When you’re awake your senses are constantly sending stimuli to your brain. It takes a lot
of energy to process all of that, and it also creates waste that needs to be cleaned up and removed.
This only happens when you’re asleep, which is why most of us sleep for about a third of our entire lives. That sounds like a lot, however, it’s necessary for our mental, and physical health.
How do we fall asleep?
Our bodies need to slow down to remove all of that waste, and one of the ways it does that, is by increasing production of a hormone called Melatonin. Also known as the ‘sleep hormone’, Melatonin on its own will not put you to sleep, but it’s an indicator for the body to relax, making it easier to do so. If you’re a night owl Melatonin will peak later in the evening, and with morning people, much earlier.
What can you do if you can’t sleep?
Unfortunately, this is something that affects a lot of people and there’s no silver bullet we’re afraid. Everyone is different, however listed below are a number of ideas that might work for you.
Let your body calm down
As much as you can, avoid doing any strenuous activities before you go to sleep. Exercise, of course – but also studying, or having in depth discussions.
Avoid caffeine before bedtime
This one seems rather obvious, however, caffeine is a stimulant and will not be helping you go to sleep. Opinions are divided on how many hours before bed you need to stop taking caffeine, but for me personally, nothing after 3pm.
Stop the noise
Try wearing earplugs, listen to calming music or nature sounds if you prefer. The idea is to close yourself off from ambient noise, so whatever works, go for it.
Try to stay awake.
This sounds a bit strange, though if you stop focussing on ‘trying to go to sleep’, and focus on ‘trying to stay awake’ instead, your body should automatically get tired. You’ll be fooling your own brain, in a way.
Stay away from screens
Even if you feel like you’re relaxing and winding down, watching TV, your phone or an iPad does exactly the opposite to your brain. Blue light keeps your brain activity high, as does the content you’re watching.
Have a glass of wine!
Alcohol might promote falling asleep, though if you take too much, you won’t feel so good in the morning. It won’t increase the quality of your sleep either, however if you’re struggling to get any sleep at all – it may be an improvement.
Can you get too much sleep?
The average person needs about 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Some might sleep more, , however, in principle, you can’t really get too much sleep. Too little might be a problem, in fact many sleep a lot less during the week, but make up for it at the weekend. This is called catching up on a ‘sleep debt’ and is perfectly fine for most of us.
What does too little sleep do to our body?
If you don’t regularly catch up on the weekends, or you just can’t sleep in general, you feel less fit when you get up, and you’ll get tired more quickly during the day. You might find your concentration or your creativity changes too.
It varies from person to person, however over the years I’ve noticed people who practice more self-care, can also sleep better. A lovely side effect of self-care indeed!
For tonight, however, Rest well!
Esther van der Sande, The School of Self-Care