Sleep is essential for good mental health, although not everyone is able to fall asleep or stay asleep. In this blog we’ll explore the reasons behind sleeplessness, how quality sleep brings quality of life and tips on dealing with insomnia.
What causes sleeplessness?
Stress is a leading cause of abnormal sleep patterns. Research shows it is a common trigger for both short-term and chronic insomnia. Stress can result from concerns about work, school, health, finances, anxiety and depression among other things, but perhaps the most deceptive cause is the fast-paced media packed world in which we live. Technology, world events and our ever-increasing knowledge about our world and the universe seem to have put time on a relentless treadmill and keeping up can wear out even the most determined among us. According to scientific research, stress creates incoherence in our heart rhythms, and when the heart is out of sync normal sleep patterns can be interrupted.
Poor sleep habits can cause difficulties sleeping, this includes going to sleep at irregular times, taking naps during the day, having stimulating activities before bed such as exercise, having an uncomfortable sleep environment, and using your bed for work, eating or watching TV. The use of your smartphone, computer or other screens just before bed can interfere with your sleep cycle as the usual blue light stimulates your brain to be awake.
Eating late in the evening can too be a factor in sleeplessness, especially food that is high in carbohydrates and sugar. This may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down. Many people also experience heartburn, a backflow of acid and food from the stomach into the oesophagus after eating, which may keep you awake.
Traveling or a late work schedule is also a culprit. Your circadian rhythm acts as an internal clock, guiding such things as your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and body temperature. Disrupting your body's circadian rhythms can lead to insomnia. Causes include jet lag from traveling across multiple time zones, working a late or early shift, or frequently changing shifts.
Why quality sleep is vital for your body?
When you sleep your brain works hard releasing hormones and processing information from your day. This is important for creating long term memories, as your brain combines all the information it has picked up during the day and files it away for later use. While you’re sleeping, your pituitary gland releases human growth hormone (HGH), which helps the body to grow and repair itself.
The body’s immune system releases small proteins called cytokines while sleeping. These cytokines help the body fight inflammation, infection and trauma. Without enough sleep, your immune system might not be able to function at its best.
Sleep allows your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight or flight response, to take a much needed break. Studies have shown that when we’re deprived of sleep, sympathetic nervous system activity increases, which is also mirrored by an increase in blood pressure. Levels of cortisol, often called the stress hormone, decreases during the first few hours of sleep before rising to peak soon after you wake up.
Tips on bettering your sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is important in maintaining quality physical and mental health. There are several things that you can do to promote good sleep and ultimately get a better rest.
First things first it’s important to maintain a regular sleep routine. Do this by going to bed and waking up at a regular schedule. Ideally, aim to not stray from your sleep routine by more than 20 minutes every night of the week.
Avoid napping during the day. Instead, perhaps pop your earphones in and listen to some guided meditation. There are many different types of meditation, but they all come down to one basic tenet – relaxing the mind and trying to focus on the breath. Meditation is a way to exercise the unconscious mind, practice mindfulness and lessen anxieties. Although it’s not as traditionally restful as a nap, a session of meditation is another valid way to refresh and revive – and a meditation habit has multiple benefits to both mood and productivity.
When we take naps, it decreases the amount of sleep that we need the next night – which may cause sleep fragmentation and difficulty initiating sleep, and may lead to insomnia and sleep deprivation.
If you find your mind racing, or worrying about not being able to sleep during the middle of the night, don’t stay in bed tossing and turning. Instead, get out of bed and sit somewhere in the dark. Do your mind racing in the chair until you are sleepy, and then return to bed. Avoid looking at your phone or turning on the TV during this period as it will just stimulate you more than desired.
Try to read, watch TV or surf the internet outside of your comfy bed. This is because your brain might associate the bed with wakefulness. It’s best to reserve the bed for sleep only.
Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks such as coffee, black and green tea, energy drinks and cola. The effects of caffeine may last for several hours after ingestion. Caffeine can fragment sleep, and cause difficulty initiating sleep. If you drink caffeine, use it only during the first part of the day, however it would be better to look into alternatives such as chicory root ‘coffee’, carob and ginseng.
Get your body moving! Exercise before 2 pm every day. Even stretches or a walk is great for your body’s overall health and can promote continuous sleep. Avoid rigorous exercise before bedtime. Rigorous exercise circulates endorphins into the body which may cause difficulty initiating sleep.
It’s great if you prepare your bedroom for sleeping. A lower temperature can promote better sleep. So open a window or lower the thermostat some time before going to sleep. Having blinds to keep any light out is also great in activating our natural sleep cycle.
For some, the use of CBD oil has shown to be very beneficial. Recent research published in 2019 looked at whether CBD could improve sleep and/or reduce anxiety. The study involved 72 subjects, with 47 experiencing anxiety and 25 experiencing poor sleep. The subjects were each given 25 mg of CBD in capsule form each day. In the first month, 79.2 % of the patients reported lower anxiety levels and 66.7 % reported better sleep.
Sleep is important and you know that too well. Help yourself by trying out as many of these suggestions as you can and implementing them into your routine. It will better your sleep, overall health and well-being.