Caroline Cranshaw: Insomnia: What to do if you are starved for sleep

Publish Date
Thursday, 30 November 2017, 12:00PM
Photo / Getty

Photo / Getty

You try your best to unwind from a stressful day by vegging on the sofa and watching TV, maybe with a couple of drinks, and some social media and emailing thrown in. You may even head to bed earlier than usual to catch-up on some much-needed sleep, but you don’t seem to be able to drift off even though you are exhausted.

You lie there, checking your phone, browsing things that are a total waste of time, desperate to fall asleep. Having issues falling asleep, or not staying asleep sucks ...

As our stress levels rise, combined with a growing dependence on technology, it’s getting harder and harder to switch off and get the eight hours of sleep that’s recommended. Insomnia is something that affects almost everyone at some point in their lives. They use sleep deprivation as a torture method for a reason. Because it will drive you crazy...

Lack of sleep is proven to cause anxiety, anger issues, high-blood pressure, weight gain, premature ageing, mental health issues and increases the risk of having severe health issues.

Here are some tips on how to overcome insomnia:

1. Nutrition

Eliminate caffeine, sugar and alcohol late in the day. As you process alcohol, your blood sugar drops which can cause waking in the night and interferes with sleep quality. Try not to eat a heavy meal late in the day as digestion can keep you awake and heat you up. If you are hungry before bed, a light snack before bedtime (like a banana) may help you sleep.

2. Keep it cool

Your bedroom should be cool, dark, tidy and quiet. The ideal temperature is 16-18 Celsius since a cooler temperature boosts the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin. A fan or air conditioning makes all the difference on warm summer nights.

3. Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime and make your bedroom as dark as possible

In the evening, your body releases melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy - but it only releases it if it receives the right signals from your environment. Melatonin is known as the hormone of darkness, so your body doesn’t want to release it until the lights go down. You want to transition to low light as early as 8 or 9 pm. Keeping the lights dim before bed cues your brain for sleep.

Blackout blinds are a great investment, as 20 percent of light still reaches your eyes through closed eyelids. You can even go ghetto, and do what I did as a teenager and hang a heavy dark blanket over the window.

Most electronic devices emit a blue light that especially lowers your natural melatonin production. This, in turn, makes you less sleepy at night. I know, I know, we are all addicted to our screens. Unfortunately, our biology has not caught up with our love of technology. Apple has come out with the night shift feature, which automatically changes the colours in your display to the warmer end of the spectrum when it’s sunset in your location.

Cover all LED lights on your devices as a light of any kind reduces signals to the brain that it’s time to sleep. One of the easiest ways of blocking LED light from your devices is to get a roll of black electrical tape and cut small pieces to place over any LED lights, so your bedroom doesn’t look like a nightclub. Studies show most people with sleep issues resolve them after a week of camping with no artificial light.

4. Try keeping your eyes open in the dark if you can’t sleep

Sounds weird, but it’s one of my favourite tricks if I am struggling to sleep. Keeping your eyes open in the dark tells your brain that you should be sleeping and triggers a release of melatonin.

5. Keep it quiet

For a lot of people, they are being woken up by noise. If you have a partner who snores, try earplugs, sleeping in separate rooms or look into a snoring mouth guard or sleep machine. I actually broke up with someone over their snoring since they refused to do anything about it. If they want to keep you as a partner, they need to address it!

6. Look into any subconscious reasons you’re not sleeping

Your subconscious mind is like your operating system, keeping you alive and safe. If you’re not sleeping without an obvious reason why your subconscious mind is possibly keeping you awake because it thinks it needs to - to keep you safe. Financial stress, family and relationship issues, childhood trauma, illness, having your house burgled, conflict with neighbours or work problems are all common reasons why you may not be sleeping.

The subconscious may start to believe you need to stay awake to keep you safe. You are at your most vulnerable when you are sleeping so it makes sense of why your subconscious would start to be hypervigilant and look for danger. A good hypnotherapist can help you change this issue or even listening to free hypnotherapy on Youtube can help.

I also recommend not watching or reading the news if you are having issues with sleep. It just gives your subconscious more things to worry about and imagine happening to you.

7. Ditch the sunglasses for at least 30 minutes a day

When sunlight enters the irises of the eyes, this triggers the production of the antidepressant neurotransmitter serotonin. Then as the sun goes down, and your pupils dilate, your brain converts the serotonin into melatonin. So, if you’re short on serotonin, you’re going to be short on melatonin too.

8. Supplement magnesium and eat melatonin-rich foods

Magnesium is called ‘The Relaxing Mineral” and calms the nervous system. There are many benefits recognised with magnesium use. Improved sleep by stopping restless legs syndrome, relaxing your nervous system helping you stay asleep longer, fall asleep faster, and relieving insomnia. Greens are one of the best ways to add magnesium to your diet. Kelp is the highest food containing magnesium, weighing in at 760 milligrams of Magnesium per 100 g serving. I recommend supplementing with kelp or Magnesium for an added magnesium boost. Magnesium lotion boosts magnesium levels five times more effectively than pills and is therefore perfect for applying before bed.

Every plant on the planet contains varying amounts of melatonin. They, like us, need light/dark cycles to survive. An easy way to naturally boost our melatonin levels is to eat more melatonin-rich foods. Studies show that tart cherries have a good amount of melatonin in them, and are linked to deeper sleep. Other foods that have high levels of melatonin are almonds, bananas, goji berries, walnuts, pineapple, tomatoes, and oranges.

9. Take a warm bath or shower at night

Your body temperature naturally drops at night, starting around two hours before you fall asleep and bottoming out at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. By raising your temperature, a degree or two with a bath, the drop afterwards is more likely to put you into a deep sleep faster. A shower is not as effective but does help.

One to two hours before bed, try soaking in the tub for 20 to 40 minutes. Even better, add 2 cups of Epsom salts, 1 cup of baking soda and ten drops of lavender. Make sure you drink plenty of water. Adding Epsom salts which are made of magnesium and sulphate to a bath will also help you to relax and detox, as it floods your cells with magnesium. The lavender oil helps relax your nervous system and lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) and the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), promotes detoxification and alkalinises your body.

10. Ideally, try and get 8 hours sleep each night

You also should try to have lights out by 10:30 pm. Our body releases a hit of cortisol (at 11:00 pm, this is why some people seem to get a second wind and can struggle to get to sleep if they are up late. Cortisol can promote weight gain, particularly around the abdomen, and excess cortisol also stalls progress on weight loss.

These are all simple things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep dramatically. Try not to resort to sleeping pills on a regular basis, (unless it’s melatonin) before you have made a real effort to address the root cause of your insomnia. Most medications are only a temporary fix, and they can come with some terrible side effects, such as memory loss, depression, weight gain and can be highly addictive as well as interfere with REM sleep, making insomnia worse in the long run.

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, life coach and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz