As a young adult, life can become quite busy. Whether it is chores, school, work, or just personal matters, we try our best to take care of those things so that we can ultimately relax by the end of the day. As the end of the day draws near, we are ready to jump into bed to finally sleep. But as tired as we may feel, sometimes falling asleep just does not seem to be possible.
Half an hour, an hour, two hours have gone by…yet we sometimes find ourselves just laying in bed in the middle of the night and starting to feel stressed out about not being able to sleep. Why does this sometimes happen? Or perhaps it has been an ongoing thing? Are there things that we could be doing that may be affecting our ability to sleep? In fact, there are a couple of things that we may be doing that impacts our ability to sleep and we may be unaware of it.
What May be Affecting Our Ability to Sleep?
You Could Be Using Your Phone (or Other Electronic) in Bed
Our phones/electronics are so high-tech nowadays and we do practically everything on it. We use the latest applications that help us prepare for school, be more productive at work, find out the latest news, watch the latest movies, and so much more. But with so much to do and by doing them at night right before bed, it may be just the thing that is causing us to have difficulty falling asleep. Our minds can be quite active during this time which prevents us from calming ourselves enough to fall asleep.
In addition, those gadgets tend to emit a certain type of wavelength of light known as “blue light”. There are many wavelengths of light and blue light happens to have a strong effect in activating your sleep-wake system. This is similar to walking outside on a bright sunny day. When exposed to this time of light, our minds are tricked into thinking it is day time and it is time to be awake, NOT sleepy. In other words, if you are exposed to blue light all day, then it is as if night does not exist.
You Could Be Having Too Many Thoughts About the Future/Past
We all make mistakes here and there, and there just some things that we can’t change in the past. It is best to just take what went wrong as a learning experience and prevent it from happening again. After all, this is how grow to become stronger individuals. In addition, we may sometimes feel anxious at times such as when we have an important event the very next day. Even if we plan things in great detail for tomorrow, it is not guaranteed that it will go according to plan and there may be unexpected events that can occur.
You Might Have Exercised Too Late
When we exercise, our bodies release various chemicals in our body like adrenaline. This is the same chemical that is released if you are chased by a lion or when you are about to confront someone, a fight-or-flight response. It can take several hours for those chemicals to disappear. Our bodies will not be relaxed quickly enough to shift into the sleeping state.
You Probably Took Too Many Naps Throughout the Day (Or Too Close to Bedtime)
Naps are highly beneficial for a quick recharge of our bodies. They allow our bodies to function for another few more hours. They say naps should last about 10 to 20 minutes. Any less and you will not feel recharged. Any more and that nap has turned into “sleep”. Except you probably will not be getting a 6-8 hour nap, so it is “incomplete sleep” so it may leave you feeling more tired. Try to avoid napping later at night when you are about to go to bed.
You Might Have Taken Caffeine in Some Form
Caffeine is a stimulant that helps to keep us alert and awake which is essential for concentration. This is good during the day while at work or in school where focus is needed. However, this may not help if you want to relax your mind in time for bed. Caffeine can exist in coffee, sodas, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate.
Some Strategies to Help With Sleeping
There are many strategies for you to try that can help with sleeping. Please note that they are only suggestions and will NOT guarantee that sleeping can occur.
- Develop a more routine sleeping schedule
- Develop a regular exercise regimen, but NOT too close to bedtime
- Sleep in a low-lit (preferably dark), quiet location
- Avoid using electronics (phone, laptop, computer, TV, etc) before going to bed
- If not possible to avoid electronics, use the night mode function (where the screen emits a dim warm orange color)
- You can have soft, relaxing music (no lyrics) or just sounds of nature (bells, beach waves, rain drops, etc) playing in low volume
- Reminding yourself to focus on the present (the sleep), let the stresses of yesterday be in the past, and let the worries of tomorrow come tomorrow
- Avoid consuming substances that contain caffeine at night (coffee, sodas, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate)
Tools That Can Help
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Despite all the methods mentioned above, we may sometimes have to resort to various substances. A safe supplement that can help when you have difficulty sleeping is called Melatonin. It is the same natural chemical that our bodies produce that helps with regulating our sleep-wake cycle. It is over-the-counter and can be purchased without a prescription. Here is a gummy brand of Melatonin.
During the day, this chemical is minimal but at night it is produced in higher amounts which in turn helps with sleep. It is when our minds is too active at night that Melatonin is not produced in correct amounts that we have a difficult time with sleeping. Dosage wise can vary from person to person, but as always, start with the lowest dose for a couple weeks. If it still does not help, you can probably try 2 tablets for another couple weeks. Try to avoid taking anymore than 20 mg. The 30 mg range can be harmful. If you are not sure, you can check with your physician.
If by chance that Melatonin does not help, it could be that you’ve been undergoing a lot of stress, anxiety, and have racing thoughts and THAT is overpowering the effects that Melatonin has on you. In this instance, you can probably try another supplement called 5-Hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP for short. 5-HTP helps induce the production of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone which helps you relax and ultimately sleep!
In addition to insomnia (difficulty sleeping), 5-HTP can also help with depression and anxiety which will help in alleviating some of the racing thoughts and stress as well. This should ultimately calm you enough to help you with your sleep. Again, always start with the lowest dose and avoid going more than 300 mg. DO NOT take this if you are already taking other antidepressants like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) or Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI). Taking 5-HTP simultaneously with SSRI’s and MAOI’s will lead you to overproduce serotonin which can be fatal.
- SSRI Drugs: Citalopram, Escitalopram, Fluoxetine, Paroxetine, Sertraline (All generic brands)
- MAOI Drugs: Isocarboxazid, Phenelzine, Selegiline, Tranylcypromine (All generic brands)
Again, if you are not sure with what to take and what dose, ALWAYS check with your physician.
If you find that these supplements are working for you, you may want to try tapering off them by a smaller dose every few weeks (2-3) to see if you can still sleep without it. This will help train you to not be reliant on substances. For Melatonin, if taking 10 mg, maybe reduce to 5 mg. For 5-HTP, if taking 200 mg, try reducing to 100 mg. Always think in halves. If you purchased non-extended release, sustained released, etc. versions of these supplements, you can cut them in half.
Sleeping is highly essential to a healthy lifestyle. However, some of our daily habits (especially before bed) can interfere with our internal clock. There are many strategies to help regulate our sleeping patterns and even tools/supplements like Melatonin or 5-HTP. In the worse case scenario where none of the above seem to work, it may actually be time to see your primary care doctor. But other than that, please enjoy your sleep!
Do you still have trouble sleeping even with these tips? Perhaps it could be your bed that is creating issues.
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