If any of this resonates with you, you might be interested in a new book by Henry Nicholls called Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest. Nicholls, a science journalist in England, chose the topic of sleep in part because of his personal experience with narcolepsy, a rare neurological disorder that impacts the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles. So he decided to write a book about how to sleep better.
You may be doing all the right things—respecting your sleep needs and patterns, setting aside an ample amount of time to sleep, keeping a sleep diary—but still experiencing daytime sleepiness, fatigue, or insomnia. If that's the case, you should consider consulting a sleep specialist who can help you set up a better sleep environment, provide support for making behavioral changes that may be interfering with sleep, or possibly diagnose a sleep disorder. You have a right to feel well rested—and there are many resources available to help you get the sleep you need.
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.
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.
Beyond food and plants, regular exercise and turning off electronics can make a huge difference in getting some rest. Exercise wears out the body and is one of the best natural remedies. As for electronics, the blue light emitted can trigger the brain to stay awake. Try developing a nightly bedtime routine that promotes relaxation and allows you to wind down. The brain will begin to associate the routine with sleep and help you get the rest you need.
Use white noise to fall asleep in noisy environments. White noise is a constant, unobtrusive noise that helps you ignore disturbing sounds, like noisy neighbors or a busy street. It can be the sound of static, raindrops, rustling leaves, or calm, wordless music. You can look for a white noise channel on your video or audio streaming service, or invest in a white noise machine.
After being awake for nineteen hours, people who were sleep-deprived were as cognitively impaired as those who were legally drunk… After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours.
The more overstimulated your brain becomes during the day, the harder it can be slow down and unwind at night. During the day, many of us overstress our brains by constantly interrupting tasks to check our phones, emails, or social media. Try to set aside specific times for these things, and focus on one task at a time. When it comes to getting to sleep at night, your brain won’t be accustomed to seeking fresh stimulation and you’ll be better able to unwind.
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.
IT'S 4 A.M. THE CLOCK ticks, the moon glows, the dog snores and you just stare. Perhaps you stare into the blackish red of the inside of your eyelids as you lie still and fetal, thinking if you pretend to be sleeping, the real thing will surely come. Or maybe you stare at the paint chips in the ceiling, then the laundry on the floor, then the glowing 4:01 a.m. time, as you turn and shift and stare some more. And you know you shouldn't be staring – you should be sleeping! You should be logging those crucial seven-plus hours of quality sleep each night, and the frustration that you cannot will yourself to achieve that makes this 4:02 a.m. stare session all the more infuriating. And it's hard to fall asleep when you're infuriated.
Stay out of your head. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over your inability to fall asleep again, because that stress only encourages your body to stay awake. To stay out of your head, focus on the feelings in your body or practice breathing exercises. Take a breath in, then breathe out slowly while saying or thinking the word, “Ahhh.” Take another breath and repeat.
The hypothalamus, a peanut-sized structure deep inside the brain, contains groups of nerve cells that act as control centers affecting sleep and arousal. Within the hypothalamus is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) – clusters of thousands of cells that receive information about light exposure directly from the eyes and control your behavioral rhythm. Some people with damage to the SCN sleep erratically throughout the day because they are not able to match their circadian rhythms with the light-dark cycle. Most blind people maintain some ability to sense light and are able to modify their sleep/wake cycle.
Science shows that meditation significantly lowers stress and reduces anxiety. Meditation makes you aware of your automatc thoughts and impulses, and with that awareness comes more control. You learn to differentiate between a helpful thought and a destructive one. Meditation also rewires your brain, strengthening neural pathways that calm your nervous system.
When it comes to sleeping well, every minute counts. If you don't have one sleepless minute to waste, SleepTabs are the perfect over-the-counter sleep-aid. Just one Unisom SleepTab can help you fall asleep an average of 23 minutes faster. SleepTabs contain the active ingredient doxylamine succinate (25 mg), which is non-narcotic and clinically test to ensure safety, effectiveness and quality. So stop watching the minutes tick by. Fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer with Unisom SleepTabs.
Regular exercise will go a long way toward improving your sleep, Cralle says. Finding the perfect time in your day where a workout won’t hinder your sleep is crucial—some people have no problem falling asleep after an evening workout, but others may need to hit the gym first thing in the morning. The key is working out at least several times a week, whether it’s a 10-minute walk, a yoga class, or a sweaty weight-lifting session.
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.
Before using this medication, tell your doctor or pharmacist your medical history, especially of: breathing problems (such as asthma, emphysema), high pressure in the eye (glaucoma), heart problems, high blood pressure, liver disease, seizures, stomach/intestine problems (such as ulcers, blockage), overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), difficulty urinating (for example, due to enlarged prostate).
In traditional Chinese medicine, insomnia often stems from kidney energy weakness. This syndrome is not necessarily related to kidney disease in Western medicine. A few signs of kidney energy weakness are a low backache, tiredness and fatigue, and a burst of energy at about 11 pm in the evening. Women in menopause often experience this type of insomnia. People who are taking anti-estrogenic drugs such as tamoxifen also experience this type of insomnia, however, they should not take herbal combinations such as the herbal formula liu wei di huang that may increase estrogen levels.
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.
Not convinced? Consider this. One study, published in the journal SLEEP, concluded that people who get 60 minutes of exercise five days per week have more normal REM sleep than non-exercisers. But you might not need to sweat it out for quite that long to reap the benefits. Other findings show that insomniacs who engage in thirty minute spurts of exercise just three or four times a week sleep for nearly an hour longer than sedentary folks, and wake up less frequently during the night.
How melatonin works: It often surprises people to hear it, but melatonin does not work as a sedative. Melatonin production is triggered by exposure to darkness, and is a powerful bio time regulator. It improves sleep by helping to strengthen the body’s sleep-wake cycles. Stronger sleep-wake cycles translate into a more consistent sleep routine. When your bio clock is in sync, it can help improve your mood, daytime performance, energy levels and your overall health, including immune function, and regulation of metabolism, digestion, and appetite.
The artificial (or “blue”) light emitted by screens can disrupt our bodies’ preparations for sleep by stimulating daytime hormones. Dubious bargain: trading sleep for Leno and Letterman. Basner M, Dinges DF. Sleep, 2009, Jul.;32(6):0161-8105. Reduce exposure by turning off TVs, phones, and computers at least one hour before bedtime. Can’t give up the Daily Show? At least dim a screen’s brightness, either manually or with the help of automated programs.
We tend to think of sleep as a time when the mind and body shut down. But this is not the case; sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs. Exactly how this happens and why our bodies are programmed for such a long period of slumber is still somewhat of a mystery. But scientists do understand some of sleep's critical functions, and the reasons we need it for optimal health and wellbeing.
Your health care provider may recommend a polysomnogram or other test to diagnose a sleep disorder. A polysomnogram typically involves spending the night at a sleep lab or sleep center. It records your breathing, oxygen levels, eye and limb movements, heart rate, and brain waves throughout the night. Your sleep is also video and audio recorded. The data can help a sleep specialist determine if you are reaching and proceeding properly through the various sleep stages. Results may be used to develop a treatment plan or determine if further tests are needed.
Hypnosis is a state in which a person is more focused, aware, and open to suggestion. Although how it works is not understood, hypnosis may bring about physiological changes in the body such as decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and alpha wave brain patterns, similar to meditation and other types of deep relaxation. Hypnosis may be helpful in enhancing the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques. But the studies done so far are not well-designed.
SOURCES: Sleep Medicine, Kryger, Meir, et al., Third Edition, 2000. Sleep: "Excessive Daytime Sleepiness and risk of Occupational Injuries in Non-shift Daytime Workers," Vol. no. 3. Sleep: "Dose-response Relationship Between Sleep Duration and Human Psychomotor Vigilance and Subjective Awareness," Vol. 22, No. 2. Sleep: "We Are Chronically Sleep Deprived," Vol. 18 No. 10.
Your need for sleep and your sleep patterns change as you age, but this varies significantly across individuals of the same age. There is no magic “number of sleep hours” that works for everybody of the same age. Babies initially sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours per day, which may boost growth and development (especially of the brain). School-age children and teens on average need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings. Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep.
Circadian rhythms direct a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones. They control your timing of sleep and cause you to be sleepy at night and your tendency to wake in the morning without an alarm. Your body’s biological clock, which is based on a roughly 24-hour day, controls most circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms synchronize with environmental cues (light, temperature) about the actual time of day, but they continue even in the absence of cues.
The federal government’s Healthy People initiative has established a goal of getting more people to get adequate sleep on a regular basis. Their recommended amount of sleep is 8 hours for people 18 to 21 and 7 hours per night for adults over 21. According to their numbers, 69.6% of the population meets this goal, and the government wants to raise this to 70.9% by 2020.
Walia suggests progressive muscle relaxation: Working from your toes to your forehead, tightly tense each muscle group for five seconds, and then relax. Visualization is another classic relaxing technique, in which you picture yourself someplace pleasant and calm. And what about the mother of all sleep remedies – counting sheep? Olson views this as a "mental distraction technique," like visualization. With sleep, he says, "the harder you try to get it, often the more elusive it is." So whether you're counting farm animals or picturing yourself in a hammock in Cabo, the idea is the same, Olson says. "You're getting your mind off of 'I can't sleep; I can't sleep; I can't sleep,' and onto something else."
You know a good night’s sleep is the key to a happy and well-rested tomorrow. And getting enough shut-eye can help you drive more safely, maintain a healthy weight, and even lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes. But if you’re stuck in a cycle of tossing and turning—and then start stressing about the fact that you’re tossing and turning—it's all too easy to feel frustrated. Not so fast: With these tips you’ll be snoozing within minutes of your head hitting the pillow.