A sunrise is a thing of beauty—unless it’s peering mockingly at you through your blinds after a sleepless night. In that case, the breaking dawn is an unpleasant reminder that your last chances for sleep are slipping away.
Insomnia can be frustrating—believe me, I know. I have been struggling with it for a year now, since the birth of my last son. Since then I have researched just about every possible cause and remedy, lucky for you!
I want to share with you a guide to sleeping better, coming from my own research and personal experience. Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor, and that seeing your doctor for a check-up and blood work can help you find the best treatment option.
Step 1: Find the Underlying Cause
What do you think is causing your insomnia? Are you stressed? Are your hormones imbalanced? Do you have a poor diet? When I first started having sleep problems, I did a little brainstorming. I knew I was post-partum and that I had additional mood changes. I began journaling and tracking my menstrual cycle and a pattern began to emerge; most of my insomnia was happening right when my estrogen levels peaked before ovulation. A daily health journal is a great way to keep track of your diet and exercise, and to identify potential triggers for your insomnia.
Step 2: Strive for Better Health
You may not be able to pinpoint exactly what is causing your sleep problems, which is why a holistic approach to healing is best. You might find that a few dietary and lifestyle changes are all that is needed to sleep better. Use the tips below to greatly improve your chances getting a good night’s sleep.
Wake early and exercise- I could have separated these into 2 points, but I chose to put them together because the combination of the 2 is doubly effective in combating insomnia. I find that my chances for sleep are the best when I have been up since the sunrise and have resisted the urge to take a nap during the day. Exercise has countless health benefits, including reducing inflammation which is an underlying cause of many illnesses. Exercise also helps tire the body so it doesn’t feel restless at night, especially if you sit at a desk for most of the day.
Try waking with the sunrise and doing several rounds of sun salutations. This should get your blood flowing while also getting you centered for the day.
Avoid overstimulation before bedtime- I know I will have trouble sleeping when I find my thoughts are churning close to bedtime. Overstimulation is a huge trigger for insomnia, so try to avoid any type of media or activity that gets your adrenaline pumping. Too much light from screens can also interfere with the release of your sleep hormone, melatonin. Try and dim the lights and avoid all screens at least an hour before you plan to go to bed.
Reduce stimulants and inflammatory foods- Its common sense to quit stimulants like caffeine all together when you are fighting insomnia, but a more mild caffeine such as green or white tea before noon should be fine. Consider trading your coffee for bone broth, it will give you energy as well as replenish your minerals.
Chronic inflammation in the body contributes to all sorts of illnesses. Eating a diet consisting of whole foods and avoiding known inflammatory foods like sugar (from processed foods), and alcohol can help reduce that inflammation and improve your health.
Support healthy hormones- For women, your monthly cycle is a reflection of your overall health. If you have PMS, painful or irregular periods, you may want to research ways to soothe and regulate your hormones. In my case, my hormones had everything to do with my insomnia. Reading up on the subject and tracking my cycle has been instrumental in my healing process.
Supplement magnesium- It’s been said that if you live in the modern world, you are probably deficient in magnesium. Entire books have been written about the wonders of this mineral, and it is highly recommended for improved sleep. Magnesium supports a healthy nervous system and may reduce anxiety. Try taking Magnesium in a form that is easy for your body to absorb, like Magnesium Glycinate. Be cautious when researching on your own and taking supplements; they can be just as powerful as prescription medication and can have interactions with other drugs. Start slow and start one new supplement at a time so you will know if you have a reaction to it.
A Word about Sleep Aids
Sometimes, you don’t have time to wait for your new healthy lifestyle to take effect—you need some sleep now. So what are your best options?
Prescription sleeping pills are notorious for having serious side effects that are ironically much worse than the insomnia itself. I have heard horror stories of sleep walking, making phone calls while asleep and feeling drowsy and out of it into the next day. I would urge you to avoid these if possible.
Low dose melatonin supplements are generally considered safe, but shouldn’t be used on a regular basis.
Diphenhydramine, also known as Benedryl or Z-Quil is an antihistamine that causes drowsiness in most people (for some it has the opposite effect). It is widely used and considered safe, but also should not be used on a regular basis.
It’s best to talk with your doctor about your options when it comes to sleep aids. Hopefully you will only have an occasional need for them, once your body starts thanking you for adopting a healthier lifestyle and better sleep habits.
Remember to listen to your body—it will tell you what it needs to sleep well, stop dreading the dawn, and meet each sunrise with a smile.
Can you gift yourself 4 minutes for a sweet Savasana? A favourite yoga pose that restores us, any time of day:
Short Relaxation – Savasana
Benefits: Savasana unites the mind, body, emotions and spiritual aspects of the self together. It relieves physical and mental fatigue and soothes the sympathetic nervous system.