Losing sleep? There could be more than one reason and solution. Here are a few tips to consider
If you are losing sleep each night there’s likely to be more than one reason for it. That’s why you might be struggling to not just fall asleep but get back to sleep. Every freelancer is unique, and it would seem our sleep patterns are just as individual as we are. Here are a few tips you can try (and you may have to try several) to get a good night’s sleep based on your circumstances.
A lack of sleep for most of us happens when we are worried or overwhelmed about our never-ending to-do lists, finances or the people we care about. But when you add this restless mind activity to your nighttime routine, it can also be exacerbated by underlying health issues that contribute to a lack of good sleep.
Falling asleep v. falling back to sleep
For some, falling asleep isn’t the problem, it’s waking in the night and not being able to fall back to sleep. The end result? A morning-like hangover with no fun stories to reveal the next day.
Let’s tackle the not able to fall asleep bunch first. Here are some questions to ask yourself to get a better idea if there are physiological, psychological or environmental reasons for your sleep deprivation (or a combination of all three).
Bedtime: what time is yours and what are your body and environment telling you?
- Ask yourself, if I go to bed now and wake at my designated time in the morning, how many hours of sleep would I get if all went swimmingly? Will I get in 7 to 8 hours or more like 5? The latter is unlikely to give your body the time to heal or achieve crucial cell renewal.
- What is my body telling me right now? Am I full of energy or drained and achy?
- Caffeine kicks in not just when immediately consumed but can also kick in 5 hours later. Do the math – when was your last dose of caffeine? It could be making you wired.
- If you are constantly achy is it because you are sitting too many hours at a desk working each day? Or doing intensive workouts and you need more time in between workouts to heal? In either case, find a balance and see how your body reacts.
- If your mind is stressed, then you need to get the worries down on paper and out of your head. Make a plan on how you will deal with concerns the next day or over the week and put them on paper or notebook. And then add a couple of reasons about why you are grateful to balance all the worries or things to do.
- If your body is stressed, your cortisol levels could be too high, so bring those levels down by trying one or all of the following:
- gentle stretching in the morning and before bedtime followed by some deep breathing
- Here is a list of suggested herbs, supplements and other ways to get your cortisol levels down.
- Am I experiencing hormonal balance which is impacting my sleep? After our 20s our estrogen levels drop, for example, which is true for men and women. It’s why you might be holding more weight around your belly, which can lead to other health issues (diabetes and heart health). Women experiencing perimenopause and going through menopause, for example, will be experiencing waves of hormone imbalance, related bouts of the blues/onset of depression and at times hot flashes, all of which impact sleep for them and sometimes their partner if tossing and turning and throwing off covers are a nightly occurrence.
- Other hormone imbalances that impact our quality of sleep include melatonin, cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin. It may be wise to speak to your GP, a nutritionist and a knowledgeable and trained local health shop manager to enquire about what supplements might help you balance your hormones.
- Am I eating my last meal in the evening less than 2 hours before I head to bed? I may get drowsy soon after, but then my body will be working hard to digest it while I am trying to sleep, which may cause me to wake up.
- Intermittent fasting may strengthen the peripheral circadian rhythm by limiting food intake during the evening and nighttime. This can, in turn, restore the homeostatic nature of the internal clock, which may have beneficial effects on sleep in those with erratic sleep patterns, according to several studies.
- Prepare a sleepy environment. Is the room too warm? Turn down the thermostat or open the window slightly (the Scandinavians are big on this). Is it dark enough? Get thicker curtains or get an eye mask. Too noisy? Get noise-cancelling earplugs or plug into a calming podcast or music that will lull you into a deep sleep.
Here are some more tips to help you get to sleep faster
How to fall back to sleep
Are you waking up at the same time every night? Like the “3 AM witching hour”, it could be because your body is being programmed to wake at that time for a variety of reasons.
- Investigate to see what might be waking you: your partner’s nightly recurring dream or nightmare? Kids or pets waking and needing your attention? Is the milkman delivering at 2 AM? Night sweats or heart palpitations? Mobile alerts?… the list could go on. Address whatever it is.
- Avoid afternoon naps unless you really need one because you are, for example, ill. If you take sneaky snoozes throughout the day, you may be causing issues with your nighttime sleep patterns.
- Get enough daylight and light exercise during the day as your internal clock needs this, just like your cavemen ancestors did.
- Avoid too much alcohol. A glass of red wine, may blur the senses and relax you, but if you are drinking more than 2 glasses, it’s more than likely that you will wake up in night sweats and heart palpitations
- Make sure pets and kids do “their business” right before bedtime; you, too!
- Have kids check the closets and under the bed for monsters before storytime
- Try relaxing breathing or yoga poses/stretches and reading something happy before bedtime (everyone in the family should do this)
- You will want everyone (including adults) to avoid menacing television or videos before bedtime to cut down on the nightmares.
- Place a carafe of water and glass on the bedside table and place night lights in halls and bathrooms for nighttime trips to the loo.
- Place dogs or other pets at night in rooms that do not have immediate access to passing cars and delivery trucks to avoid waking or barking. If they make a fuss about going in the room at first, give them an incentive like a treat to associate the room with a reward.
- If your pet is taking up your bed space, or waking you at night, try following the step above. They will survive if they don’t sleep on your bed, really they will.
I’m awake. Now what?
Sod’s or Murphy’s law might prevail, meaning you will do all the above to make sure there are no bumps in the night and you may still wake in the night. Your body may have been programmed to. So it might take time for your internal clock to readjust to sleeping through the night. So until then, what do you do?
Try some of the following:
- Listen to music, guided meditation or a podcast If you have some headphones to plug into your mobile or iPad, you may want to be lulled to sleep with low-volume music, a guided meditation or conversation, like on a podcast. You may want to listen to a podcast you find boring or even something you enjoy. If it is more than 30 minutes long you will most likely eventually fall asleep.
- Get floppy. Lie flat on your back and flop your arms to your sides and open and rest your legs so they are almost in a diamond shape. This should relax your shoulders, back, spine and sacrum, all of which retain stress and pressure. Now take in a deep breath for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds; repeat until you feel relaxed and your breathing becomes rhythmic.
- Visualise your happy place. While you do the above exercise think of your happy place. It’s bedtime and time to dream so make the most of this time. Visualise what you would be doing if you had no worries, fears or work. This will get your mind off of not sleeping.
Some people always fall asleep in front of the TV, but this goes against most sleep specialists’ advice, if you think turning the telly back on will help. Some sleep sites suggest getting up and walking around may help, but when a few of us at The FI tried this is had the undesired effect, but that is why it’s trial and error Here are a few more tips from Headspace on how to fall back to sleep.
Sleeping position: what’s yours doing to your back?
For those of you that may think your sleeping position is causing you a lack of sleep, here is a video to show you what’s considered the best sleeping position to avoid back and neck pain.