You have a peak moment of awakeness during the morning. After lunch you usually have a glucose spike, especially if you have a big heavy lunch, like a cheeseburger. That glucose spike combined with a circadian dip gives you a period of fatigue between around 2 and 4pm. You’ll then have another spike in alertness right before dinner, and then you’ll start getting tired again closer to bedtime. That’s your 24-hour circadian rhythm, basically.
Certain protein-rich foods like milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy contain an amino acid called tryptophan that causes sleepiness, says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. For best results, combine these foods with a source of carbohydrates, which help more tryptophan enter the brain. Some recommendations: roasted soybeans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, cheddar cheese, canned tuna, and pistachios. You don't need much: "Even smaller snacks can provide a tryptophan dose that studies have shown to be significant in helping with sleep," Rumsey says.
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What to do: I drink a tablespoon of tart cherry juice at night to help with sleep quality, especially on days with intense workouts since it also seems to help with muscle recovery and stiffness. Cherry juice can even be added to chamomile tea or other relaxing herbal teas (with the honey salt remedy above) to help improve the taste. I definitely recommend organic cherry juice if you can find it since it is concentrated and cherries are typically on the Dirty Dozen list.
It'll be easier to fall asleep if your room is completely dark, so cover up any blinking clocks, turn off your lamp, and pull your curtains to block lights from the street. And remember for tomorrow night: always dim your lights a few hours before bed. As Logie tells me, exposure to bright lights — like from your TV, lamps, or phone — in the evening can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Melatonin. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that increases at night. It is triggered by darkness and its levels remain elevated throughout the night until suppressed by the light of morning. Although melatonin does not appear to be particularly effective for treating most sleep disorders, it can help sleep problems caused by jet lag and shift work. Simple exposure to light at the right time, however, might be just as effective. If you take melatonin, be aware that it can interfere with certain blood pressure and diabetes medications. It’s best to stick with low doses—1 to 3 milligrams for most people—to minimize side effects and next-day drowsiness.
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Even a hint of dim light—8 to 10 lux—has been shown to delay the release of nighttime melatonin in humans. The feeblest of bedside lamps pumps out twice as much: anywhere from 20 to 80 lux. A subtly lit living room, where most people reside in the hours before bed, will hum at around 200 lux. Despite being just 1 to 2 percent of the strength of daylight, this ambient level of incandescent home lighting can have 50 percent of the melatonin-suppressing influence within the brain.
Probably the most commonly known characteristic that can help through food is tryptophan — yes, that sleepiness from the Thanksgiving turkey is no joke. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can help the brain get into a relaxed state, similar to serotonin and melatonin. You can obtain tryptophan and serotonin from carbohydrates, particularly 100 percent whole grain oats, brown rice, corn or quinoa.
You should then spend 10 seconds trying to clear your mind before thinking about one of the three following images: You're lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but a clear blue sky above you; you're lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room; or you say "don't think, don't think, don't think" to yourself over and over for about 10 seconds.
There are several different types of prescription sleeping pills, classified as sedative hypnotics. In general, these medications act by working on receptors in the brain to slow down the nervous system. Some medications are used more for inducing sleep, while others are used for staying asleep. Some last longer than others in your system (a longer half-life), and some have a higher risk of becoming habit forming.
But then something changed starting at around the ninth night. And honestly, I can’t be sure if it was due to the technique itself or the sheer boredom caused by trying to calm my body into a lump-like state. I relaxed my muscles and visualized swinging in a velvety hammock. And the next thing I knew, it was around 3 a.m., and I woke up, awkwardly splayed over my bed, with my feet still touching the floor and the bedside light still on. I was deeply tired and only woke enough to swing my legs into bed and turn off the lamp.
Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain, may also help you fall asleep faster when taken as a supplement. Triggered by the absence of light, this natural sleep aid regulates the body’s internal clock, ensuring we are tired at night and mentally and physically alert during the day. A recent study published in the journal Critical Care found that melatonin improved sleep quality and reduced nighttime disturbances in its healthy subjects, and experts from Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center discovered that melatonin supplements increased sleep time by 13 minutes. Supplements can be found in health food stores and pharmacies, but read up on the things you need to know before taking melatonin for sleep and talk to your doctor about whether melatonin is a suitable natural insomnia cure for you. Don’t miss the 10 best vitamins for sleep.
Unwind by keeping the lights low. Light signals the brain that it's time to wake up. Staying away from bright lights (including computer screens!), as well as meditating or listening to soothing music, can help your body relax. Try to avoid TV, computers and other electronics, and using your phone (including texting) at least 1 hour before you go to bed.
How is it possible to be sleep deprived without knowing it? Most of the signs of sleep deprivation are much more subtle than falling face first into your dinner plate. Furthermore, if you’ve made a habit of skimping on sleep, you may not even remember what it feels like to be truly wide-awake, fully alert, and firing on all cylinders. Maybe it feels normal to get sleepy when you’re in a boring meeting, struggling through the afternoon slump, or dozing off after dinner, but the truth is that it’s only “normal” if you’re sleep deprived.
Imagine yourself drifting in a blissful slumber while practicing deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Treating insomnia with a self-administered muscle relaxation training program: a follow-up. Gustafson R. Psychological reports, 1992, May.;70(1):0033-2941. Starting at one end of the body and working up or down, clench and then release each section of muscles for instant all-over relaxation.
We need to sleep to think clearly, react quickly, and create memories. In fact, the pathways in the brain that help us learn and remember are very active when we sleep. Skimping on sleep has a price. Cutting back by even 1 hour can make it tough to focus the next day and slow your response time. Studies have shown that when you lack sleep, you are more likely to make bad decisions and take more risks. This can result in poor performance on the job or at school and a greater risk for an accident or car crash.
She happens to be a licensed wellness practitioner who studies meditation, stress, and breathing techniques, and she told me it would change my life. You simply breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. She explained that the studied combination of numbers has a chemical-like effect on our brains and would slow my heart rate and soothe me right to sleep that night. “It works,” she told me. “It’s crazy.”