What is worse than a busy day when you are going non-stop from early morning to late at night? Finally, getting into bed and not falling asleep or struggling for hours until early in the morning. When we were kids, our parents would make sure we didn’t have any caffeine to keep us up, make sure all our homework was finished, and would tuck us at the same time every night, and we would fall quickly asleep. It seems as we get older, falling sleep seems to become an increasing struggle. There are screens to distract us, the never-ending lists of things to do, and the fact the no two days ever look the same. The plan you made this morning to head up to bed at 10 p.m. was pushed back to 2 a.m. because of an unscheduled work emergency, and your kid suddenly came down with a nasty cough. Life is unpredictable, but we will look at the top 3 reasons why you can't fall asleep at night and how to prevent them so you can be well-rested and ready to tackle the next day!
Reason 1: Stress and anxiety
Problem: It’s no secret that stress can affect your sleep. It’s like clockwork every night; you finally get into bed and shut your eyes but your mind races. Maybe you’re thinking about the laundry list of uncompleted items that have to get pushed to tomorrow’s list. Or perhaps it’s something else, but whatever it is, over time, this can create much-unwanted anxiety around going to bed.
Solution: To fix this problem, being intentional with your time during the day can vastly improve your chances of falling asleep at night, even if everything didn’t get checked off your to-do list.
- Be organized: Being organized in your life can be a huge stress reliever. This doesn’t just apply to the lists of stuff you plan to do. Also, be organized in your home. When your space, whether that be a house or apartment, feels put together and calm, so will you. It will make getting up in the morning a lot easier and more pleasant, knowing that your new day is refreshed.
- Exercise: To exercise, aim to elevate your heart rate for at least 20 minutes every day. A slightly longer walk around your neighborhood could even do this. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Physical activity may help bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020).” This results in lowered anxiety, plus a more strenuous workout a few hours before bedtime could also help exhaust you making you more physically tired and ready to fall asleep when your head hits the pillow.
- Meditation/Yoga: Yoga and meditation have time and time again proven to lower anxiety and help people pull themselves back from the edge of a panic attack. Mindful is a specific form of meditation practiced to help with this. “The basic premise of the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach is to learn to detach from anxious thoughts. This is achieved by practicing awareness, identifying tension in the body, understanding your thinking patterns, and learning how to deal with difficult emotions (Cuncic, 2020).”
- Bedtime indicators: Bedtime indicators are simple rituals that you have before you go to sleep. All the things listed above are indicators. For example, a half-hour before you go to bed, you might pick up the family room, turn off the lights, sit in bed, and practice yoga, and then lay down to fall asleep. All the things you do before you go to sleep are considered indicators. After repeating the same steps every night, your brain starts to recognize that it is time to settle down because you’ll be falling asleep soon.
Reason 2: Sleep schedule
Problem: A sleep schedule can be hard to follow, considering our daily lives change so much. Going to be late one night can throw off all the next day’s activities. According to health.gov, sticking to a sleep schedule can have several benefits, such as getting sick less often, improving your mood, and lowering your risk of health problems.
Solution: To start yourself on a sleep schedule, start with a realistic goal. If you are used to going to bed at 1 a.m., tell yourself that the t.v. has to be off by 11:30. This might not sound like much improvement, but the smaller the change, the more likely you will stick with it. Once you get the hang of it, then you can start moving your bedtime every few weeks by a half-hour until you reach your desired time. Next, be realistic about your incomplete list of things to do from that day. How necessary are these items? Not everything has to be completed, and while it’s always good to stick to goals. If the goals are causing you stress and losing sleep over them, they should probably be reevaluated.
Reason 3: Blue Light Exposure
Problem: Blue light exposure is an underrated issue for falling asleep. During the day, we are exposed to blue light from the screens we use and the lights in our homes. In the evening, when we come home, we are exposed to blue light from our televisions and phones. All of these activities, especially those in the hours leading up to our bedtime, can suppress melatonin production.
Solution: A straightforward solution to prevent depletion in melatonin production is wearing 100% blue light blocking glasses, also known as amber glasses, in the hours leading up to your bedtime. This will give your body the appropriate amount of melatonin needed without hindering your nightly rituals. However, these glasses should not be worn throughout the day because then your body will start to think it is time to sleep all the time. To help with blue light from working on screens, try computer glasses. These will protect you from up to 40% of blue light and help alleviate some of the eye strain you feel, saving you from unwanted headaches and loss of concentration. A combination of both of these glasses will allow you to fall asleep at night with ease. If you don’t want to go the glasses route, there are also light bulbs and screen filters that you can utilize around your home which will also take away the blue light. Using the light bulbs and screen filters will give you similar results as the glasses, just remember that other blue light can come from other sources in and around your home.
As you try out these remedies, remember to take it one day at a time. Nothing is going to work instantly, but over time by creating positive habits for yourself, things will start looking up.
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