Sleep is an aspect of human life that often goes overlooked and underappreciated – that is, until we’re not getting enough of it. When our sleep quality is not where it should be, our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing are all negatively affected. If you’re struggling to get adequate sleep, you’re not alone. In fact, results from Statistics Canada showed that between 2007 and 2013, 43 percent of men and 55 percent of women between 18 and 64 years of age reported difficulties falling or staying asleep.
Learning to identify what unhealthy sleep patterns look like is the first step in addressing the issue. The symptoms of poor sleep habits vary among us, but once we’ve identified ourselves as someone who currently struggles to get the rest we need, we’re in a better position to take the steps necessary to remedy the issue.
If something intuitive or rational is telling us that our sleep habits aren’t supporting our wellbeing, there are a few questions we can ask ourselves to get clear on what’s going on:
While it’s not necessary to fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, tossing and turning for hours before finally drifting off is a sign that something is out of balance. This restlessness could be due to mental or emotional challenges, or it could be due to disruptions in hormones or your circadian rhythm – a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of our brain that alternates between sleepiness and alertness.
Waking up in the middle of the night is not always disruptive, but we can usually tell when it is. If we are struggling to fall back asleep, this could be due to fear, anxiety, ruminating, or high levels of stress hormone and sugar circulating through the system.
It’s okay to spend a bit of time adjusting to waking life once your eyes meet the daylight; however, if you are overly lethargic in the morning, something might be off. You might be sleeping for too little or too long or your body might be processing excess alcohol and other toxins during the night, inhibiting you from fully resting and restoring effectively.
If you’ve identified that you are indeed struggling to maintain a healthy sleep routine, there are a variety of measures you can take to improve the quality of your resting hours. What works for one person might be different from what works for another since there are many causes for poor sleep. There are a few lifestyle adjustments we can explore in an effort to improve the quality of our slumber – and in doing so, our waking life, too:
If the underlying cause of our sleep struggles is anxiety, stress, or fear, mindful breathing or meditation can help us settle the nervous system. As we deepen the breath, we activate the body’s relaxation response, which helps us to sink more effortlessly into slumber. There are plenty of free or paid apps such as Headspace, Calm, and others available that can help take the mind off the ticking clock in our heads. Focusing on your breath, instead of the minutes flying by in the middle of the night, can help you relax and return to sleep.
Lavender oil has long been regarded as a natural stress remedy. Once again, if the cause of poor sleep quality is related to an inability to relax, diffusing lavender oil in the room before hitting the pillow can help us prepare for the restoration our body yearns for.
High or fluctuating blood sugar levels can make it difficult for us to fall or to stay asleep. If blood sugar levels fall too drastically in the middle of the night, the body secretes stress hormones to bring those levels back up, which can cause us to wake up. Alcohol, while tempting as a night cap, can impact our nervous system and overall ability to regulate and self soothe. Reducing alcohol prior to bed and ensuring late night meals and snacks are of a low glycemic load can help to regulate our blood sugar levels and prevent this 2:00 am rise.
Thinking about the next day and our to-do lists or having a sudden thought we don’t want to forget are likely to keep us awake. To help the brain let go and stop yourself from worrying about forgetting something, set a reminder for the next day. Technologies like Alexa or Google Assistant allow you to do so without even getting out of bed or turning the light on. Alternatively, you can use your phone or keep a notebook beside you for when ideas keep your mind at work at night.
A solid night’s sleep empowers your waking day and nourishes your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. While the cause of unhealthy sleep patterns is different for each of us, these tips are a good place to start if you’ve found that unhealthy sleep patterns are negatively impacting your life. An extra tip? Check in with your morning behaviours in addition to your nightly ones. Everything has a ripple effect, so if you begin the day with a meal that is high in sugar or you aren’t remembering to breathe consciously throughout daily stressors, these patterns will gain momentum and be harder to break in the evening. Any action taken to enhance your wellbeing will have an effect on the way you sleep. So, you can begin your journey towards a solid slumber right where you are – one breath at a time.
[Editor’s Note: The author of this post is a content contributor to Alavida, and this contributor was paid for their writing. The opinions, views, results and experiences are theirs alone.]
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Gillian Sanger is a yoga and meditation teacher, holistic nutritionist, and creative non-fiction writer. Committed to self-inquiry and to meditation in its many forms, she practices living life in alignment with the natural world, both inside and out. She seeks guidance and direction from her heart and from her highest self, strengthening her knowledge and intuition through her personal spiritual practice and through the written word.