With the uncertainties of late and growing anxiety due to current circumstances, it can be a struggle to fall asleep when your mind is racing. Here are practical tips to help you get into a relaxed body and mind so you can sleep easy.
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I'm sure you've watched the news, looked through social media and heard from loved ones about this news and that. None of which are usually positive.
Depending on what line of work you're in (eg. news anchor versus a social media content creator versus a hospitalist), you may be bombarded with different types of news to different extents.
If you're lucky enough, you may work a full day without even hearing anything negative outside of your cubicle all day. But for some of us, our job requires us to keep updated with the newest information out.
In those cases, you can find it difficult to not become emotionally and mentally invested in all these stories. This makes it easy for us to replay it over and over in our mind while lying in bed tossing and turning. And I'm sure you are aware, this can't be healthy in any respect.
I found myself in this situation recently, and what was worse, I felt this anxiety and fear snowball and just grow with each passing minute of losing sleep.
It was a sick negative feedback loop of "negative information" which created anxiety which then created negative thoughts of "what ifs" which created more anxiety and fear and so forth until you realise the sun is now rising and you haven't slept a wink.
To break the cycle, I needed to figure out what works to help me ease my mind and quiet my thoughts so that I can physically rest easy and drift off to sleep in no time. Here's what I figured out.
1. Regimented Time
Humans are creatures of habit especially when it comes to sleep. The body’s automatic clock (circadian rhythm) usually knows when it should be awake (when there's daylight) and when it should get ready to sleep (when it's dark).
That’s why people in countries where daylight is very short each day, such as Iceland during the winter months, find themselves having a difficult time adjusting with sleep. With the longer periods without sunlight, the body is signaled to go to sleep before it should, Some will go as far as using aids such as UV lights at home to compensate for the lack of daylight.
Whether you live in extreme cases as this or in a more manageable timezone, your body is still requiring a regimen when it comes to bedtime. This means, take away anything that gets you in the habit of thinking "10 more minutes of this" before bedtime, only to realise that 60 minutes have actually passed and you've just lost an hour of sleep.
That’s why it’s important to get ready for bed at a similar time every night. That will signal your body that it’s soon time to close your eyes and drift off. But before you do that, there are some things to do to help make falling asleep easier.
2. Last Meal of the Day
Have you ever experienced that burning sensation or heaviness in your chest and throat that makes you uncomfortable after you eat a big meal?
That’s probably acid reflux. It’s a very unpleasant situation, and can be a cause for some people to have difficulty sleeping or falling asleep. I didn't realise what it was until I went to go see a physician. One you recognise what this is that's keeping you up at night, there are easy lifestyle adjustments that can make this problem avoidable.
The last meal or snack of your day should be at least 3-4 hours prior to bedtime. Why is this timeline important?
It takes about six to eight hour for food to completely empty out of your stomach and into your small intestines. But what’s going on during that time that doesn’t allow you to sleep?
Your stomach is releasing acid to break down the food. If you lay down during the time your stomach is full of food and acid, gravity will take over, causing the contents of your stomach to come back into your oesophagus. That's what leads to that uncomfortable burning feeling.
It’s safe to say that you’ll have trouble falling asleep with this discomfort. Doing this repeatedly can also have long-term effects, resulting in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Instead, if you wait 3-4 hours after your last meal or snack to go to bed, you’re stomach will be close to empty by then allowing you to avoid painful nights of propping your pillow up behind your head to ease the pain..
3. Blue Light
The infamous blue light that is found in any technology with a screen - from your iPad to laptop to mobile phones - is a big contributor for keeping people up at night. But how can a little light cause trouble sleeping?
As I mentioned in my first tip about regimented bedtime, daylight tells our bodies that it’s time to wake up and stay awake. Why is this important to your circadian rhythm?
Your body’s circadian rhythm requires signals (ie. light wavelengths) from the environment to signal your body when it’s time to be awake versus sleep. That signal comes from the sunlight which emits colours of all wavelengths including blue light. Get where I’m going with this?
Since electronic screens also emit that blue wavelength light, it’s sending the wrong signal to your circadian rhythm, telling your mind and body to stay awake irregardless of what time of day it is outside.
Some studies even say that blue light inhibits the release of melatonin, the natural hormone released from your brain that signals you to fall asleep.
Healthline's article describes this more in detail: Block Blue Light to Sleep Better.
If we can turn off those blue light electronics at least one to two hours before bedtime, it can give your body time to produce melatonin and help you fall asleep.
If you're in the habit of having to an iPad incorporated in your bedtime routine, try substituting it with reading material such as a book or magazine, or maybe a boring history book. That always helps me.
4. Tidy Up
Do you consider yourself to be tidy? Or if you look around your room right