When Counting Sheep Just Doesn't Cut It

Some nights when your head hits your pillow, you know you’re just going to be tossing and turning all night long. Maybe you’re anticipating a big day the next day – an interview, an activity, a date. Or you may have just been in an argument and it stayed unresolved. Or let’s be honest, maybe you watched a show on tv that made you a bit on edge with the suspense.


Or maybe you did everything right, yet you still found yourself tossing and turning until the early hours of the morning. You woke up, went through your routine with work/school, picking up kids, after school activities, late dinner. But really, nothing out of the ordinary – you still find yourself struggling with sweet, sweet sleep.


So what’s the deal? According to Shelby Harris, Psy.D., Director of Behavior Sleep Medicine at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center, Montefiore Medical Center, “The biggest issue is that we don’t have a good separation between day and night anymore. We live in a 24/7 society, with work or electronics seeping into our home life at night. Sleep is thought of being an on/off switch, but sadly, it doesn’t work that way.”


We know that sleep doesn’t just affect our facial appearance with baggy eyes and lack of energy, it can be damaging to our eating habits and overall health (know that extra weight you’ve been trying to lose?). When we lack sleep, we increase our ghrelin, aka the hormone that makes us hungry and a decrease in the hormone leptin, the trigger that tells us when we are full. Because of this, we don’t have that sign that tells us to stop eating when we are truly full. We also see an increase in work errors, poor concentration and attention, motor skills lack, don’t even get us started on our memory, and all of this can even be tied to increase in stress & depression/anxiety. Yes, your game playing on your smart device at night can lead to your state of mind the next day.


So what do we do? Your best night’s sleep is just a few minor tweaks away, barring you don’t have an actual medical condition that (get those checked out).


Eating your way to better sleep

If this is your first round, you are in for some amazing nights of sleep. The food that you consume can contribute to your insomnia. Skip on that midafternoon caffeinated beverage. You’ve kicked out chocolate and soda but that tea that you are holding as a crutch could be keeping you awake.


Exercise, but be careful on the time you do so

Do you like to get in those endorphin rushes before you go to bed? This could be why you’re having trouble sleeping. Stop waiting for “all the things” to be done before getting in your sweat session. Try fitting in 20 minutes of exercise four to six hours before bedtime and your body will naturally come down from that hormone rush.


Weekends are not free for all’s

You may truly enjoy sleeping in on the weekends and use them as an excuse throughout the week, but they are hurting your circadian rhythm (aka your body’s internal clock). This throws off your body’s schedule for the week. If you’re having trouble waking up on Saturdays or Sundays, swap those in for a healthy routine like going for a walk or taking in an exercise class. Just get moving.


Your bed has a function – sleep…

Well, and that other thing. Use your bed though for sleep and that other thing. If you’re not doing either of those, stay out of your bed. If you really want somewhere to kick back, consider investing in a space-efficient, comfortable chair.


Screen time – put it down

Are you one of the many millions that just go nose to phone once kids are in bed? I’m calling even myself out on this. Well, I hate to tell you that your late night fun of playing bejeweled or scrolling through social media before bed could be why you’re having trouble. Most electronics emit what is called blue light; this blue light suppresses melatonin before bedtime. What is melatonin? It’s the hormone of sleep – of darkness. It is a naturally occurring hormone that comes out in the evening to help your body come down from the day. When your body is exposed to blue light (screens) 1-2 hours before bed, we do not allow melatonin to its function.


No one wants to read your email at 10 pm

I know you’re important but put the phone down. If you have a big issue that your boss is waiting for, it can wait until the morning. Prioritize everything (hint, next month will be all about prioritization). Not everything needs to be done before bed. Hold this time sacred – it’s your time to unwind and no one should hijack it.


And if you really can’t sleep, just don’t force it. Walk around for 20 minutes (don’t watch the clock or you’ll stress yourself out). Don’t grab your phone. Just be one with your breath.

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