12.00am, 2am, 2.15am, 3.00am – do these times look familiar? When was the last time you actually slept through the night? Or better still when was the last time you woke up feeling refreshed? Unfortunately more often than not I hear the phrase “I can’t remember.” Can you imagine a world free from sleep anxiety where when your head hits the pillow and sleep is virtually automatic?
One of the single most important things you can do for outstanding health costs absolutely nothing and the key to it may be right in front of you. The results have the ability to transform your life.
Many people sabotage themselves when it comes to sleep. The trouble is they do this with things they probably don’t even give a second thought to. Once they are addressed they can make a tremendous improvement to your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep.
So what are some common lifestyle factors that are overlooked?
Firstly, we need to address your relationship with sleep. Are you someone who can be overheard saying that you are going to finish “that pile of work” after dinner? An overactive or stimulated mind can be hard to put to rest. Do you watch a gripping thriller on TV and leave yourself at the edge of your seat before trying to sink into bed and drift peacefully off to sleep? Do you finish your meal with coffee, claiming that it doesn’t affect you? Is your favourite food a spicy curry that leaves you with indigestion, or because of work commitments you eat late at night engulfing anything and everything to fill the void because you haven’t eaten since 2pm?
Addressing why you can’t sleep involves looking at a number of factors, many of which can be right under your nose.
In order to have quality, restorative sleep, an aspect of your nervous system must be activated, the calm branch associated with “rest and repair.” If you are reading, listening or doing anything that stimulates the other revved up branch, associated with “fight or flight” – anything that increases your heart rate, makes you feel worried or stressed, or requires significant concentration – your ability to switch off and switch to rest and repair can be compromised.
What you do before you try to sleep can influence whether your sleep hormone, melatonin, is produced or suppressed. Melatonin production is inhibited by light hitting the retina in the eye. It is only produced in darkness. Do you text, look at your iPad, or read an electronic book late at night in bed? Any backlit devices have the ability to suppress melatonin production meaning you lay there growing increasingly frustrated while your body is trying to adjust itself. Serotonin, our happy, calm, and content hormone, is converted into melatonin inside the body. Low serotonin levels can result in sleep disruption and sleep disorders, including insomnia. Stress and poor digestion are common causes of low serotonin levels, which can lead to disrupted sleep, depression, anxiety and fatigue.
What is absolutely astounding is that 80 – 90% of our serotonin is actually found in the gut and in fact 400 times more melatonin is synthesized in the gut than in the brain. Hence looking after your digestive system becomes a crucial component of outstanding sleep. Who would have thought that something as simple as taking care of your digestive system could result in improved sleep!
Quick tips to improve sleep anxiety
- Support digestive function by starting every morning with apple cider vinegar or lemon and warm water.
- Keep your room clear and free from clutter
- Keep your bedroom dark
- Keep a notebook beside your bed so if you wake up and think of something you need to remember, you can write it down and go back to sleep instead of lying awake worrying you might forget it
- Get up at the same time each morning and expose your eyes to sunlight (don’t look directly at the sun, obviously). Better still, go outside and exercise after waking. If this is not possible because of young children, fling open the curtains and look outside, breathe slowly moving your diaphragm and recognise a new day has dawned that you are fortunate to be part of.