Tomorrow is the big meeting! Everything is riding on this.
But it’s 2 a.m. and you’re still staring at the clock, unable to fall asleep.
You feel frustrated and worried about how you’re going to get through your day tomorrow.
Not sleeping well is the worst.
Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
You’re not alone! According to the American Sleep Association, approximately 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder. (1)
Insomnia can make you feel like the walking dead the next day.
Let’s review what insomnia is, what causes it, and how you can get a good night’s sleep.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. (2)
It can last just a short time or over a longer period of time.
It’s no walk in the park either. Lack of sleep can cause:
Poor emotional response to challenges
Inability to concentrate on tasks
Greater risk for car accidents
Not to mention those dark circles under your eyes.
There are many causes of insomnia; some of which are linked to health conditions but others
Stress to big changes in your life
Mental health issues like depression & anxiety
Changes to your schedule like pulling an all-night study session, changing your shift at work, or jet lag
Caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and drug use
PMS and menopause (3)
One of the most common causes of short-term insomnia is stress.
Since stress has a lot to do with the quality of our sleep, we’ll give you some ideas to manage it. Let’s dive in!
How to fall asleep easily
The first battle in combating insomnia is falling asleep quickly. Typically it takes about 10 - 20 minutes to fall asleep. (4) Stress will cause you to take longer to fall asleep.
Try some of these strategies to train your body that it’s time to sleep when you close your eyes.
Create an evening routine that includes some relaxing elements to treat yourself at the end of the day such as...
relaxing music like this audio track.
a warm bath or shower,
practice mindfulness-based stress reduction, deep breathing techniques, or meditation.
some aromatherapy with lavender or chamomile.
Doing any of these activities will cue your brain that it’s time to relax.
Limit those blue waves
Getting stuck in the trap of just one more TicToc interferes with our body’s sleep patterns.
Melatonin is the hormone that your body produces to make you feel sleepy.
The blue light waves emitted from electronic devices interfere with the production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. (5)
Turn your phone off 30 minutes before bed and spend the time reading or journaling to improve the quality of your sleep.
Download your brain
You may find your brain racing with thoughts when it’s time to go to bed.
You’re thinking of things you need to do, things that happened during the day, and problems that need to be solved — no wonder you can’t fall asleep!
A remedy for this is to grab a notebook and write down everything that you’re thinking of before your evening routine.
Your mind will stop racing because you’ll know that you aren’t forgetting something.
Relax your muscles
Our bodies hold tension in our muscles when we’re feeling anxious or stressed.
One way to release some of that tension is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. In this method, you’ll breathe in while tensing one set of muscles and then releasing the tension while you breathe out. (6)
Muscles are tensed in a specific order starting with your hands, and face. You continue down your body and end with your toes, feet, and legs.
Check out this guided progressive muscle relaxation video.
The whole process will take about 15 minutes and will relax your body and your mind.
It’s always beneficial to have an evening routine to cue your body to relax. Make sure you’re prioritizing your self-care routine during periods of stress.
Experiment and see what works to help you fall asleep faster. Let’s review some tips for those nights that you wake up in the middle of the night and find it difficult to fall back asleep.
How to fall back to sleep
Stop clock watching
Ah, the dreaded clock watching! There are two reasons you should avoid looking at the time when you wake up in the middle of the night.
First of all, we should limit any signals that it’s time to wake up and that includes the light from checking our phone or our alarm clocks.
Secondly, watching the minutes and the hours pass by is anxiety-producing!
Checking the time over and over will interfere with your goal of trying to get back to sleep quickly.
Try 4-7-8 Breath.
Dr. Andrew Weil developed a concept called 4-7-8 Breath that will quickly put your body into a relaxed state. To practice this technique, you’ll want to start by placing the tip of your tongue just behind your upper front teeth and keeping it there.
Close your mouth. Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts.
Hold your breath for 7 counts.
Forcefully exhale by making an audible whoosh sound for 8 counts.
Repeat the cycle a total of 4 times. (7)
You can do this anytime you’re feeling tense or anxious. It’s effective when trying to get back to sleep because it increases your body’s oxygen level.
Change the scenery.
If you find yourself unable to fall back asleep after about 15 - 20 minutes --without checking your phone for the time — it’s time to move out of bed.
You don’t want to train your brain that it’s ok to lie awake sleepless in bed. Go to another room and try the next strategy — doing something unchallenging.
When you’re trying to get back to sleep, you’ll want to avoid any type of stimulation. Skip the video games, movies, or exciting books.
Try to read something less interesting. Do a crossword puzzle or sudoku or an adult coloring book. Avoid any electronic devices.
If you find yourself awake in the wee hours of the morning, don’t stress over it! Just try each of the strategies above in succession and you’ll be back to bed in no time.
General tips for Better Sleep
Now that we’ve reviewed specific strategies for falling asleep quickly, let’s talk about improving daily habits to support sound sleep.
Stress and sleep are intertwined. When you’re stressed, you’ll have trouble sleeping. When you’re not sleeping well, you'll feel more stressed the next day.
Since managing stress is so important to our health and getting a full night of restorative sleep, you’ll want to set up a routine of self-care such as…
Practice one of these several times a week to get the benefit of improved sleep quality.
Eat a healthy diet
Big, heavy meals can interfere with your sleep. A diet focused on eating mostly whole plants can help you maintain a healthy weight and sleep well. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts throughout the week.
Studies have shown that people who participate in regular exercise fall asleep faster and sleep longer.(8)
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each day and you’ll see the results almost immediately.
Stop smoking, limit alcohol
Nicotine and alcohol both impact the quality of your sleep. Alcohol makes you sleepy but interferes with deep sleep and can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
When to see a doctor for your insomnia
If your insomnia lasts longer than a month or if it’s affecting your daily activities, it may be time to visit a doctor.
You may wish to start a sleep journal to record how much you’re sleeping, how long it takes to fall asleep, how you’re feeling when you wake up. This will be helpful in determining a pattern and identifying the source of the anxiety that’s keeping you awake.
The Main Takeaway
Lifestyle Medicine is centered around lifestyle changes to improve your health in six main areas:
Stop smoking and limit alcohol.
Foster positive relationships
Improve your sleep
What’s interesting is each of these are interrelated. If you eat healthily and exercise regularly, the quality of your sleep will improve. Likewise, if you’re sleeping better, it’s easier to make good choices about the other health areas.
At Baltimore Lifestyle & Culinary Medicine, we’re Lifestyle Medicine Board Certified Specialists.
Lifestyle Medicine Board Certified is an official acknowledgment from the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine and it indicates that the individual has mastered the science of preventing, treating, and reversing chronic disease in an evidence-based manner. (9)
We use Lifestyle Medicine to build healthier lives for our patients.
Call us for a free consultation and we’ll help you unlock better health...and a better night’s sleep.