Fight Your Insomnia With These 9 Tips for Shutting off Your Brain
by Matthew Gilligan
You know the feeling – anxiety is creeping in from all sides and the moment you turn off the light, all of your worries and your endless to-do list and the reality that you’ll never really be caught up all come crashing in.
It doesn’t matter how tired you were when you laid down or how early you need to get up in the morning. Your brain just refuses to shut down for the night and get ready to do battle again tomorrow.
This happens to everyone sometimes, I think, so wouldn’t it be great to have some tips on how to force your brain into shut-down mode? I think so, and so does Dr. Abhinay Singh, the medical director for the Indiana Sleep Center.
“Sleep is a rhythm. It’s about quantity as well as quality as well as alignment. Think of it as a set of wheels or tires for a car. They have to be of good quality, they have to be the right size, and they have to be aligned right as well for it to work.”
Below are some of his best ideas on how to turn those anxiety-ridden nights around so you can ride, safely alert, into the next morning.
#1. Try to enjoy some natural light before noon.
This goes back to the importance of the circadian rhythm, the internal clock that controls our sleep-wake patterns. It’s governed by sunlight, which tells our brain to stop with the melatonin and start with the energy for the day.
More light first thing – up to two hours, if possible – will keep it operating at a high level.
“Light is one of the most important cues for calibrating our sleep-wake system. It’s about 70-percent of the equation,” says Dr. Singh.
#2. Limit light in the evenings, including those from screens.
Lack of light helps us power down as surely as bright light helps us power up. Low light triggers melatonin release in our brains, so as early as 6 or 7pm it’s smart to start limiting your exposure to harsh lights.
“Staring at bright screens in darkness with dilated pupils allows more quantities of light to enter the eyes,” explains Dr. Singh. “If it’s dark, and you’re looking at something that produces light, that light has an opportunity to get in and suppress your melatonin.”
#3. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
From the time we’re born, our bodies naturally thrive on a routine. While there are times in our lives when a routine is hard or impossible, setting a standard bedtime and wake time (between 7 and 9 hours of sleep), will help your body in the fight to make both going to sleep and waking up easier.
“Try not to sway more than 10-15 minutes,” recommends Dr. Singh.
And naps? Avoid them if you can. “…you’re going to hurt your drive at night and throw the system off.”
#4. Make exercise a priority, but not too close to bedtime.
It helps reduce stress and also increases the body’s natural appetite for sleep. Try to get a minimum of 30-45 minutes every day.
It does increase your heart rate and hormone levels, though, so try to get your exercise in at least four hours before your scheduled bedtime.
#5. Pay attention to your diet.
So many things in life come down to diet, but Dr. Singh recommends not eating when it’s dark – eating too late will rev up your blood sugar levels. If you’re stressed and need a snack, try to gravitate toward something sweet but healthy, like an orange.
#6. Don’t use you bed for things other than sleep (but sex is okay!)
Your brain should connect your bed to the idea of sleep, not of work or watching televisions or checking your email.
You should only go there when you’re ready to wind down and sleep – or to have sex, which is a great way to reduce stress and get ready to knock out some zzz’s.
#7. Check your thermostat.
An optimal temperature for sleep is 70 degrees. People who are too hot don’t sleep well.
#8. Stop reading the news, and while you’re at it, rethink that afternoon coffee.
Media burnout is real, and with 50,000-80,000 thoughts a day swirling through our minds, spending too many of them on whatever the current sh*tshow is isn’t good.
You don’t have to ignore the news, but don’t read it first thing in the morning or last thing before you go to bed.
And that afternoon coffee that helps you limp over the finish line of your workday? It might be making it hard to fall asleep, too – caffeine stays in the bloodstream for 6-8 hours.
#9. Have a routine.
Let your body know what happens before you go to bed – you let the dog out, you wash your face and brush your teeth, maybe read a few pages of your novel, go to the bathroom and take your pills.
Whatever works for you, but doing the same thing in the same order will trigger sleepiness once you do it often enough.