About half of all Americans have reported to struggle with sleep while close to 20% are clinically diagnosed with insomnia. Sleep loss is a serious problem and results in reduced insulin sensitivity, increased appetites, whole body inflammation, and as a result, significantly greater risks for many mental and chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. On top of that, sleepless nights have a major impact on work performance and are thought to cost, directly and indirectly, around 35 billion dollars per year in the US. Why are we, as a nation, having such a hard time getting those vital 8 hours? Could it be out diets and rising weights? Or maybe it’s our go-go lifestyles or the rise in artificial lights since the 1900 (i.e. TVs and computers)? Pharmaceuticals aimed to treat insomnia are commonly prescribed to those struggling with sleep but come with many side-effects, including the potential for addiction, which would be best avoided. While nutraceuticals (e.g. melatonin) can be a relatively quick fix while working through a particular time of stress, lifestyle changes can be a powerful way to manage insomnia. With all of that said, here are 5 tips to help you catch those Z’s and sleep soundly!
1. Reduce your stress level!
Sleep and wakefulness are largely controlled by our sympathetic nervous system. In times of stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, resulting in a hyper-arousal around bedtime. The end result is often a racing mind that is hard to shut off. The first step to solving this problem would be figure out what the stressor is. Perhaps work, an unhealthy relationship (or even a healthy one), or school? While eliminating the stressor isn’t always practical, there are always steps that can be taken for improvement. For example, try to get a better work-life balance, talk to a loved one about things bothering you, or stay on top of your work-load at school.
2. Avoid bright lights closer to bedtime!
Sleep is also regulated by melatonin, released by the pineal gland and having a role in making us sleepy at night time. The secretion of this hormone is influenced by a number of factors including light, allowing us to have evolved a circadian rhythm that correlates to the sunrise and sunset. Bright lights close to bedtime throws off this rhythm and can result in less melatonin at the end of the day with an end result of restlessness and wakefulness. Try dimming the lights in your home throughout the day and avoiding electronics within the few hours before trying to fall asleep. This includes TV, computers and data phones which all have bright screens. While forming this habit will be tricky at first, given that most of us are quite dependent on technology, it will get easier in no time!
3. Consider your diet!
While most of us know by now that our diet has a major impact on our general health, many of us are unaware of the influence that the foods we eat have on sleep. Meal regularity, fewer refined carbohydrates, and more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes are seen to promote a good night’s sleep. The foods we eat typically promote sleep by increasing levels of serotonin, typtophan and ultimately melatonin. Many foods have these chemicals while others promote their production (e.g. foods high in B vitamins and magnesium). While most of these compounds are widely available in the above foods, vitamin B12 is a particular issue for vegetarians (generally only in animal products) and a deficiency can be a cause for insomnia. While some B12 can be in trace amounts on organic vegetables (from the soil) and in products like nutritional yeast, a B12 supplement is strongly advised for vegetarians.
Exercise is an excellent tool to both reduce stress levels and improve sleep. Getting started exercising can be a daunting task, especially if it’s been a while. Rest assured- starting a routing isn’t as hard as it seems and once you get going things will only get easier! Exercise can be added quite easily by making a few changes in your day to day schedule. Try walking to work, taking the stairs more often or taking a walk during your breaks at work. The best way to get going is to find something that you love so you’ll be more inclined to stick to it. Fitness classes are a fun way to get moving and are offered at most colleges and gyms, offering both instruction and support. Joining an adult sports league is another great option to find that new passion, meet new people and have a great time. Maybe even reconnect with the great outdoors; hiking, trail running, mountain biking or rock climbing anyone?
5. Consider a melatonin supplement!
If you’re dealing with a particular time of stress and sleeplessness, melatonin may be a good option to get you back on track with your sleep schedule. Melatonin doesn’t have the addictive potential or hangovers that many pharmaceuticals have and are both safe and well tolerated, even at high doses over years. Melatonin is especially effective in individuals over 55 due to an age related degradation of the pineal gland, a factor for the higher prevalence of insomnia in elderly individuals. Melatonin may also be a good consideration if you’re trying to take yourself off of sleep medication. If this sounds like you, I would recommend looking at an AOR product called ortho-sleep, one of the strongest neutraceutical sleep aids on the market currently. This product has been had quite the success rate in helping people with this transition.
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