Insomnia is a dreadful affliction, and can literally drive you mad. I’m a light sleeper at the best of times, and really cherish my sleep, and on those nights where I just can’t seem to get to sleep it can seem to be the most unfair burden.
This time of year seems to make us light sleepers more prone to sleeplessness and there could be a number of reasons for this
- Our body clocks could be out of kilter due to later nights over the Christmas break. We have a tendency to stay up later over the holidays and it can take a while to get back to old routines
- Lack of sunlight. Many of us wake before the sun comes up, and then it is already dark when we leave work. Our bodies are designed to wake with the sunlight. Sunlight triggers the release of hormones including cortisol, which gives us the impetus to get up. Darkness on the other hand triggers the production of melatonin, the sleep inducing hormone. Maybe the lack of distinction between these two phases of the day at this time of year, means that our biological rhythm is disturbed and our bodies cannot function efficiently
- Anxiety. One of the key causes of insomnia is anxiety. And the more you don’t sleep the more anxious you get. It becomes a vicious circle. Anxiety can be worse after a break as you worry about everything you have to catch up on
So what can we do to try and support our bodies and minds in the quest for a good night’s sleep?
- Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and absolutely not conducive to sleep. My advice would be to stop having caffeine at 1pm, and replace coffee and regular tea with herbal teas after this time. Remember caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola drinks, energy drinks and chocolate – so think about your consumption of these over the day
- Start having relaxing teas in the evening. Chamomile tea is very relaxing (I’m having Twinings Chamomile, Honey & Vanilla tea as I type). Other companies such as Clipper and Pukka sell night time blends using herbs such as Valerian, Chamomile, Marshmallow Root and Hops to induce calm
- Insomnia is linked to Magnesium deficiency. Eat more magnesium rich foods, such as nuts, seeds, oats and dark green leafy vegetables
- Have a small carbohydrate snack just before bedtime. The brain needs carbohydrate to get tryptophan (an amino acid that converts to serotonin, then melatonin – the sleep inducing hormone) across the blood brain barrier. Have half a small banana or an oatcake with peanut butter about one hour before you go to bed
- Adopt good sleep hygiene. This is just a fancy way of saying that you need to establish a good sleep routine and remove anything that is not conducive to sleep from your vicinity. What this means is reality is having no electrical equipment in your bedroom (that means TVs, laptops, computers, charging mobile phones) as these can disrupt sleep
- Talking of TV, many claim that watching TV helps them relax, but the reality is that TV is very stimulating for the brain. It is having to process the 1000s of pieces of information that are broadcast every second. So stop watching TV, surfing the web, playing on your phone or iPad, at least one hour before you want to sleep
- Start reading. Reading is relaxing. Why not buy yourself a new novel and give yourself a goal of going to bed an hour early two nights a week to read.
- Have a warm bath. The warmth of a bath relaxes the body and will do even more so if you add essential oils like lavender or chamomile to the water
- Make sure that your room is dark. Many of us sleep in the glow of street lights which will prevent us from producing optimal amounts of melatonin. Invest in some black out blinds to solve this issue or buy yourself an eye mask
- Take up some relaxing exercise such as yoga or pilates. These gentle forms of exercise reduce stress and anxiety
- Download some meditative tracks from the internet and play these to send you off to sleep
If you have tried all these to no avail, maybe consider coming to see me for a Nutritional Therapy consultation to explore if there is some more deep seated reason for your lack of sleep.
And if you have any handy tips for sleep inducement, please feel free to post them below