Why Can't I Sleep?!
Updated: Mar 14, 2019
I honestly feel that there are few things that can completely rock you like lack of sleep.
Maybe I'm just saying that because I literally had 14 days of consecutive crap sleep . I'm not taking about waking up a few times, some nights I would lay with my eyes closed but fully awake until the sun came up, then would get maybe 30-60 mins sleep at 6:30 am.
I know during the hours I was awake, I was literally walking along the precipice of becoming my absolute worst self. Agitated, impatient, moody, emotional and unable to deal with even the most minor complication. If that isn't an unpleasant person, I don't know what is.
I posted on my instagram story the other day asking for "Sleep Tips". I was surprised at the number of responses I received - many were very similar, some were a little alternative, but most of all, they all work for people in my network.
There is NOTHING I love more than sharing strategies that actually work!
In this age of the undoubtable "Dr Google" obsession, we often go hunting online for solutions to our big problems, and we find lists of things that some "research" has suggested is effective. We spend an hour or two obsessively searching and reading and then, most of the time, we don't actually do anything about it.
So after quizzing my following, I gained some really interesting and valuable insight. Before I go into that I wanted to talk about sleep ( feel free to skip ahead to the findings).
WHY DO WE NEED SLEEP?
Sleeping is often seen as "shutting down", but our brains and bodies are still busy working during the hours we spend asleep. There is actually still a lot that scientists don't know about sleep, or what it's exact purpose is. A lot of the data points at memory retention and brain function (in a nutshell, the brain uses this time to process and store the memories and experiences from that day) and memory retention has been shown to increase after a good night's sleep.
I found that interesting :)
There has been links between non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and the release of growth hormones being released in the body. Many health professionals will stress the importance of sleep in seeing the best results from exercise, coinciding with this idea.
Also, a study published The Journal of Neuroscience found that healthy people displayed schizophrenia-like symptoms (such as hallucinations) after only 24 hours of sleep deprivation. So we obviously do need sleep... and I'm feeling a little better about acting like a bit of a bitch when I was having sleep issues.
I'm actually excited to share these with you guys!
From asking you for your best sleep tips, I learnt that "I cannot sleep" is actually a multi-faceted problem and it could realistically be broken up into three seperate issues.
1. I can't (or I struggle to) fall asleep.
2. I can't sleep through the night.
3. I have no energy when I wake up/find it hard to get out of bed in the morning.
These three things do go hand-in-hand, they can have a roll-on effect, and they can exist completely separately. From all of the "sleep tips" that were shared with me, I was able to understand how each tip actually related to and/or solved one (or more) of the above problems.
1. I CAN'T FALL ASLEEP
ME: Oh my god, what a day! I can't wait to get into bed.
* head hits the pillow *
ANXIETY: Hellooo, it's me...
ME: Please no. ANXIETY: Hey, remember that time in year 9 drama when you got on stage and forgot your lines and then froze in front of everyone? Remember? I do.
Why does this happen? I think you'd find if you were to sit in a completely black room, with no obvious sounds and nothing to distract yourself with (ie. phone) your brain may start doing this exact same thing.
When we sleep, it is the only time during the day where we are actually "free" of distractions - nothing to entertain our sight (as our eyes are closed... obviously) and, depending on where you are sleeping, it is relatively quiet. This is the issue, and it is also the reason these next tips are effective.
i. Sound Apps
I have used these before and I can vouch for their effectiveness. There are a few out there, some are free and even have timers so the app will automatically close itself after X amount of time (I find 30 mins to be perfect).
I had a number of people recommend THUNDER and RAIN sounds - which is funny because with Relax Melodies you put together your own mix and I always use thunder. I also like slow waves (which sounds a little like rain).
Here are some links to some that were recommended:
- Headspace (this one is not free): https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/headspace-meditation-sleep/id493145008?mt=8
ii. White Noise in general
I sleep with my ceiling fan on all the time, almost all year (even in winter when it is not crazy cold). We moved into our new place a few weeks ago and we have an aircon unit, but no fan. Well, who knew that would've made such a huge impact on my sleep!
White noise (or rain, or thunder) are great because they literally empty your mind. I used to sleep with a movie on in the background, it is effective sometimes, but other times you may get caught up in the dialogue.
This one came up a lot too. I honestly think mediation is fantastic tool, not just for sleep. I also know that it is one of those things we all know we should do more often, and we just don't. If you can make time for mediation (and there are great apps such as Headspace to help) - that is great! I do try to fit it into my schedule as much as I can but for me, and many others, it is not possible to do this every single night before bed (or other things take priority over this).
iv. Reducing Screen Time
Many studies have been conducted and it is suggested that avoiding screens at least 2 hours before bed time is the best way to optimise sleep and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. If you are like me and get your best work done at night-time, dim your screens and don't use your phone once you get into bed.
Because this one came up a number of times, I did a bit of research. Screens (phone, computer, TV etc) give off a number of different lights, the blue light they emit (and exposure to it) has been known to disrupt sleep. Why? Because it interrupts our circadian rhythm - our body's natural 24-hour cycle telling us when it is time to be awake and when it is time to sleep. It means our body believes it is not yet time to sleep, when in reality it has probably been dark for hours.
On further examination in one study, the group who were exposed to this blue light produced less melatonin (a sleep-related hormone). I'll talk a little more about melatonin next.
Ps. The irony that I am writing this blog on my laptop at 10pm.
v. Melatonin Tablets
As mentioned, melatonin is a naturally produced hormone that is related to sleep. Apparently our bodies begin to increase production around 9pm, our bodies are just so interesting!
Melatonin also aids in cooling the body, it seems that temperature is more important to our quality of sleep than we give it credit for!
If our bodies are a little depleted of melatonin, we may experience decreased "sleepiness" and poor sleep quality. Quite a few people in my poll said that melatonin has personally helped them, some said it had not. On closer investigation this divide was linked to the different types of melatonin tables that are available.
Pharmacy-bought melatonin was judged as not effective.
Melatonin acquired through a doctor prescription or from the US/Canada were deemed to be very effective (you can purchase from up North online)!
vi. Avoid Coffee/Caffeine after 1pm
Even tea (with caffeine), just don't do it. Espresso martinis get me EVERY time - delicious but definitely limit your intake and make sure you dance the energy off before heading home haha.
Note: I do have an afternoon coffee sometimes, we are all human. If you are REALLY struggling with sleep then I would definitely avoid doing this as a trial.
2. I CAN'T SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT
Isn't this just the worst? You wake up every 1 or 2 hours, tossing and turning, and by the time morning rolls around you feel as though you may as well have pulled an all-nighter.
The things listed above will not only help you to fall asleep, but will also increase the quality of your sleep. There are a number of other things you can do to increase your sleep quality too:
i. Essential Oils
So we know that calmness and sleep go hand in hand (the same way anxiety can disrupt sleep). It was no uprise when I had a few people say that lavender oil in a diffuser has worked wonders for their sleeping behaviour.
Our sense of smell is directly linked to the brain, and in particular, memory and emotion. The smells that we surround ourselves with have profound yet subconscious effects on our mood. Lavender is the most widely researched essential oil - if you want to know more about it's crazy list of benefits do a simple google search but SLEEP QUALITY is high up on that list!
These essential oils are also related to improved sleep (though they haven't been studied as closely): chamomile, ylang-ylang, valerian, neroli & cedar wood.
How do you use them? Get a diffuser and use it with any of these oils for sleep time.
ii. Room Temperature
You know those winter nights where you get snuggled up under layers of blankets and sleep like a baby? Alternately, those hot summer nights where you lay awake, deciding whether you want to sweat to death under the sheets, or let your leg free and risk being eaten by a monster? There is an actual optimum temperature range for great sleep!
The ideal temperature is anywhere between 18-22 degrees... otherwise known as, room temperature. Shocker.
iii. Exercise in the Daytime
If you are physically tired you'll sleep better. This does't mean you have to have a heavy session at the gym every day, but it is a good idea to try get your steps up (extra bonus: it'll help you clear your mind also. A clear mind is good for sleep too).
I've heard things about not exercising too late in the evening, your body does need to wind down before bed, and that includes a stable resting heart rate (hence why redlining your heart rate would be a bad idea too late). However, a walk is always a good idea, just slow down the pace if you are a fitting one in during the evening.
iv. Things Already Mentioned
Reduced screen time & melotonin are not only suggested to aid the time it takes you to fall asleep, but could also increase your sleep quality. An even better reason to give both of these things a try!
v. Selenite Crystal Under your Pillow
I actually had a few people mention this one, it is apparently "the MVP of crystals". An article on SporteLuxe.com says "if you're looking for a mineral that'll instantly clear your energetic field and just make you feel good, selenite is your go-to!"
I've never tried it but we are presenting all options here :)
3. I CAN'T GET UP IN THE MORNING
This is a kinda related issue, but it is also in a different league. I'll explain.
We may have had a horrible night's sleep and therefore it is an absolute STRUGGLE to get out of bed in the morning.
However, we may have had a decent night sleep (or overslept) and still have the same issue. I have been guilty of this in the past... like big time guilty.
i. Get Enough Sleep
Yep, we all know. Optimum amount of sleep is apparently linked to age (according to the Sleep Foundation), here are the guidelines:
Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range is 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5) Younger Adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours. Adults (26-64): Sleep range is 7-9 hours. Older Adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours.
ii. Stressful/Mundane Life Situations
At times in my life when I struggled most with this, there has been one commonality: staying in bed is just a lot more pleasant than what I need to get up to do that day. Whether it was a job I hated doing, or not having work (for a period before starting uni I thought I'd try "funemployment" - it was not fun, it was super boring/un-stimulating/unfulfilling and lead to terrible sleep habits).
When you really don't enjoy what you have on during the day, it is pretty easy to understand WHY you are not bounding out of bed in the morning.
iii. Mental Health Issues
Inability to get out of bed or oversleeping can be symptoms of depression. It is always wise to go and speak to a doctor if you are experiencing changes to your sleep patterns (especially if you are suffering from other symptoms associated with depression).
iv. Morning Routine *
This is a big one! It isn't always as easy as saying "ohhh I hate my job, thats why I don't want to get out of bed. I'll just quit and all will be well". So what can we do if changing our daily duties isn't a possibility right now? Create a morning routine that makes us excited for bed, here are some examples:
Choose a breakfast that you LOVE and can make daily (yes it might mean getting up a little bit earlier). I'm always motivated by food so this helps me haha.
We bought a good coffee machine (Nespresso Creatista - HIGHLY recommend), and then I levelled it up. I bought Lindt chocolate flakes for the top of my cappuccino, it is my little daily treat, I think about it as soon as I wake up (piggy) and I'm more likely to get out of bed quicker than snoozing another 13 times.
Whatever you are motivated by, get to bed early enough and make a routine that you look forward to. Maybe a morning walk, gym session, designated puppy play time... Just some options :)
v. Put Your Alarm Clock on the Other Side of the Room
I couldn't do this (I set two alarms each morning), but some people swear by it. This way, you can't snooze continuously for an hour. Your alarm goes off and you are UP!
Feel free to comment any other recommendations below!
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who left feedback after my instagram story!
Hoping you get some useful information out this article.
Love, Strength & Great Sleep,