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Overcome Insomnia in 7 Easy Steps

Overcome Insomnia in 7 Easy Steps

The inability to get adequate sleep is a serious concern for the average person. Insufficient sleep not only makes you look like a character from The Walking Dead, but can have some serious health consequences.

HOW LACK OF SLEEP AFFECTS YOUR HEALTH

It has become a kind of badge of honor to proclaim how we are functioning on minimal amounts of sleep. If you realize the damage it can do, you might not be as inclined to stay up watching a Duck Dynasty marathon late at night.

If you like to Eat.Sleep.Rave.Repeat you should be aware that lack of sleep is seen as a stress to the body. Your body is unaware if you are under some sort of environmental or famine-related stress, or it is just that you have been up all night “killing it” at the club. In either case, your body feels something is not right and the hormone cortisol can be released.

Cortisol, along with other stress hormones, can cause a substantial negative impact on the body over time, along with diseases such as:

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  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • ADHD
  • stroke
  • increased heart rate
  • hypertension
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • digestive disorders
  • weight gain and obesity
  • depression

This list just scratches the surface. The truth is that stress is a very real thing and lack of sleep can be a big cause of it. In order to make sure we get adequate sleep, and to combat insomnia, here are 7 tips to get you on the right track to restful sleep.

1. Avoid alcohol and caffeine late at night

Alcohol has the potential to put people to sleep, but a deep sleep might be out of the question. The REM stage of sleep occurs during this deep sleep and alcohol can affect our ability to reach it. Not getting into this restorative section of sleep can happen due to alcohol.

You may fall asleep, but the second half of your sleep cycle–where real rest and recovery happens–will be compromised due to alcohol and caffeine consumed too close to bedtime.

2. Get into a regular routine

Your body likes balance and regularity. This is called homeostasis, or stability, and we respond and function better from it. This pertains to sleep as well as the body needs to recognize a consistent pattern to help itself unwind and, essentially, accept sleep.

Going to bed at the same time every day can create that regular habit. Consistency reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and allows for better sleep throughout the night. Creating a wind-down routine will get your body into that consistent mode. It might be a hot bath at the same time each night, reading before bed, or writing a “to do” list for the next day to get your thoughts under control. The important part is to create a routine and stick with it.

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3. Don’t exercise close to bed time

It has always been thought that exercise before bed could lead to disrupted sleep, but newer research into the issue is shedding light that it may not be the issue it was thought to be. It is probably not the best idea to run sprints just before hitting the hay, as it can take the body a while to wind down after high intensity exercise, however lighter exercise can contribute to quality sleep.

If exercise is within 3 hours of when you go to bed, you will be all right. A lower temperature is what helps you sleep and exercise increases body temperature. Well-trained athletes are able to return to a lower resting heart rate and body temperature quicker than the average person. If you are new to exercising, keep some time between exercise and bed by a few hours. The main thing is to listen to your body and see how you feel. This is where keeping a sleep journal is helpful; you can keep track of things like exercise in relation to when you go to bed to keep an eye on how it might be affecting your sleep.

4. Avoid TV and blue light at night

You might be reading this right now in bed on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. This is something you really want to be looking to cut out, as all of our electronic devices emit blue light which can have a negative effect on our melatonin levels and, ultimately, our sleep. Melatonin helps control our sleep and ability to stay asleep; unnatural, artificial blue light significantly suppresses it in our body.

This can be difficult as we live in an artificially-lit world. However, greatly reducing our exposure 2-3 hours before bed will allow your natural melatonin levels to work efficiently and allow proper sleep. If you must use your laptop late, there are great programs (such as f.lux) that can reduce the blue light of your electronics. This will give it a more natural light effect.

5. Practice relaxation techniques

Relaxation and breathing techniques allow your body to focus on allowing itself to sleep.

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Breathing technique:

  1. Slowly relax your body while in bed.
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose over 8-10 seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
  4. Slowly let the air out over at least 4 seconds.
  5. Continue as long as you like, or until you fall asleep.
  6. If feeling dizzy, slow down and take your time.

Progressive muscle relaxation: This is also known as the Jacobson method where you tense groups of muscles all over the body one by one, and then consciously relax them.

Toe Tensing: This one might seem a bit strange, but the idea is to draw tension away from the rest of your body.

  1. Lie on your back and close your eyes.
  2. Pull back your toes towards your face. Slowly count to 10.
  3. Relax your toes.
  4. Count to 10 slowly.
  5. Repeat the cycle 10 times.

6. Avoid eating a lot before bed

Several books could be devoted to this topic, so I will keep it simple. Going to bed after eating too much can make you feel bloated, and digestive upsets can keep you awake. Your body goes into overdrive when it has to burn off a large amount of food.

Hunger pangs can also keep you up. A light snack might take care of that and promote restful sleep. Stick to things like proteins, nuts and seeds, or celery and carrots sticks with some almond butter. Teas such as chamomile and green tea can help have a calming affect on the body as well.

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7. Don’t fight sleep

Have you been lying in bed with your eyes clenched, trying to force yourself to sleep? Or trying to tell yourself if I fall asleep RIGHT NOW I will still get X number of hours of sleep?

If you find yourself still awake after 20 minutes, you could be better off getting up and engaging in something that is mildly distracting. The chairman of the National Sleep Foundation, Russell Rosenberg, say worrying about how long you have been awake sets you up for disaster when it comes to drifting off to dreamland. The harder you try, the less likely you will fall asleep.

This can be a good time to find a chair and read, listen to some quiet music, or try some more of those relaxation techniques. The point is to try to distract yourself and allow the wind down effect to take place again.

If you find yourself with sleep issues, you are not alone. Over one half of Americans experience insomnia at least a few nights each week.

Fortunately, these simple steps can help you get back on the right track to la la land.

Now, if you will excuse me, I will be winding down with a cup of chamomile tea and a nice book. Wait, I meant a plate of ribs and watching Die Hard

Featured photo credit: Sleeping Lion Cub/William Warby via flic.kr

More by this author

Jamie Logie

Jamie is a personal trainer and health coach with a degree in Kinesiology and Food and Nutrition.

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Last Updated on November 12, 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)

If you find that you’re feeling tired all the time, it’s important to understand that it’s a common problem for many. With all of the demands of daily life, being tired seems to be the new baseline. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling exhausted, 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 so tired 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]

  • Trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired.
  • Experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not.
  • 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.
  • Finding it more difficult to exercise.
  • Immune system may weaken, causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • Overeating because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids, even when you’re not hungry.
  • Metabolism slows down, so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

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 common cause of fatigue and 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 health problems, 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.

You can learn more about some causes of fatigue in this video:

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.

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

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Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep. However, 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[5].

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. However, 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.

Research suggests that most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night[6]. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

Get the right amount of sleep to stop feeling tired.

    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[7]

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

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    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

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

    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 physical activity 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.[8]

    Living Healthy

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

    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. In fact, long-term sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in Alzheimer’s later in life[9].

    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. However, tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime. This won’t help you stop feeling tired all the time.

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

    2. Unwind

    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.

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    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.[10]

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

    Exercise

    Many people know that exercise is good for them, but they 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 sedentary lifestyle.

    I decided to start swimming because it was something I had always loved to do. Find an exercise you love and stick to it to stop feeling tired all the time. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training, and flexibility training 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 as it will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

    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: 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).

    Here’s how you do Long-Exhale Breathing:

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    1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy.
    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 mentally count to 7 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 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.[11]

    Nutrition

    Diet is vital for beating fatigue if you’re feeling tired all the time – 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, which may lead to daytime sleepiness.

    Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated or 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.

    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 any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed.
    3. Fill up with fiber, especially green leafy 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.
    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.
    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 multivitamin or specific supplement.

    The Bottom Line

    If you are tired of feeling tired all the time, 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 discussed above.

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

    More Tips to Stop Feeling Tired All the Time

    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] Very Well Health: Differences Between Sleepiness and Fatigue
    [6] Advanced Sleep Medicine Services: NEW Guidelines: How much sleep do you need?
    [7] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
    [8] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
    [9] National Institute on Aging: Sleep loss encourages spread of toxic Alzheimer’s protein
    [10] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
    [11] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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