- Hannah Aylward
The Top 7 Reasons Why You Can’t Sleep
The Top 7 Reasons Why You Can’t Sleep
By Hannah Aylward
Sleep is the body’s biggest reset button. When we sleep our digestive systems get a break, our immune systems are revitalized, our brains clean house, and our hormones come back into check. Consistent, proper sleep —we’re talking 7-9 hours a night without tossing and turning — is imperative for good health. Not to mention, lack of sleep affects the secretion of thyroid-stimulating hormones, increases levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol, and reduces insulin sensitivity, causing weight gain. Unfortunately, poor sleep is more common than not. In the United States, more than 70 million people suffer from a sleep disorder. Transient insomnia affects up to 80 percent of the population, and chronic insomnia burdens about 15 percent.
Let’s take a look at what may be messing with your sleep.
A POOR DIET
There is a powerful connection between what you eat and how you sleep. It’s no secret that an upset stomach and indigestion may make it harder to fall asleep. Often times poor digestion can be caused by a poor diet — specifically too much sugar, processed foods and commonly irritating foods like gluten, dairy, soy and peanuts. Sugar is a killer, and not necessarily just white table sugar either. Think about what your body processes like sugar — too much fruit, too many processed carbs, or a cup of coffee without any food or healthy fat to blunt the insulin spike. These all lead to unstable blood sugar levels, which send your adrenals and mind into an unsteady zone. Additionally, our bodies need the proper amino acids, vitamins (especially vitamin D), minerals, and fatty acids (shout out to omega-3s) to create the calming neurotransmitters that allow us to sleep.
THE FIX — Eliminate sugar, corn syrup and refined foods. If you want to take it a step further, eliminate gluten, dairy, soy and peanuts as well. “Close your kitchen” a few hours before bed, so your body can break down your dinner before you lay down for the rest of the night. It’s always a best practice to give yourself 12 hours in between dinner and breakfast the next morning. Feel free to go a few hours past that too if it feels good in your body.
caffeine, medications, alcohol, recreational drugs
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that blocks sleep neurotransmitters, our body’s natural calming signals. It is important however to note that we all metabolize caffeine differently. Some of us are fast-metabolizers, and some of us are slow-metabolizers. The CYP1A2 gene controls an enzyme — also called CYP1A2 — that determines how quickly our bodies break down caffeine.One variant of the gene causes the liver to metabolize caffeine very quickly. People who inherit two copies of the “fast” variant — one from each parent — are generally referred to as fast metabolizers. People with this gene makeup can actually metabolize caffeine about four times more quickly than people who inherit one or more copies of the slow variant of the gene (slow metabolizers).
According to Sleep Medicine Specialist Dr. Dianne Augelli, alcohol decreases the amount of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that we get, which is important for consolidating memories, optimal cognitive functioning, concentration, and learning from the previous day. Personally, when I drink alcohol, my sleep is almost always ruined — tossing, turning, sweating, and up at 5:00 a.m., regardless of when I went to bed. Anyone else?
THE FIX — Try omitting caffeine and alcohol from your diet for a month and see what happens. It’s usually easier to replace one habit with another habit. Swap the alcohol for herbal tea after a long day at the office and the coffee for a hot lemon water, matcha or tea.
CHRONIC STRESS/OVER-STIMULATED NERVOUS SYSTEM
Do you have a mile long to-do list? Are you trying to juggle everything from family to work to school to self-care to social time? It can be hard — and stressful. Too much stress is a common cause of disordered sleeping. While stress can be reduced, it most likely won’t completely go away (and it is actually good in small amounts for certain functions), so learning how to cope with it is key.
THE FIX — Do some breathing exercises, restorative yoga or meditation.
EVENING BLUE LIGHT
Put the phone down! I know you guys, I get it. There are nights where I am aimlessly scrolling through Instagram to take a “brain break," and there are other nights when you can catch me responding to emails in bed. I totally get it. It can be a tough habit to break. Electronics such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and TVs omit a harsh blue light. This light prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, and reduces alertness the following morning — all a recipe for poor sleep.
THE FIX — Switch off all electronic devices by 10:00 p.m., or two hours before you go to bed. This will free up your headspace AND help you sleep soundly.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that up to 70 percent of the population is deficient in. Our nutrient-poor diets and stressful lifestyles eat it away. This mineral is directly involved in over 300 different bodily functions. Many important uses include muscle, brain and nervous system function. It also supports healthy bowel movements, reduces stress and improves sleep.
THE FIX — Take a magnesium supplement. Look for magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate, and try taking when winding down for bed. Everyone reacts a little differently, so see what works best for you.
NO EVENING ROUTINE
Many of us don’t have proper evening routines. We go about our days running full speed ahead, with our minds racing and tasks growing. Wind down and set yourself up. Ease into it and set the mood. Make sure the bedroom is being used for just sleep and romance, not email writing like I mentioned above.
THE FIX — Take a warm bath or shower, light a candle, listen to soft music, read a few pages of a good book, practice legs up the wall (a personal favorite), whatever it is for you to get your mind and body relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep. Do this consistently so your body knows what is coming each and every evening.
NOT ENOUGH TIME IN NATURE
Many of us sit inside at desks all day, workout in a gym, commute in cars/trains/buses, and then get home from our day and sit on our comfy couches until it is bedtime. We are avoiding sunlight exposure without even knowing it. Before the invention of artificial light, we were somewhat forced to go to bed when the sun went down and wake up when the sun came up. Our bodies still have natural circadian rhythms. Sunlight exposure is very important for our sleep cycles. Light serves as the major synchronizer of your “master clock," or a group of cells in your brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). This clock along with a few others trigger the body to release specific chemicals and hormones that are important to healthy sleep, mood and aging.
THE FIX — Try to get at least half an hour of regular exposure to natural sunlight a day. It's best if it is first thing in the morning! Hit the pavement instead of the treadmill. Take a brisk walk to wake up in the morning. Walk with coworkers to grab lunch, and maybe even take that lunch break outside. Soak up that vitamin D.
*We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented and that you always read labels, warnings, and directions before using or consuming a product. You should consult your health care professional before making any changes to your regular health care routine.
Hannah Aylward is a Certified Health Coach, nutrition consultant, fitness instructor, healthy living expert, and founder of HAN. She helps both men and women around the world lose weight, heal skin disturbances, balance hormones, heal gut imbalances and feel at home in their bodies through healthy eating, movement, mindfulness and positive self-talk. Her goal is to help others “learn the tools that they need to live the lives they deserve”. Get to know her by visiting her website and following her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.