Difficulty Falling Asleep? Try Out Six Methods To Improve Your Sleep Quality
Imagine this scenario. You have a submission deadline for the next morning and decide to work late into the night. You make yourself a cup of coffee which is doing nothing but giving you jitters. Your eyes are burning from tiredness, and you feel like your brain cells are crying for help. You finally give up and hit the hay, only to keep tossing and turning in bed, unable to fall asleep. You are dreading your alarm that is to ring in 4 hours.
Or on another day, you tuck yourself into bed nice and early in an attempt to get your full 8 hours, but you can’t seem to switch off your racing thoughts. You whip out your laptop and begin binging on your favourite series to bring you the comfort you crave until you doze off, which doesn’t usually happen until the early hours of the morning.
If you regularly find yourself to be the person in one or both of these situations, then we hate to break it to you, but you may be suffering from a case of sleep deprivation. However, you are not alone. For one reason or another, most teenagers and adults find themselves unable to fall asleep at night and struggle with crankiness in the mornings that usually stretches to the rest of the day.
Sleep deprivation is not a problem you should shrug off by chanting the phrase “no rest for the wicked”. It is not a badge of honour, nor something you are doomed for. You actually have more control over it than you realise. The relationship between your daytime habits and sleep hygiene is a two-way street: the same way your unhealthy habits leave you tossing and turning every night, the cure for your sleep difficulties can be brought about by tweaking your daily routine. Below are some small adjustments you can introduce into your routine to break the cycle of restless nights and weary mornings, and the unhealthy habits that come with running on low sleep.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Besides the immediate and apparent dip in mood, focus, and work performance during the day, sleep deprivation has a series of more permanent effects as well. Primarily, it activates a series of unhealthy behaviours that hinge on how well you sleep at night. Some examples to these said ‘behaviours’ are avoiding exercising, excessive caffeine consumption, increased snacking and napping during the day, forcing oneself to work late into the night (due to a lack of productivity during the day) and what have you. With time, these behaviours turn into habits that not only result in a reverberating cycle of poor sleep, but they also worsen the effects poor sleep has on your mental and physical health in the long run. So, how to deal with insomnia and experience much-needed restful sleep?
Find Your Sleep Chronotype
The rule that you need 8 hours of sleep each night is a myth. There is just no single magic number we can put our finger on, as everybody runs on different biological clocks (chronotypes). Your chronotype is determined by the PER3 gene and indicates when you should sleep and for how long. In case you have a long PER3 gene, you are naturally an early riser that needs at least 7 hours of sleep while a shorter PER3 gene shows that you are a late riser and can sleep less hours to feel good.
Once you discover your chronotype and tweak your daily routine to accommodate it, you will be able to sleep better at night and soar during the day, explains sleep expert Michael Breus in his book The Power of When. Bear in mind that your work schedules and social obligations may have to be taken into consideration when shifting your routine as they may not always agree with your chronotype.
Avoid Screens Before Bedtime
You’ve heard this a million times, but we’ll repeat it. You. Have. To. Take. Your. Eyes. Off. The. Screen. Yes, it is very tempting to wind down after a long day by catching up on the last season of your favourite show. But that actually contributes to your restlessness at night. How? The blue light emitted from your TV/laptop/phone screen or any other gadget suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle. Without enough melatonin produced, your body doesn’t register that it is night and time to sleep.
To add to this, the show you are watching is more likely to be increasing your alertness at night than helping you relax. This ultimately compromises your alertness the next morning. So, instead of reaching for your electronic device, grab that book that’s gone dusty on your nightstand and start a habit of reading before bed. Or at least try to avoid screens within 1-2 hours before going to sleep. You’ll notice how quickly your eyelids will start dropping. Alternatively, you can also try meditating or breathing exercises to take the stress of the day away.
Pay Attention to Late-Night Dining
The content and timing of your dinners are exceptionally important in the regulation of your sleep cycle. Having heavy meals rich in spice or sugar, and acidic foods too close to bedtime is likely to lead to discomfort from indigestion, making it hard for you to sleep. If you can, try and avoid heavy dinners and junk food two to three hours before bedtime.
However, if you grow too hungry closer to your bedtime, you can allow yourself to indulge in a light but healthy snack. Our favourite bedtime snacks are yoghurt/milk, half a sandwich, a banana, or a bowl of whole-grain, low-sugar granola.
Say ‘No’ to Caffeine in The Evening
Caffeine is a widely consumed stimulant that spikes up the release of cortisol - the alertness hormone. This results in numerous benefits, such as enhanced focus and energy when consumed during the day. When consumed later in the evening, these benefits pose a serious risk to your body’s ability to relax at night. This is because, in the metabolism, caffeine has a half-life of 6-8 hours, which means it takes that many hours for the caffeine in your bloodstream to reduce to half its consumed amount. As a result, it is a smart move to stop consuming caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime.
Now, when we talk about caffeine, your mind might automatically go to coffee as it is the most caffeine-rich drink and also the most popularly consumed one. However, we must not forget that caffeine is also found in other beverages, such as some types of tea (black, green), cola, and energy drinks. If you do get a craving for any of these drinks in the late afternoon or evening, try switching them with decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea. Especially make chamomile and lavender tea, your best friend, as they have proven sleep-inducing effects. Make sure to limit consumption of all fluids to one to two hours before bedtime as you may need to take one too many bathroom trips throughout the night!
Give CBD Products a Go
Cannabidiol (code name: CBD) is a natural compound and one of the many cannabinoids found in the cannabis Sativa plant. CBD products have been rising in popularity due to their promise of multiple health benefits for users, minus the high and munchies, which are catapulted by Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another cannabinoid found in hemp. In contrast to THC, CBD is non-psychoactive and non-addictive. In addition, according to a report by the World Health Organisation, no health problems have been identified to be associated with the use of pure CBD to date.
CBD oil is commonly used to help in treating anxiety, depression, pain, chronic aches, and studies proposing it as a possible cure for insomnia are fast accumulating. While it is yet to be uncovered what exact neurological and physiological processes CBD mediates, the research is very promising. You can pick and choose how you want to take your supplement - it is made available in the form of tinctures, vapes, drinks, edibles, capsules, and so on. Based on a report by the World Health Organisation, pure CBD oil is 100% safe for use, as there have been no health problems associated with its use to date. Our only recommendation is: make sure to consult your doctor or health professional to decide on the dosage and time you should take your CBD, as it depends on a number of factors (your weight, current and past medical conditions, method of intake, etc.).
We understand that this one is easier said than done, but hear us out. People that maintain daily physical activity report sleeping better at night and being more energetic during the day. It has also been found that regular exercises help to improve symptoms of insomnia and increases the amount of time spent in deep, restorative sleep. Even light activity, such as walking for 10 minutes during the day improves sleep quality, but the more vigorous the exercise, the better. What does this mean? You can start slow by first trying to integrate walking into your schedule, and as you grow comfortable with it, you can gradually increase the duration and intensity of your exercise to maximise the sleep-promoting effects.
Now, besides the intensity, the timing of your workout is also essential. Exercise is an activity that increases your metabolism, body temperature, and the release of the hormone cortisol. These physiological changes are the opposite of what normally happens when your body is preparing for sleep. That is to say, exercising too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep. As a rule of thumb, it is best to do moderate to vigorous workouts early in the day, and three hours before going to bed at the latest. Lower impact exercises such as yoga or stretching can be done in the evening.