I love sleep. It loves me. There’s mutual admiration going on here. #muah
Unfortunately, it can be hard to come by for many of us. Life gets in the way, sleep is necessary for life, and then we’re quickly an exhausted mess and we wonder why. #askmehowiknow
I’m the queen of the late-night second wind. I suppose I’ve always been that way when it came to studying in college, but I’m often that way now even though I haven’t cracked one of those epic pharmacy school tomes in ages. When it’s 9 PM and the kids are in bed, I can pep myself up to go turbo clean the kitchen, but it comes at a cost. Once I hype myself into rage cleaning mode, I don’t stop until after bedtime. My bedtime.
As I’ve started on my goals for April’s sleep-focused portion of The Healing Project, I’ve had to identify the biggest hitters when it comes to screwing up my sleep:
Fighting my circadian rhythm
I’ve learned that I can stay up until 10PM, or I can stay up until 11:30.
This makes biological sense if you think about melatonin and cortisol. To oversimplify, cortisol is released in response to stress. It is highest in the morning and declines throughout the day. Melatonin is the hormone your body makes (from serotonin) to tell you it’s time to sleep. This is why it’s effective as a supplement for jet lag or insomnia.
If you ignore melatonin’s signal or try to override it, you usually can; however, don’t expect to stay alert for only another 20 minutes and then drift right off to sleep immediately after. It takes your body a hot minute to break down the extra cortisol rush it gave you to stay awake and on task.
Maybe you’re one of those people who can get good sleep any time, any where. Not me. I notice this hormonal interplay quite acutely. I’m only now learning how to best honor it and use it to my advantage.
The Tired Bus runs me over at 9:45PM on the dot nearly every night. I listen and go to bed, or I know I won’t sleep until much later. And all of us will suffer the next day. #sorrykids #justcallmeoscar
That’s where my bedtime goal comes into play: I need to be winding down by that 9:45 bodily reminder every night.
Your circadian rhythm will not be exactly like mine, but it’s worth paying attention to see what your body is trying to tell you. It may be helpful to take a sleep quiz like this one to find your chronotype.
New evidence suggests that fighting your natural sleep rhythms can be harmful to your health. It seems like a pretty obvious conclusion, but *science*. Read more here.
What I’m doing during the day
The things I’m doing by day must set me up for better sleep at night: food (both what and timing), activity, light, rest, etc. It’s all intertwined.
There was a time I ate banana “ice cream” with almond butter every evening about an hour before bed while on SCD (the Specific Carbohydrate Diet). I also had a propensity for waking up to a 4 AM migraine alarm that felt like a giant blood sugar drop, not unlike how your stomach flips down the first hill of the Millenium Force. (If you’ve never ridden that coaster at Cedar Point, you’re seriously missing out! Not a good guide for blood sugar trends, though.)
The issue was partly blood sugar, partly histamine release (bananas are a HUGE problem for me), partly magnesium deficiency, and a sprinkle of not eating enough during the day. Once I corrected those day problems, my night problems became nearly nonexistent.
Anybody else do some creepy heavy breathing while sleeping?
I don’t snore, but I do know that there’s a whole lotta respiration (and restoration) going on while I’m asleep.
Waking up sneezing or stuffy had become the norm. I began running the furnace fan all night to ensure some airflow, and my symptoms lessened dramatically. I knew the air quality in my bedroom was partly to blame for my nightly plugged-up nose.
After a lot of research (but admittedly less than my normal exhaustive standard), I bought an Alen air purifier*. I’ve been using it for almost a week, and it has made a huge difference! I’ll give you all the sordid details in an upcoming post. It’s a great option for anyone with allergies, pets, or new home/new furniture smells.
Edited to add: I’ve had an issue with an odd smell coming from it. I’m working with customer service to see if new filters will fix the problem. I’ll keep you posted!
EMR (electromagnetic radiation) reduction
The jury is out about electromagnetic radiation’s health effects as they relate to modern technology. There isn’t any definitive evidence of harm, but we’ve also had a very limited time to study smartphone and Wi-Fi use. I don’t know about you, but I use my phone a lot. Like, “a lot”, a lot.
What I do know is that I feel better when I’m unplugged as much as possible. (n=1)
Our internet options out here in the boonies are extremely limited. When our pricey satellite internet became too obnoxious to be worth the cash, we scrapped our Wi-Fi. I have not missed it. In fact, I’ve felt strangely better since turning it off for good.
This may horrify some people who wouldn’t want to live without Wi-Fi. I get that, I really do. This would be a different discussion if we had already been out of the stone age and been used to streaming things, but alas, we were basically the Flintstones when it came to internet quality anyway.
We use our phones for everything internet-related now, and I put mine on airplane mode at night. I also try to get my husband to do the same. Keyword: “try”.
A simple trick for Wi-Fi lovers to get better sleep is to turn it off at night.
Only problem: I didn’t want to trek down into the basement to turn the router off as part of my bedtime routine.
Solution: an outlet timer*. You know, like for Christmas lights? You can set it to automatically turn the router off for the nighttime hours and give yourself a break, unless you know you’ll be up all night. (See #6)
Or, you could fashion yourself a trendy nightcap made of tinfoil.
It’s amazing to me how our bodies know what to do and when, like how blue light inhibits the production of melatonin. So when it’s daytime, we’re not sleepy! Or at least we aren’t supposed to be.
In the intricate signaling process that is circadian rhythm, we know that blue light does inhibit melatonin production through its interaction with melanopsin in the eye. Artificial lighting at night can screw with our sleep through this mechanism.
I combat this in a few ways:
- Wearing amber glasses* if confronted with screens (lots of blue light) or bright ambient light (the LED bulbs in my laundry room) in the hour before bedtime. There are also many other options that aren’t quite as, uh, industrial. Like these*, or these*.
- Using the Night Shift feature on my iPhone to shift the colors away from blue
- Beware if online shopping… you could end up with a funky-colored dress
- Dimming the lights in general. I find this is automatic for me, as everything seems far too bright after putting the kids to bed in their dark bedrooms
Speaking of kids…
Ok, so I don’t have any earth-shattering ideas here when you have small kids who interfere with your sleep. I’m not a wizard (or a children’s sleep therapist). My motto, “Do what you can. Do what works for you.”
I do know that I’m a mess when I’m up at night with my kids, and I do everything in my power to set us up for overnight success. If that means that my kids will be wearing Pull-ups to bed for the foreseeable future, then so be it. #dowhatyougottado #notenvironmentallyfriendly #mamaismorefriendlytho
Both of my kids were pretty dismal sleepers as babies and toddlers. My son did magically start sleeping through the night at eighteen months within a week of removing detergent agents from our house and vastly improving his eczema. Who knew that it was easier to sleep when you’re not insanely itchy all the time? Ugh. #nowiknow
They do a really good job sleeping now. There’s always that random time that they’re sick, or there was the loud rainstorm we had last week (my three-year-old woke me up asking for earplugs… funny now that it’s not 3 AM), but they do wonderfully overall.
Now that I’ve jinxed myself for tonight…
What helps you sleep? Any additional tips for me?