Today getting enough sleep is all the rage. Suddenly we're all realizing that ZZzz's are as important as ABC's - sleep is basic, and if you don't get enough of it, you're more likely to make mistakes, have less mood control, crave more carbs, age faster, and be less good in bed (What? No!). Turns out "I'll sleep when I'm dead" isn't a good plan after all.
But *how* to sleep well? We hear over and over to reduce screen time in the evening. I even read over and over not to keep any electronics in the bedroom - but not easy to do if your bedroom doubles as your office.
So what then, are the other keys to ZZz's?
Well, I think that, like with any health problem, the best thing you can do is to learn to 'think functionally' about it. Which means you don't just throw things at the problem and see what helps. Instead you can actually investigate, looking at what's going on in your body, mind, and life, and discern what the cause(s) are of your lack of ZZz's. And the causes can be multiple, so the solutions can be multiple, too.
You can start by asking, "What keeps you up?" This is a great question to ask yourself, if you haven't been sleeping well. Is it your mind racing? Does your body ache? Are you too cold? Awareness is a powerful way to approach any problem - you're looking directly at what's really going on. In a very real way, you're meditating on the problem.
Now for some common causes of insomnia, followed by a bit of explanation of each.
1) Blood Sugar Instability. This is very very common. Eating high carb foods, as many of us do, (processed grains, sugars...), can result in unstable blood sugar, which results in swings in mood and energy level and strong cravings. And this does *not* set you up to sleep well. These foods also trigger much inflammation in the body, and an inflamed body is not a calm body that is ready to rest. The solution is to cut out the inflammatory, blood-sugar-dysregulating foods for a while. Stop the stimulants. Doing a strict 30 day "Paleo Reset" is one very powerful way to do this, but even 7 days or 12 days can do a lot of good. More on paleo diets in my Resources page, and some links below.
2) Under-exercising. Exercise, even 15 min of yoga at home or a 20 min walk outside, is extremely helpful to calm the emotions, oxygenate the body, and can really help us sleep.
3) Stressful work or life situations. Whether the situation is really stressful or just your *reaction* to it is stressful, the result is the same, cortisol floods your body, and when that happens a lot, you may benefit from cortisol lowering herbs, like Ashwaghanda or Holy Basil, taken as as a tincture or tea maybe.
4) Digestive Problems. These can keep us up too and can be complex, or simple, from a need for digestive enzymes, to eliminating foods like eggs, nuts, wheat and dairy.
5) Loneliness. We need love and connection. We now know that loneliness is harder on a person's health than smoking, overeating and being sedentary combined.
6) Not enough light during the day. Not only do we benefit from dim light at night (no bright screens before bed), but we also benefit from bright light during the day. Light has a major influence on the circadian rhythm, through the eyes, but some are saying now that the whole body is truly light sensitive. If you work indoors, a mood lamp on your desk (like the Philips Blu Light) helps many people to uplift their mood, and then sleep at night.
A deeper cause of insomnia, however, can be: trauma. We are just now learning that traumas experienced in life accumulate in their effect on the brain, and symptoms may not show until later in life. (for more on that, see my blog on Brainwave Optimization).
Here's a few more things that I sometimes do to help me sleep:
- throw a hot water bottle in your bed before you get in (not too hot).
- take some Rescue Remedy Sleep (see my flower essences page).
- put on a warm amber colored lamp, or dark red lamp (fabric over a lamp works)
- buy an aromatherapy diffuser, with sandalwood oil or maybe lavender and pine
- drink some herbal tea of your choice, w/out caffeine. I like mint, nettle-licorice-ginger, or vanilla rooibos. There is also Sleepytime tea. Adaptogens like ashwaghanda, holy basil or ginseng can also help give you energy during the day if you haven't been sleeping well.
- some meditation or yin yoga before bed can work wonders.
- open the window a crack for fresh air can really help me sleep.
Sleep is a life-skill that is well worth mastering.
If I really find that I can't sleep, or if I wake up early, I will often meditate or work. I find that these are sometimes my most productive hours!
The research is also saying that it's more about sleep quality than quantity. What you're really going for is depth of sleep.
I hope this helps you catch more satisfying Z's!
Got any tips that really help with sleep? Please share them below!
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Hi, I'm Donovan Giraud. I'm a health coach, meditator and visionary, and I'm on a mission to help people heal themselves and evolve our world.