Clusters of sleep-promoting neurons in many parts of the brain become more active as we get ready for bed. Nerve-signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters can “switch off” or dampen the activity of cells that signal arousal or relaxation. GABA is associated with sleep, muscle relaxation, and sedation. Norepinephrine and orexin (also called hypocretin) keep some parts of the brain active while we are awake. Other neurotransmitters that shape sleep and wakefulness include acetylcholine, histamine, adrenaline, cortisol, and serotonin.
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Similarly, if you’re having sleep troubles, limit your cell phone use around bedtime. One study found that people who spent more time on smartphones, especially close to bedtime, were more likely to have shorter sleep duration, poorer sleep quality and take longer to fall asleep (PLoS One, Nov. 9, 2016). So, turn off your cell phone, computer and television at least an hour before bedtime. (See the chart for other behavioral changes you can make to improve your sleep.)
There are two hormones in your body that regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin sends signals to the brain when you are full. However, when you don’t get the sleep you need, your ghrelin levels go up, stimulating your appetite so you want more food than normal, and your leptin levels go down, meaning you don’t feel satisfied and want to keep eating. So, the more sleep you lose, the more food your body will crave.
Because tryptophan is present in milk and warm milk helps some people feel drowsy, tryptophan became a much sought-after item for the treatment of insomnia at natural food stores. Yet some people who took tryptophan as a natural supplement developed a syndrome eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). Some people died. Scientists later believed the deaths were the result of taking the amino acid tryptophan. Not everyone who took tryptophan, however, experienced these side effects. In addition, not everyone who took tryptophan received help for insomnia.
The research team, led by Floor Kroese, surveyed 177 people on Amazon's Mechanical Turk to assess what bedtime procrastination is and who is likely to do it. They asked participants to rate, on a scale of 1 (almost never) to 5 (almost always) how much the following statements applied to them ("R" items are those that are not typical of bedtime procrastinators):
Melatonin supplements are widely recommended for various sleep conditions, but the best evidence is for help with sleep problems caused by shift work or jet lag. Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the brain. It is produced from serotonin when exposure to light decreases at night. It is used in conditions where sleep is disordered due to low levels of melatonin at night such as aging, affective disorders (e.g. depression), delayed sleep-phase disorder, or jet lag.
According to the European Neurology Journal, calcium levels are at their highest during our deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep periods. What this means is that if you never get to the REM sleep phase or if it’s limited, it could be related to a calcium deficiency. Researchers indicate that the calcium is important because it helps the cells in the brain use the tryptophan to create melatonin — a natural body-producing sleep aid. (4)
STRESS: When you’re stressed, your flight-or-fight response is active during the night, and your sleep quality is going to be shallow. It’s natural: If you have kids, you are programmed to be able to respond to your environment during the night to make sure you’re not getting eaten by a predator. Parents have this issue when their fight-or-flight response system is overly activated by worrying about their kid, and that worry actually makes their sleep quality worse.
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7. Reduce your overall stress. At the same time, try to do something productive or enjoyable each day. As da Vinci said, a well-spent day brings happy sleep (and a well-spent life brings happy death). While lying in bed, do some deep breathing: breathe in through your nose and hold the air in for several seconds, then purse your lips and gradually let the air out. Let out as much air as you can and start again. Deep breathing also helps with controlling pain.
On the other hand, if you find you're waking up too early in the morning or have advanced sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light late afternoon and could try taking a walk outdoors or light therapy for two to three hours in the evening. Home light therapy units are available and may be recommended by your doctor or sleep specialist to use in conjunction with your sleep therapy.
Dr. Goldstein warned, however, that the sleep you get from an antihistamine isn’t going to be as restorative as unmedicated sleep. “It’s like alcohol,” she told us. “You’ll get sleep, but you’re not going to wake up with mounds of energy.” Dr. Zammit explains, “When you take a sedating antihistamine, REM sleep may be suppressed at the beginning of the night. But then it rebounds at the end of the night, and this can lead to vivid, intense, and sometimes disturbing dreams.”
Frankly, we feel like spending that energy focusing on falling asleep might just tire us out enough to drop off anyway. But if you're out of other options—and don't want to take medication—it may be worth practicing this technique before bed for a couple weeks and see if you notice any changes. Make sure you're not also doing these other 10 habits that can actually sabotage your sleep, according to our nutritionist.
Before setting off on this path of personal improvement, you should candidly assess your level of commitment. Are you willing to make some hard choices? Is it a good time in your life to focus on your sleep and set necessary boundaries? Can you see this process through to its end? If your life is in an uproar, now may not be the perfect opportunity to focus on your sleep. But if you're ready and willing to improve your sleep, there is no better time than the present to make some changes.
In Ayurvedic medicine, insomnia is often associated with a vata imbalance. Vata regulates breathing and circulation. People with a vata imbalance often notice irritability, anxiety, and fear with insomnia. One Ayurvedic treatment is the application of oil on the head and feet. For the pitta type, room temperature coconut oil is used, for the vata type, warm sesame oil is applied, and for the kapha type, warm mustard oil is often applied.
Sleep is not just a block of time when you are not awake. Thanks to sleep studies done over the past several decades, it is now known that sleep has distinctive stages that cycle throughout the night. Your brain stays active throughout sleep, but different things happen during each stage. For example, certain stages are needed to help you feel rested and energetic the next day, and other stages help you learn and make memories. A number of vital tasks carried out during sleep help maintain good health and enable people to function at their best. On the other hand, not getting enough sleep can be dangerous for both your mental and physical health.*
See a Doctor. While lifestyle changes are the first line of treatment for sleeplessness, if you’re still not getting enough rest after improving your bedtime routine and trying a variety of relaxation strategies, a physician may be able to help determine if your sleeplessness is merely a symptom of another health concern, and prescribe appropriate treatment.