One of my patients, insomnia sufferer for over 20 years, told me that one thing that bothers her endlessly is “waking up at night and staring at the smoke alarm light”. It becomes a monster of light and falling asleep becomes an impossible dream. “Tape it off,” I said, and so, she began her healing journey. Sometimes, a simple step such as covering a light might not solve the problem, but it can at least help.
You may know of common causes for poor sleep such as having a new baby, going through menopause, or struggling with stress and depression. But here are some sleep thieves that that you might not be aware of, which you can fix right away.
- Light in your bedroom. Is the moon or streetlights pouring light into your bedroom? How about little lights, such as an electronic clock or the smoke alarm back light? Even the smallest amount of light can affect your melatonin production and other brain chemicals that promote sleep. Blackout blinds or drapes can block the light coming from outside. Cover or remove the lights inside the bedroom. It does make a difference; I see it every day in my practice.
- Clock watching. Many of my patients, after spending numerous sleepless nights, get in the habit of watching the clock every time they wake up. Our bodies learn habits, and the internal clock knows it’s 2 am, the time you inevitably look at the clock every morning. It also creates anxiety feelings around the fact that you will have not have enough sleep for the next day. One of my favorite stories is the one where one of my patients wakes up every night at 2 am because her dog needs to go out. The fact is that after reinforcing this habit, your pet will indeed wake up at that same time each night. The internal clock is very powerful. My suggestion is to cover your clock and only look at it if you are laying in your bed wide wake for a while. Also, as mentioned above, the light from the clock itself can be detrimental to healthy sleep.
- On a caffeine roll. The “half-life”of caffeine is about five to six hours – so after the initial high your body gets rid of half of the caffeine in about five hours or so, three quarters in ten hours, and seven-eighths in fifteen hours. This means that caffeine remains in your blood when you’re trying to sleep. Women taking oral birth control take almost twice as long to process caffeine. The same goes for the period between ovulation and menstruation. Smokers are also found to take longer to process caffeine. Your best bet is to only have caffeine in the morning and listen to your body. Reading labels is crucial. Here are some surprising sources of caffeine: decaf coffee, chocolate ice cream, non-cola sodas, weight lose pills, pain killers, energy water, breath fresheners, and morning Spark instant oatmeal.
- Light exposure before sleep. One of the things that I emphasize is making the hour before you sleep as important as food or water. Allowing yourself to wind down will pay well for your sleep but also every day life. Within that hour, avoiding exposure to any bright screens is crucial in the melatonin production. The American Medical Association has found some sobering facts, such as the possibility of increased risk of breast cancer due to suppression of melatonin production. I suggest that you use no iPad, phone, TV, Kindle, or computer before bed. What else to do? Here is an article I wrote that can help you shape the hour before sleep.
- The tricky effect of booze. We all know that a glass or two of wine will make you drowsy and put you to sleep. What you may not know is that it will provoke numerous nighttime arousals that you may or may not be aware of. Even if you don’t remember being awake, those arousals will prevent you from going into deep sleep, which is when you rest the most. The result is waking up tired and groggy the next day, even when you didn’t have enough alcohol to have a hangover.
Every day I go to work and marvel over how changes such as these completely shift peoples’ sleep patterns and ultimately, their lives. Suggestions like the ones I mentioned above, or drinking a clean crisp glass of water, or telling somebody that you love them, or making breakfast in the morning – they are all a part of you enjoying who you are.
I love Einstein’s quote on being passionate about what you do: “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves”. Whatever you do, do it well.