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Sleep Essentials: How to Combat Insomnia

How to combat insomnia isn’t a one-size-fits all fix. Just like a healthy diet differs from person to person, a treatment plan will require you to look at the root causes of your sleep issues. 

First, let’s look at the types of insomnia:

  1. An inability to fall asleep.

  2. An inability to stay asleep.

  3. A combination of the two.

There can be a few culprits to any of these types of insomnia, and understanding what is triggering it, will be essential to combatting it.

Here are some of the main reasons people have trouble falling asleep, and/or staying asleep:

1. Stress

Think about it this way - have you ever had to take an early morning flight? How often did you wake up that night fearing you slept through your alarm?

Stress plays an even bigger factor in falling asleep. If you sit up at night, replaying everything that went wrong that day or dreading what’s to come tomorrow, you don’t let your mind settle. Pair that with watching a scary movie, or binge watching late night television to ignore that stress - well, you’ve got a recipe for a restless night.

How can we combat this?

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Set up a night time routine that forces you to relax. For everyone, this looks a little different. But here are some things you might want to include:

  • A hot bath: add some essential oils like lavender, or eucalyptus.

  • Journaling: focus on writing about the positive than dwelling on the negative.

  • Writing tomorrow’s to-do list: if you feel like your tasks tomorrow are already haunting you, write them out! You’ll have a better idea of what you’ll need to tackle.

  • Meditation: Ya, you’ve probably heard this one, but it is essential! Try out a meditation app if you’re new to it.

  • Read: Choose a book that isn’t TOO intriguing (especially if you’re someone who can get caught up in a good read).

2. Your cortisol

Cortisol is released when our body is under stress - of any type. It’s the hormone that helps to determine our energy. Your cortisol has a natural curve: highest between 6-8 am, and continuously drops during the day, with your lowest levels in the evening before bed. However, there are many things that can disrupt your cortisol levels, especially with chronic inflammation and chronic stress as a major part of our society.

This can include:

  • Stress of any kind (work, financial, family, etc).

  • Digestive stress, which can cause inflammation.

  • Cortisol disruptors, including caffeine, alcohol, nicotine.

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How can we combat this?

Balancing your cortisol levels starts hours before it’s time for bed. Here are some things to consider:

  • If you drink a lot of coffee, think about the times of day that you’re drinking it. Cut it out after 12:00 p.m., and try to stick with just 1 cup each day.

  • Stick to 1 glass of alcohol in the evening, and at least 1 hour before bed

  • Workout before 6:00 p.m. You know that rush you feel after a workout? You’re happy, usually feeling focused - that’s your cortisol

Your cortisol can also cause you to have issues staying asleep - especially if you don’t eat enough food, or close enough to bed. Without enough food, particularly fat and protein, you may have a cortisol spike in the early morning (around 3 a.m).

3. Your blood sugar

Let’s dig in a little deeper on this whole “eating enough before bed” scenario. Having a meal that’s high in carbohydrates close to bed can be responsible for issues with both falling asleep and staying asleep.

When you eat foods high in carbohydrates, with little fats or proteins, your blood sugar spikes (usually right when you’re going to bed), and crashes around 3 a.m. Remember that cortisol spike we just talked about? Ya, that happens because when our blood sugar is too low, our cortisol kicks in to help out and ensure our glucose levels don’t hit rock bottom. This spike wakes us up (cue the midnight munchies).

How can we combat this?

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Stick with foods that are high in protein and fat, and fill up on lots of vegetables. This will help to keep your blood sugar steady, and reduce a drop throughout the night.

Try to reduce the amount of sugar that you eat or drink - watch your alcohol intake, reduce your desserts, and if you are extremely sensitive to sleep issues, even watch your raw fruit intake.

But aren’t there supplements out there?

There are! But remember, these are usually just a band-aid, and should only be used for a limited time. Here are some you may want to try:

  • Melatonin (we’re sure you’ve heard that one before!)

  • Magnesium

  • Natural Calm (a type of magnesium supplement)

  • Passionflower tea

  • Valerian root (usually found in tea).

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