So you slept like the Princess and the Pea last night, and now you’re heading into another work meeting, or day at home, praying you’ll stay awake. Once you’ve made it through the day (painfully) it comes time to snuggle into bed, but sleep is not happening. Before too long you start playing math games with yourself. “If I fall asleep now, I’ll get 5 hours of sleep … OK if I fall asleep now, I’ll get 4 hours and 55 minutes of sleep …”
If this is familiar to you, then there are some simple strategies you can use to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
A big part of how you sleep has nothing to do with night. What you do during the day and the hours leading up to bedtime will trump any final ditch effort you make to snooze when the time comes.
A regular routine is huge when it comes to bedtime. Chances are you know these things but just neglect to actually do them.
Getting scientific here. Your body makes a hormone called melatonin that plays a huge role in your sleep-wake cycles. Even though it is naturally made in the body there’s a catch — it’s controlled by light. Crazy, huh? So when you are in a lighted room or in the sun your body produces less of this hormone, keeping you awake. Therefore, if you are exposing yourself to a lot of light in the evening, you may be disrupting your body’s ability to slow down, relax, and fall asleep.
When you are sleep deprived, there are a few things that happen that make it harder to regulate what you eat. Basically when you haven’t slept you are energy deprived and you reach for saturated fats, sweets, and carbs to make up for that energy. This happens because of the increase in ghrelin (hunger hormone) and decrease in leptin (energy hormone) when you are tired, leading to “artificial hunger.” Your hormones are telling you’re hungry when your body doesn’t actually NEED the fuel.
As you know, it’s not just the food choices but the behaviors around your food choices. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep impairs emotional control. This leads to an increase in stress hormones associated with anxiety and depression. It also heightens the risk of developing chronic conditions like coronary artery disease. What’s fascinating is that just one night of sleep deprivation can impair a person’s ability to ignore intrusive thoughts. This means you are more likely to experience unpleasant memories, worries, have a low mood, and struggle to focus on important tasks after just one night of poor sleep.
Optimal health requires a holistic approach. Looking at sleep, food, hydration, movement, and stress management can all lead to better health.