Tick tock you hear the clock sing. It mocks you as you alternate sleep poses, huff in frustration, and generally feel miserable. You try forcing yourself to drift off, but that just makes everything worse because you can’t relax. It feels like a Catch-22. Hopefully, your venti triple shot espresso tomorrow morning will at least get you some rewards.
Sleep issues are a fairly common and aggravating collection of health conditions including sleep apnea and insomnia. About 30% of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia or the inability to sleep for 3 or more days a week for at least 3 months. Insomnia can mean having trouble falling or staying asleep, or waking up during the night. There are many factors that can cause these issues such as underlying health conditions, consuming substances that affect rest, or behavioral and/or mental health disorders. However, this doesn’t mean quality sleep is only a dream! There are many tips, tricks, and tools you can use to finally catch some Zzzs.
Why is Sleep Important?
You probably already know that sleep is important. You can feel how important it is when you’re dragging yourself around work like an anemic zombie. That nighttime shuteye is your body’s way of repairing itself every day, healing from stresses of daily activities and resting the mind. More specifically, sleep helps:
- Restore the mind and body
- Balance important hormones and metabolism
- Improve immunity
- Improve concentration and productivity
- Lower risk of weight gain
- Improve athletic performance by increasing energy, coordination, speed, cognition, and balance
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Lower risk of mental health issues
- Lower body inflammation
- Create memories
- Regulate mood
As you can see, sleep isn’t for the weak… it’s for the healthy! Getting enough rest allows you to perform at your best, do the things you love, increase longevity, and yes – even help in your fitness journey!
The Sleep Cycle
In order to improve sleep, it’s important to understand the cycle it works on. Your body is biologically equipped to let you know when it needs rest and when it’s time to wake up. This internal clock is known as the circadian rhythm, a 24-hour cycle in charge of managing your sleeping. When it functions properly, you have energy during the day to get through all your important tasks, and at night you feel sleepy and drowsy enough to slip off into dreamland.
Your circadian rhythm is partially driven by an organic compound called adenosine. It’s a neurotransmitter that builds up during the day making you increasingly sleepier. When you go to bed at night, your body breaks down this compound and the process starts all over again the next morning.
Sunshine and Sleep!
Another engine behind the cycle is actually light! A part of your brain known as the hypothalamus is home to special nerve cells in charge of processing light signals from the eyes. For example, during the day the special light receptors in your eyes take in that light. The signal gets sent to the brain and the brain interprets it as “hey, it’s daytime! Time to wake up!”. On the opposite side, when things start to darken for the night, your brain interprets it as bedtime, and begins allowing the sleep cycle to take over instead of keeping you awake. A couple ways it does this is by letting that previous neurotransmitter, adenosine, flow through your body without interference. The nighttime darkness also triggers your brain to release melatonin, which is a hormone that makes you sleepy and drowsy.
Of course, this cycle is not as simple as turning a light switch on and off. In fact, the cycle goes through four stages several times during the night! The combination of all four is what delivers the most restful and rejuvenating Zzzs. The stages are:
Stage 1 NREM
This is the transition between wakefulness and actually dozing off. It’s a light sleep stage that triggers the first bit of muscle relaxation and lowering of your heart rate, breathing, eye movements, and brain waves.
Stage 2 NREM
During this stage you reach deeper sleep as your heart rate and breathing continue to decrease. Your muscles also become more relaxed. Here though, your eye movements cease, and your body starts lowering its temperature. This is usually the longest cycle of sleep and your brain waves remain low.
Stage 3 NREM
This last stage of NREM is what helps you feel refreshed and energized in the morning! During this part of the cycle, your heart rate, breathing, and brain waves are the lowest they’ll get. Plus, your muscles are at their most relaxed. The first go around into this stage is the longest, and as you make your way through a couple complete cycles, it starts to shorten.
This one you may have heard of. REM sleep happens about 90 minutes after you start snoozing. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, because that’s exactly what your eyes are doing during this stage. This is also the stage where you dream, and your body starts the process of memory consolidation or turning experiences into memories! An interesting thing about REM: your legs and limbs are actually paralyzed, likely so you don’t act out your dream. Your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure also increase a little. However, your body will fall back into Stage 1 NREM several times during the night.
The four stages cycle around about every 90 -120 minutes. Going through every cycle as many times as you need and in an uninterrupted manner are what allows you to feel the most rested and ready to take on the day!
Beaty Sleep Busters
Now that you know how the cycle actually works, let’s take a look at how certain factors interfere with it.
Bad Sleep Environment
Ever tried snoozing in a hot room? It’s near impossible to get any rest. This is because your body needs to cool down in order to reach optimal sleep. Part of this your body does naturally, but it’s also important to sleep in a cool room. You’ll also want to make sure you sleep in a dark room, as light can not only make it difficult to fall asleep, but it can also interfere with the quality of sleep. Finally, a quiet room is the best place for resting. It’s hard to fall asleep when there’s a party going on and someone decides to start vacuuming.
Too Stressed to Sleep
The truth is life can get stressful. Maybe it’s work, family, finances, or even the fact that you’re not catching any Zzzs! Stress can make it difficult to fall asleep at night too, and it can make your resting quality poor.
Booze is a Snooze No-Go
You might notice that alcohol makes you sleepy. However, it’s actually shown to worsen sleep quality. Though a night cap might make you fall asleep faster, it will interfere with the natural progression of the sleep cycle. The result is feeling tired and groggy the next morning.
There’s a reason coffee is the go-to beverage to keep yourself awake during the day. Caffeine, found in coffee, chocolate, tea, energy drinks, and other sneaky places, is a stimulant. It actually works to block the neurotransmitter adenosine which, as mentioned, is one of the primary drivers of making you feel tired at night.
This is a medical condition in which your breathing starts and stops several times during the day. It can wake you up during the night or just leave you feeling tired from poor quality sleep. Some symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, excessive daytime fatigue, trouble concentrating, memory problems, mood swings, and headaches.
Other Health Problems
Other health problems, especially those that may cause pain or discomfort can also make quality sleep hard to come by.
High calorie, especially high fat meals at night can make it harder to reach REM sleep and disrupts the natural sleep cycle. This is because your body is working hard to digest food instead of winding down for rest.
Anxiety and Depression
Unfortunately, those who struggle with anxiety and depression may find it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get restful sleep. It can also lead to trouble reaching REM sleep. Plus, sleep deprivation can worsen symptoms of these mental health struggles, so getting help to sleep well is extremely important for overall health!
Exercising Before Sleep
Research shows that exercising everyday can help you rest better! However – this does not apply late at night. Hitting the gym late at night actually wakes your body up and interrupts the natural sleep cycle. Try to get your workout done 1-3 hours before bed. Remember the more time you have to unwind and relax for the night, the more likely you are to get awesome sleep!
I know I know; it’s really tempting to go on your phone after working all day. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little entertainment on your phone. However – it’s not something you want to do before bed. Phones emit something called blue light which triggers those nerve cells we talked about earlier into thinking that it’s daytime. This goes for other electronics too. Though it’s true that there are many blue light blockers nowadays, the safest bet to get quality sleep is to put all the screens away at least an hour before bed.
It makes sense to want to nap after a particularly dreadful night of sleep. However, sleeping for more than 20 minutes during the day can mess up your sleep that night! Your body’s internal clock falls out of alignment.
There are many causes for insomnia ranging from daily stress, a poor sleep schedule, bad sleep hygiene, mental health disorders, physical illness or pain, medications, neurological problems, and specific sleep disorders. Often, it’s a combination of these things. Therefore, it’s best to talk with a healthcare provider if you think you may suffer from insomnia.
Lying Awake at Night
Tossing and turning all night when you can’t sleep can actually make matters worse! You start associating your comfy bed with the stress of sleeplessness. This causes a sort of loop where you can’t sleep because you’re stressed, and you’re stressed because you can’t sleep
Having a Multipurpose Bedroom
Your bedroom should only be used for sleep and intimacy. If you work, watch TV, play video games, etc. in your room your brain will associate that space with these activities rather than with sleep.
“I’m Too Busy” Mentality
Sleeping less when you’re busy can throw your sleep schedule out of whack and therefore cause sleep problems. Your sleep is a critical part of your health and you can’t work well if your body is not healthy and rested!
A Messy Sleep Schedule
Humans are creatures of habits. We like to have a set bedtime and wake-up time. That’s how we operate best. Going to bed whenever and waking up late on weekends can, again, mess with your body’s natural sleep cycle and leave you feeling exhausted, grumpy, and unfocused.
Some medications have been known to possibly interfere with sleep. This includes some antidepressants, beta blockers that treat high blood pressure, cold remedies with alcohol in them, and corticosteroids used to treat inflammation or asthma. Of course, always speak with a trusted healthcare provider before making any changes to prescribed medications!
Jet Lag and Shift Work
If you’ve traveled across one too many time zones or had to take a night shift, you know how this messes up your Zzzs. Both of these things disturb the natural bedtime cycle and leave your body confused about when you’re supposed to sleep and when you’re supposed to be awake!
How Can I Improve My Sleep?
Glad you asked! There are many things you can do to improve your nighttime rest. A few of them include:
Improving Your Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is the routines and choices you make that contribute to getting quality sleep. For example, you might turn off your screens two hours before bed, have an early and light dinner, take a warm bath, or do some pre-bedtime meditation.
Improve Your Sleeping Environment
As mentioned, the best shuteye-inducing environment is one that is cool, dark, and quiet. If you find that hard to nurture organically, try investing in some good earplugs, a sleep mask, heavy curtains, and a fan!
Make Your Diet Sleep Friendly
Avoid stimulants, like caffeine, especially later during the day. Make sure your dinner is fairly early (about 3 hours before bedtime), and not fat-heavy as this makes it harder to sleep well. Maybe try eating some sleepiness-inducing foods at night like a little turkey, some cherries, a glass of warm milk, a banana, or some whole grains like oatmeal!
Stress is the enemy of sleep and stressing about not sleeping is just unproductive. I know it’s easier said than done, but with some relaxation techniques it is possible! For example, meditation, yoga, and reading a good book can all help you unwind at the end of the night. However, if you’re someone who struggles with anxiety or depression, then perhaps there is a benefit to consulting the help of a licensed mental health care provider. They can help you come up with ways to improve your sleep hygiene, relax at night, and create a healthier relationship with sleep!
Don’t Lift Before You Snooze
Regular exercise has been shown to help improve overall sleep! It doesn’t have to be anything crazy either. Just some moderate exercise of 30 minutes every day can already get you results in sleeping better! Especially if you do it outside where you are exposed to sunlight. Just make sure you don’t work out late at night!
It’s Just a Bedroom… Not an Office!
One powerful way to improve sleep is to only use your bedroom for sleep and intimate activities. This way, your brain doesn’t associate your room with working and all the stress that comes with it.
Get Out of Bed!
If you can’t sleep at night, one of the best things to do is get out of bed and start another wind-down routine. You don’t want to correlate your bed with the stress and frustration of sleeplessness. Do something relaxing until you feel tired and sleepy and then try going back to bed!
How FK Can Help You Rest Better
Nutrition can really be a game changer when it comes to getting enough sleep, and thankfully – that’s where we excel! Cleaning up your nutrition can help you sleep better, have more energy and focus, and improve your overall health! If you choose to join our FK Online Meal Plan Family, we can help you get closer to restful sleep!
We offer three different online meal plans:
Each of these options can be customized. Once you’ve decided on your meal plan, you’ll have the opportunity to input your current health status and what your goals are. We take all of this information and create a program that works for you. FK Online Meal Plans are sent to customers via email. We do not send out the actual meals, but we give you an in-depth guide to help you through the process! Your customized meal plan will include a calendar view of meals with the nutritional content, so you know exactly what you’re getting each day! Plus, you’ll have step-by-step preparation instructions, ingredient lists, shopping lists, and everything you need to transform your health right from the comfort of your kitchen!
Join the FK Family!
Ready to eat, sleep, and feel better?
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NOTE: Fran’s Kitchen offers two different meal plan services. Our Delivery Meal Plans are delivered to customers on an agreed upon schedule. Our ONLINE MEAL PLANS are NOT delivered. These online meal plans are sent to customers via email to be cooked, followed, and enjoyed from the comfort of their own kitchens! Please be mindful of these differences when registering for Fran’s Kitchen services. Thank you!