

    Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where a person’s airways get blocked off while they are asleep, causing their oxygen levels to drop while sleeping[3]. This often causes people to stop breathing at night and then to jerk themselves awake (this can happen over 30 times an hour).

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    Risks of Untreated Sleep Apnea

      Because of this, people with sleep apnea can feel short of breath and have low energy levels[4]. Mouthpieces and other devices to aid in breathing can be used to keep oxygen levels in a safe zone.

      If you feel tired all the time and think you might have sleep apnea, consulting with a doctor is important. Do a sleep study, as this can often reveal if there is an underlying problem causing your tiredness — and once a diagnosis is made, treatment to help you get your energy back begins.

      7. Depression

      Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States (and in many other countries of the world, as well). It is marked by persistent feelings of sadness or unhappiness but has physical symptoms, too. Apart from fatigue, people may also experience changes in sleeping and eating habits and difficulty concentrating that leave them asking “Why am I so tired?”

      Treatment can often center on anti-depressants, counselling, and lifestyle changes, like stress management to help manage this condition.

      Many people also benefit from activities like yoga and meditation, which help regulate both the body and mind.

      8. Hypothyroidism

      If a person has hypothyroidism, they have an underactive thyroid gland that does not produce adequate levels of important hormones, and the result can be a persistent and unrelenting fatigue, even if someone is getting enough sleep. Other common symptoms of this disorder include mood swings, weight gain, and feeling cold all the time.

      Fortunately, simple blood work can reveal if there is a problem, and it can be treated with artificial thyroid hormone pills. Check here for signs of a thyroid problem. If you suspect that you might have hypothyroidism, talk to your doctor.

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      9. Anemia

      People with anemia are not able to make enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout their bodies. This is often due to a lack of nutrients like iron or B-12 and can be caused by problems such as heavy periods, bleeding in the digestive tract, or pregnancy (due to the increased demands of the growing baby).

      However, in most cases, this can be resolved with treatments like changes in diet, iron supplements, or B-12 shots. A simple blood test can tell you if you have anemia, so check in with your doctor if you suspect this.

      10. Cancer

      While you shouldn’t be freaking out about cancer just because you are tired, it is a fact that fatigue is one of the symptoms of cancer. Other common symptoms can include unexplained weight loss and the presence of palpable lumps or growths. This disease is marked by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells that can do damage to surrounding tissues and possibly spread to other parts of the body.

      Diagnosis is usually by biopsy, and treatment often focuses on radiation, chemotherapy or surgery—and generally when a diagnosis is made early, the outcomes for the patient are better.

      Final Thoughts

      If you find yourself constantly asking, “Why am I so tired?” it may be time to see your doctor to find out if any of the problems above apply to you. All of them have treatments that can help improve your quality of life and get you back to normal energy levels.

      More on Overcoming Fatigue

      Featured photo credit: Lily Banse via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Harvard Health Publishing: Fight fatigue with fluids
      [2] NuCara: Are You Dehydrated?
      [3] Sleep Foundation: Sleep Apnea
      [4] Very Well Health: What Is Sleep Apnea?

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