There is no reason you shouldn’t be able to sleep, except that you can’t sleep, which is why you are here reading this blog. I’m not a sleep magician but here is the deal, sleep is so epically important that you are doing yourself a great injustice if you do not try everything in your power to get sleep on a regular basis.
I was recently listening to the great Tony Robbins explaining a common reality that people face with any goal, whether it be losing weight, becoming financially stable, running a business, getting more sleep...you name it. He said that people will get to a point where they throw in the towel and say “I’ve tried EVERYTHING, I just can’t do it”. But they are wrong! Almost always they have tried everything that they are comfortable trying, or everything they know about, or everything that someone else has told them to do. Sometimes they have only tried one or two things!!! But it is seldom even possible to have tried absolutely everything that is out there.
Sleep is so important that I believe you need to keep trying the next and next and next thing until you succeed. I have seen too many patient’s whose health is being ruined by a lack of sleep. So, today I have some tips for you-- maybe some you haven’t tried before.
- Good sleep starts with a schedule. You need to prime your body for sleep. Go to bed at the same time each night as much as possible and set an alarm to wake up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends. Turn off electronics and TV 30 minutes before bed. If this is not possible (ahem....uncooperative spouses), use a sleep mask to block as much light as you can. This will help your body to release Melatonin, which is really picky about when and how it gets released.
- Let the sun hit your eyes during the day. Like seriously, take off the shades for 10 minutes. This helps signal to your body that it is day, so then at night (when you make it dark, as suggested in point 1) your body knows it is really night. During the winter, you might even want to get a “Happy Lamp” or some similar lamp that mimics sunlight. It is useful for your sleep-wake cycle and -bonus- it can also help ward off seasonal depression.
- Breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. This is one you really have to practice on because the first few times you do either of these techniques you probably are having to focus too much on the actual process or you may even be feeling self-conscious about the process. I recommend trying some of the techniques during the day, when you are not trying to accomplish sleep, the first few times. Once you are comfortable with the process, you may then try to use it at night when trying to sleep. There are some helpful videos for these techniques on YouTube that I will link to at the end of this post.
- The dreaded sleep study. Let’s rule out sleep apnea or any other mysterious sleep disorders. If they need to be treated, treat them. If you need a lifestyle change, make that change. For instance, sleep apnea can be cured in many patients by a 10% weight reduction-- no cPAP needed!
- Cut out alcohol and caffeine and add a little carbohydrate right before bed. You know how hotels will often place a chocolate on your pillow? There’s actually a bit of science to this. Carbohydrates help make your brain more sensitive to tryptophan, which makes you sleepy. Many people, women in particular, simply can’t sleep without a little bit of carbohydrate--just a LITTLE. Also, many people think that alcohol helps with sleep and it definitely helps with the falling asleep part, but you will not sleep as soundly as the alcohol begins to metabolize and has stimulant effects.
- Supplements- this is actually one case where I am not a big fan of prescription medications, over-the-counter medications or supplements. Getting yourself to sleep naturally is the best possible scenario and all efforts should be made to accomplish this. A medicated sleep just isn’t as rejuvenating to your body as an unmedicated sleep and I can think of drawbacks to each and every sleep product on the market. Even Melatonin-- it just works better when you can train your body to release it naturally rather than taking it as a supplement. Obviously there are occasions when sleep aids are needed, it just doesn’t need to be your first option.
I hope this list has been helpful and maybe pointed you to a new sleep tip or two. It is certainly not an exhaustive list (see what I did there), but it should be a good starting point.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZKNr-W9A1U
Breathing for Insomnia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8LjxXSxBeA