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Hey, Sleepyhead! Three Surefire Ways to Improve Your Sleep

Thursday, August 28, 2014


While You Were Sleeping

While You Were Sleeping via Nicki Mannix on flickr (resized)

Are you dragging yourself out of bed in the morning? Do you lie in bed for an hour, or maybe more just pleading for sleep to come? According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 30 per cent of adults complain of insomnia. If you have a hard time falling asleep at night, there are solutions (and let’s rule out the kind of solution that involves taking an Ambien). Read on for three suggestions that will change the way you sleep for the better. 

1. Unplug

The problem with taking your electronics to bed with you is that all of these screens emit a high percentage of blue light, which mimics the spectrum of daylight. Using them right before you sleep kind of tricks your brain into thinking that it is daytime, so it disrupts your production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. Give yourself an hour of screen-free time before bed, and see if that translates into an easier transition to sleep. 

2. Unwind

It’s a common complaint: You’re trying to fall asleep at night but can’t seem to shut off your brain.  Does this sound familiar? Are you constantly running through lists, thinking about work projects, and emails you need to return? Are you also checking said email right before you go to bed? Or working on your proposal until you are so tired you must sleep? It is unreasonable to put your brain in a hyper-aroused state and then just expect it to suddenly switch gears when you decide it is finally time to go to sleep. Our brains cannot always do that. Those of us who tend to be over-thinkers or kind of anxious individuals to begin with often have a harder time making this transition. 

If you’ve followed step one and turned off your electronics an hour before bed, so that should automatically help you slow down your brain. In an article for the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Alon Avidan, who directs the Neurology Clinic at UCLA, said that the same people who have a difficult time shutting off their brains are also more sensitive to the effects of blue light. 

So what are you supposed to do with this hour of time? Take the time to rediscover what relaxes you: read a book (not on your Kindle…an actual book), talk with your partner, do a guided meditation, take a bath. If you are chronically having a hard time getting to sleep, persevere – doing this will take some practice but it will be well worth once your brain gets used to winding down and you start catching up on essential sleep. 

3. Exercise. 

As with the the first two suggestions, adding regular exercise to your routine is not a magic bullet. It takes time to see the effects on your sleep. In two small preliminary sleep studies researchers found that after four months of adding regular exercise into their lives, people with chronic insomnia were sleeping on average at least 45 minutes more per night than they were  before they added exercise, and they reported the sleep being more restful. That may not sound like much, but exercise produced at least as good if not better results than commercial sleep aids (without the side effects). They found that exercise began changing people’s stress response. There appears to be a link between regular exercise and brain function, and if you 
are not currently exercising, but are suffering from insomnia, it may be in your interest to do your own self-study. 

These suggestions are all going to meet with pushback from time-pressed people who will be working right up until the last minute, or simply can’t find a slice of time to add exercise in, no matter what the cost to sleep. If you’re one of these people and you still want to improve your sleep, you may have to be a bit more diligent and add things like a sleep mask to your nightly routine, or you may have to get outside help in the form of acupuncture, meditation or other sleep aids. But don’t forget that the myriad benefits of sleep, include increasing your productivity, which will allow you to maximize your waking hours to much greater effect. Also, if you’ve been having trouble sleeping for a while now, you may be desperate enough to change your habits. 

If so, you’ll find that making at least some of these changes could really change your sleep cycle, and lead to the holy grail of all insomniacs - sweet dreams.

Erin Brockmeyer

Erin Brockmeyer, LAc, is owner and acupuncturist at Solstice Natural Health in downtown Portland.  She creates custom health plans for patients to help them tackle their most complicated health concerns, including infertility, prenatal care, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions and chronic and acute pain conditions.  

Visit her website www.solsticeacupuncture.com for more information and to download her free e-book 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health Today.  


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