Monkeys in the Jungle!
Sleep is one of those things that everybody needs to stay healthy. But many people just don't get enough of it. In fact, most people say that seep is one of the things they look forward to the most when they go on holidays!
So why is something that's free and makes you feel so good, so hard to come by? Why do people choose to de-prioritise sleep when it's one of the most rewarding things you can do for your health and well-being? And more importantly, why do so many people have such poor quality sleep?
I have very few clients who tell me they have really great sleep every night. Most people have trouble either falling asleep or staying asleep, and some have both issues.
In order to become tired and fall asleep, you need a hormone called melatonin to cause you to feel tired. Melatonin is produced when it's dark. If you've ever been camping for a few days, you probably had the experience of sitting around the campfire after dinner and then started yawning because you were feeling sleepy, only to look at your watch or phone and realise it was only 7.30pm! That's because when you go camping without electricity, you tend to live by the rhythm of the sun. You eat earlier before it gets too dark, and you go to bed earlier because your melatonin is produced when the sun goes down and it makes you tired. Then, you wake when the sun comes up because your melatonin production switches off.
You see melatonin production is governed by how dark or light it is in your environment. In your own home, fully lit rooms at night, combined with television, computer and phone screens, all contribute to the suppression of melatonin production which leads to the disruption of your circadian rhythm. This is one of the main reasons people have trouble falling asleep.
Another reason is, what I call, "monkey-mind"! This is when your thoughts are flitting through your mind like a monkey jumping through the jungle tree tops. It's really hard to stop them! Monkey-mind is often the result of having too much to do or having too much stress. It can leave you lying in your bed watching your precious sleeping hours tick away on the clock. Finding a strategy to stop those uncontrollable monkeys jumping around is of paramount importance if you ever want to get to sleep.
And then there's the other issue of not being able to stay asleep.
This seems to be more of a problem for many people I've talked to. Falling asleep, only to wake a few hours later and then spend the next 2 or 3 hours staring at the ceiling is not what a good nights sleep is all about. Again, this is a disruption to your normal circadian rhythm.
The reason for this type of disruption can be varied. Women can find variations in their sleep cycle, depending where they are at in their menstrual cycle, or whether they are approaching or going through menopause.
Sleep can also be disrupted by parasite infections in your gut, blood sugar imbalances, stress, overheating and those wretched little monkeys jumping through your brain!
Poor quality sleep from whatever reason, leaves you feeling frustrated, angry and exhausted, and if it's not resolved quickly, can lead to various health challenges.
What can you do if you suffer from sleep issues?
First of all, identify whether you have sleep onset insomnia (where you can't fall asleep), or sleep maintenance insomnia (where you can't stay asleep), or a combination of both.
If you have trouble falling asleep, take a look at your night time environment and see whether you are blocking the production of melatonin from too much light or from the blue light from screens.
The next thing is to make an honest appraisal of anything that's causing you to feel stressed or anxious in any area of your life. Write it down and get it out of your head. Then, look at each thing you've written and if you can do something about it, make an action plan, if you can't, let it go. This can be a very freeing exercise.
And if it's those monkeys keeping you awake, learn some techniques on how to calm your mind. Start with learning how to deep breathe. This alone has a calming effect on your mind. Maybe have a cup of chamomile tea with a little honey before bed. Chamomile is a calming and relaxing herb that can help with sleep and stress.
Identifying the cause of sleep maintenance insomnia can be a little more tricky. Some of the more common causes are blood sugar imbalances, caffeine, stress, and you guessed it, those annoying little monkeys again!
If blood sugar imbalances are responsible for you sleep issues, it's most likely because you are eating the wrong types of food or the wrong ratios of food. Highly refined carbohydrates will cause your blood sugar to spike - a bit like riding a roller coaster - it will go high and then it will go low. Try to balance your meals with relatively equal amounts of protein and carbohydrates, choosing vegetables and low glycaemic load foods as your carbohydrate sources. Stay away from over-processed, refined flours and grains - they act like sugar in your body, causing blood sugar spikes. And of course, stay away from sugar!
Caffeine is another sleep disturbing substance. It causes your cortisol (your morning wake up hormone) to be elevated, giving you energy. Studies have shown that caffeine prevents you entering into the deep levels of sleep necessary for healing and deep rest. People will often say they can drink a cup of coffee before bed and still sleep, but in reality, they are not entering the deep levels of sleep needed for restoration and healing. Limit your caffeine to 1 cup/day before midday.
There may be any number of other reasons why you are having trouble sleeping, but doing some of the things mentioned above may be enough to help you get back on track with your sleep cycle.
If you'd like a copy of my "Sleep Hygiene Guide", PM me your email and I'll send it to you.
If you feel you need help to start sleeping properly, get in touch. I'd love to help you.
Sleep is so important to your physical and mental health. Don't put up with poor quality sleep any longer.
Enjoy your journey to health and wellness,