Ways to Win The Battle for Sleep

If you are finding yourself struggling to fall asleep every night, the battle is probably leaving you frustrated, not to mention exhausted. If you suspect that you are suffering from a sleep disorder that is preventing you from getting the sleep that you need then you should seek help from your physician, but before doing that it is worthwhile to try the following tips and tricks. Making these changes can go a long way towards turning your bedroom from a scene of battle to an oasis where you can go to get the rest you need. Access Morning Light [caption id="attachment_800" align="alignright" width="300"]Exposing yourself to lots of light during the day can help with your sleep cycle Exposing yourself to lots of light during the day can help with your sleep cycle[/caption] There is a significant amount of data showing that getting out into the morning sunshine will help you to set your body’s circadian rhythm, but you can start the process of exposing yourself to bright light earlier than that if you turn on the lights as soon as your alarm bell rings. According to Shelby Harris, Psy. D. and director of behavioral sleep medicine at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, “Bright light helps set your body’s circadian rhythm. With that comes consistent production of melatonin — the hormone that triggers sleepiness at night. Make Morning Exercise Part of Your Day Getting up early enough to fit in an exercise routine may be tough at first, but sleep scientists say that if you get in a workout first thing in the morning you will have an easier time falling asleep that night, and sleep longer and with better quality. If you can work it out so that you can exercise outside, perhaps by taking a brisk 30-minute walk, you get the dual benefit of activity and exposure to light. Maximize Your Light Exposure During the Day If you work in an office and have the opportunity to sit near a sunny window, you can give yourself the opportunity of sleeping 47 minutes longer each night then those who work in rooms without windows. According to a study done by researchers at Northwestern University, if you can’t sit by a window then get outside for at least a few minutes during the day. The study’s author, Ivy Cheung, says, “We’ve evolved to need light exposure during the day. Anything is better than none at all.” Improve Your Sleep By Eating More Salmon Just as eating the wrong foods can interfere with your sleep, the right ones can help. A study out of the University of Oxford has found that when omega-3s are eaten on a regular basis, they help to increase the impact of melatonin. The best source of omega-3s is salmon, though it can also be found in flaxseed and grass-fed beef. Supplements of the heart-healthy fats can work as well. The co-author of the study warns that no matter what your source, it is important that you give the nutrient time to take effect. Paul Montgomery, Ph.D. says, “Typically, people respond after six to eight weeks.” Avoid Fatty Foods Before Going to Bed Just as you should avoid taking in caffeine after mid-afternoon and stay away from alcohol late at night, it’s important that you think about the nutritional content of the food that you are eating. Foods that are high in fat, and especially those that are fried, are going to make it much harder for you to fall asleep. According to Shelby Harris from Montefiore, “Your body has to work hard to process high fat foods, which wakes up the digestion process and keeps you up.” So what is the right thing to eat when your stomach starts growling close to bedtime? Harris suggests eating a banana with either peanut butter or almond butter, giving you a nice combination of healthy carbohydrates and protein that will not only eliminate the problem of food interfering with sleep, but will actually go a long way to helping you feel more drowsy. Swear Off Electronics Before Bed There is a debate within the sleep community as to how long before bedtime electronic devices should be powered down, with some saying 90 minutes and others extending the time period to as long as two or three hours, but there is no disagreement about the importance of doing so. As much as our smart phones, tablets, laptops and televisions have added to the quality of our lives, they are definitely robbing us of sleep by exposing us to blue light waves that trick our brains into thinking that it is daylight. According to Robert Rosenberg, D.O. and author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day, “The eyes associate the blue light emitted with daylight.” By eliminating the blue light, we also do ourselves the favor of blocking out stimulating or stressful material that we may find on social media or in our work emails. Instead of checking online, relax with a good book in a traditional paper format – it is a habit that your body will soon connect with and recognize as a cue that it is almost time to go to bed. Keep a Notepad By Your Bed Whether you use it to jot down things that you suddenly remember you need to do tomorrow or to make a list of things that are bothering you, keeping a notepad or journal and storing worrying or action-based thoughts on it will give your brain permission to let it go for the night and make it easier for you to go to sleep. Rosenberg says, “Getting worries onto a sheet of paper where you can acknowledge them is enough to calm the mind.” Establish a Bedtime and Stick to It The human body loves routine and will quickly learn to adapt to a set bedtime, so establish one and stick to it. According to Audrey Liu, M.d., medical director of The Sleep Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, “The body has a natural sleep cycle. A regular schedule can help you find your natural rhythm.”  

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