The test of a people is what they can do when they're tired.” ― Winston Churchill ...
Most of us have had times in our lives where sleep has eluded us...but what do you do if it's an ongoing issue? Did you know that most of us just don't get the sleep we need?
Let's back up for a minute and talk about why sleep is so important. I heard someone once say, "Sleep? Who needs it? I can sleep when I'm dead! I have stuff to do!!" Well, it made me laugh but quite frankly, it's no laughing matter.
Sleep is essential - a lot goes on at the cellular level during sleep to ensure that we can live another day. Sleep allows your body to repair itself. It keeps us sharp, creative and able to process information. Cutting edge science now shows how critical sleep is to our ability to stay focused, learn new and remember old things, lose fat and keep excess weight off.
Let's explore what happens without proper sleep: Cortisol levels don't drop, human growth hormone doesn't rise, the endocrine system goes haywire, appetite and fat storing hormones run amok, which results in:
- loss of muscle strength
- less ability to fight off infections
- inability to lose or maintain weight
- less skin elasticity
- memory loss
- inability to learn new things.
- cardiovascular disease
- physical illness
If that list doesn't have you running for the bedroom or the couch, then I don't know what will! So what can you do if you are trying to sleep and just can't? Here are some tips:
- Get on a regular Schedule -- go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time, even on the weekends!
- Unplug - avoid stimulating activities at least 30 - 60 minutes before bedtime. Turn off the TV (those dramas can stimulate your adrenaline) the computer, phone, etc. No cleaning, work etc
- Cut the caffeine - at least 8 hours before bed. Caffeine has a residual effect that lasts that long. If you can't give up the afternoon boost, then switch to something a little milder, like tea instead of coffee.
- Exercise -- regular exercise will help promote sleep. However, some people find exercise less than 3 hours before bed too stimulating. You may have to switch your routine to earlier in the day.
- Limit Alcohol - a drink in the evening may sound like a good idea, because it is relaxing; however, it can raise your cortisol levels and you may find yourself tossing and turning in the middle of the night. You might want to try cutting it out and see if it makes a difference in your quality of sleep.
- Eating right before bed - is not a good idea. Some people feel that they will get hungry in the middle of the night. But food provides energy that runs counter to prepping your body for rest. Herbal tea, coconut water or plain water requires no extra digestive work. If you must, eat your snack earlier in the evening.
- Aromatherapy and Sleep aids - I am not a big advocate of sleep aids. However, if sleep is a big issue, talk to your doctor. Many prescriptions are psychologically addicting and can prevent you from obtaining the deep sleep cycle, leaving you groggy in the morning. An alternative would be to try herbal supplements such as Valerian or Melatonin. Aromatherapy such as a spray of lavender, rose, vanilla or lemongrass on your pillow may help. Different scents have different effects on people, so you will have to experiment. Scented lotions are also an alternative.
- Make a Worry List - sometimes our minds just won't turn off, even though our bodies are exhausted. If bedtime is the first time in the day that you have complete silence, then your brain may want to go over all the things you didn't have time to think about. Making a list of things to do the next day, or items that worry you, may help you put them aside so you can rest. Things that are manageable during the day may seem overwhelming at night.
- Create a Sanctuary - your bedroom should be restful refuge. Some of the things that should NOT be in the bedroom are; TVs, exercise equipment, desk or office stuff, computer, phone. Even clutter can be a detriment to your rest.
- General Nutrition - if your diet is high in sugar (High glycemic index) and low in fiber and protein, your cortisol levels are higher throughout the day and into the night, which will result in a disruption in REM sleep. Starting the day with a low glycemic food such as eggs, meat, poultry or fish will help keep cortisol on its normal track. Also, research has shown that people who take optimal levels of B vitamins early in the day, may sleep better at night.
And one more thing - If there is too much negative energy in your life - these are going to surface at night. This may include profound problems like work issues, body image issues, feeling of inadequacy, worries about aging parents, money, children, health concerns, etc. Stress management may be something you need to find out more about. For now, try to follow up negative talk with positive self talk.
1] Excerpt from the book Mom Energy; A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged by Ashley Koff, R.D.
 For more information on eating see "Eat Your Way to Better Sleep" by Pauline Harding, M.D.
 For more information on stress management see Mom Energy; A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged by Ashley Koff, R.D.