I find that it is harder to get a good nights sleep than I am use to. I am one of those fortunate people who is asleep almost before my head hits the pillow. Lately, however, that’s not the case. By three o’clock or so I am wide-awake and can’t get back to sleep.
People tell me, “you ate too much before you went to bed,” or ask, “do you find that your head is spinning?” or “do you have worries on your mind?” Unfortunately, at least for sleep problems I don’t particularly suffer from any of those afflictions beyond what I normally deal with.
I thought the problem might be that I read too much before I go to bed. I usually study and read for an hour or so in the late evening when it is quiet and peaceful. But, I have followed that habit for more years than I like to count and have never had this problem before.
So, I did what any person would do who can’t sleep. I got on the computer to find out what is wrong. Now, there is a minefield of information and misinformation. I did find out that a great many people suffer from the problem and I guess I fit loosely into the category of Insomnia. What surprised me even more was the myriad of reasons for not sleeping.
Here are some of the most common reasons listed on line:
– Depression and feeling emotionally flat or hopeless
– Chronic feelings of anxiety and worry
– Recently gone through a traumatic experience
– Medications that afflict sleep patterns.
– Health problems that interfere with sleep
– Sleep environment that is not quiet and comfortable
– Not spending enough time in the sunlight and in darkness at night.
– Not following a routine of when you go to bed and when you get up.
I found this quite interesting, but to be honest just about anyone could fall into one or more of these categories and many of those people sleep well. I was intrigued however, with the idea of not getting enough sun during the day and spending too much time with artificial light at night. This winter for a great many of us in the more northern parts of the continent have experienced more than our share of blustery, cold, sunless, snow-filled days and that has to have an effect on the psyche.
Our brain produces the hormone melatonin to help regulate our sleep-wake cycle. As melatonin is controlled by light exposure, not enough natural light during the day can make your brain feel sleepy, while too much artificial light at night can suppress production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep.
Here are a couple of hints that I am going to put into practice to see if they help. I’m going to increase my exposure to sunlight during the day. A number of sites that I checked out recommend taking time to get outdoors in the winter. I have to admit that I have been pretty housebound this winter and only go out when I absolutely have to and its only been the last little while that I have developed a problem sleeping so maybe there is a connection.
I found the next suggestion intriguing. To boost melatonin production we should use low-wattage light bulbs, avoid bright light at night, turn off the television, smartphone, and computer screens at least one hour before bed. And most importantly make your bedroom as dark as possible and quiet as possible.
Living in a little tourist town that has few tourists during the winter I have no problem with quiet. The only sound I hear at night is an occasional fishing boat chugging its way out into the bay, or one of the town trucks salting the roads. But, there is still that problem with all the light that bombards us from televisions, computer screens, smartphones and the list goes on. And it is true that many of us live in artificial light from the time that we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night.
So, what are we suppose to do to help us sleep better? It seems one of the biggies is to turn the television, computer, phones, play stations and similar devices off at least an hour before going to bed. Also we should avoid hard workouts, alcohol (if you are so inclined) and have your last coffee six to eight hours before you plan to sleep. Smoking is also not recommended before trying to find a peaceful nights rest. Just about every site I looked at advised against taking naps as this begins to throw our inner clock off and confuses our sleep system. As well the room, as previously mentioned, should be quiet and very dark.
I also found the following three suggestions beneficial for when you have followed all the helps for sleeping and they just don’t work. Don’t associate the bedroom with television, computers, etc. What you want is your brain to get the signal that the bedroom is for sleeping and not for playing video games, watching television or talking on the phone. A number of sites recommend getting up when you can’t sleep. Tossing and turning only amps up the anxiety. Get up, leave the bedroom and do something relaxing like drinking a cup of caffeine-free tea, listen to soothing music or spend some time in prayer and meditate on spiritual and uplifting thoughts. When you feel sleepy go back to bed. Finally get rid of the clocks in the bedroom. Watching the minutes tick by when you can’t sleep knowing that you’re going to be exhausted when the alarm sounds is going to make you even more anxious and desperate for sleep.
As a person who has never had a problem sleeping I have never been overly sympathetic with people who can’t sleep. I would say things like “just try harder” or “just don’t think about stuff when you go to bed” and believed those thoughtless, off the cuff remarks were words of wisdom. Wow, was I wrong! You can tell yourself until you are blue in the face to sleep, but if your body isn’t listening there you are. I have more to write on this, but I’ve been writing for the last hour or so and I have to admit I’m starting to feel a bit knackered. I will close the backlit computer screen, turn off the artificial light, and call it a night. Sweet dreams.