It is extremely frustrating when we want nothing more than to fall asleep, but we find ourselves tossing and turning and that peaceful slumber remains elusive. Thankfully, breakthrough brain science insights have uncovered simple steps to help your body and brain get back on track to fall asleep fast, sleep through the night and wake up feeling refreshed.
About the Sleep / Wake Cycle
Your brain has not changed much in thousands of years, thus we can look to our ancestors for answers on sleep. Just like our ancestors, our sleep/wake cycles are based on the sunrise and sunset. This is your circadian biological clock which is found in your brain.
The key take home message is we want light to be present and absent at certain times of the day. Light triggers key hormones in our brain that help us wake up. On the other hand, the absence of light causes the release of hormones that help us fall asleep.
Our modern world is filled with light exposure at night that is confusing our brain. In fact, around a quarter of Americans report acute insomnia each year and this nighttime light exposure plays a role.
The hopeful news is insomnia is often treatable.
To optimize your sleep, first take a look at how your daily activities can throw off your circadian clock.
1. Time Your Exposure to Light
Your circadian clock is essentially a little clump of cells in the brain.
When we’re exposed to light during the day affects our entire sleep/wake cycle.
If you have trouble falling asleep at night there’s something you can do first thing in the morning to help you fall asleep at night: take a 10-minute walk outside soon after waking up.
If you can’t get in a walk around the block, try to get natural light near a window.
This exposure to natural light will help set your internal “clock” and essentially begin a countdown that will help you fall asleep that evening.
2. Pick Up a Pen and Paper
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and your anxiety grows as you begin to stress about not getting back to sleep?
There’s something you can do before you fall asleep to reduce the chances of this happening, and it has to do with the way your brain stores and retains information.
The moment your brain takes information and stores it somewhere “safe,” you let go of it. Think of phone numbers. Once you store them in your cell phone they disappear from your memory. Take advantage of this aspect of how your brain works and about an hour before bed, write down everything that is worrying you.
Use an old fashioned pen and paper (not your computer or phone), and jot down upsetting, stressful or nagging thoughts.. If you happen to wake up in the middle of the night, have a pen and paper by your bedside and scribble any worries that are keeping you awake. Tell your brain these thoughts are now stored somewhere safe and you will deal with them in the morning.
3. Be Careful What You Eat Before Bed
What you eat can impact your sleep and is important to consider the last meal before bedtime. Certain foods and beverages ingested in the evening — such spicy or greasy foods, caffeine, and even alcohol — can seriously disrupt your sleep.
On the other hand, if we are too hungry in the middle of the night we can find ourselves taking that half awake trip to the fridge and make some eating decisions that we can regret. Instead, try to eat enough nutritious food during the day to avoid those middle of the night runs to the refrigerator.
For a healthy bedtime snack, try a small portion made up of healthy fat, protein and/or low glycemic carbs — for instance:
- Steel-cut oats
- Nut butter
- Plain yogurt
- Brown rice
These are three tips that have been scientifically proven to help you sleep better tonight.
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