It would be hard to find someone who's never been kept up at night, unable to fall asleep due to racing thoughts, not feeling comfortable, or any other reason their brain wouldn't let them rest. It's a struggle we've all felt and empathize with.
For those who are stricken with sleepless nights every so often, sleep experts offer surprising advice for what might help in the moment, and it doesn't involve any sort of pill you need to take hours in advance.
Sleep, like many things in life, is something the body deeply craves when it's missing, and is something you wish you could call for at any moment when it's lacking. That power can be yours, the power of the Law of Attraction, and can be applied to anything you desire in this life. If you know where to begin, that is.
At some point in everyone's life, we all struggle with sleep. Either we're not getting enough, kept awake by festering anxieties, or we're getting too much, spending our days in a drowsiness we can't seem to escape from.
Having periodic issues sleeping is actually very common, especially the former form where you're struggling to fall asleep, as sleep experts and scientists agree that having trouble getting some shuteye every so often is completely normal. That doesn't make it any less frustrating, though.
An Unrealistic Standard
"There's this expectation that we should just go to sleep and stay sleeping for seven to eight hours," Roxanne Prichard, a neuroscientist at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, told Scientific American. “That’s just not biologically supported with how humans sleep.”
So don't beat yourself up too much when you have issues falling asleep. It's no personal failing of your own, it's just the way our brains are wired, sometimes the standard sleep structure doesn't jive.
Pleasantries aside, why is this the case? Why is falling asleep so hard for some people?
As it turns out, going from a waking to a sleeping state can be strenuous for the brain. "It's very uncommon for people to be able to just transition from being awake and active to falling asleep right away," says Kim Hutchison, a sleep medicine specialist at Oregon Health & Science University.
Prichard explains that good sleep conditions allow for your brain activity to slow, become more orderly, and become synchronistic. Anything that disturbs your condition can prevent this from happening.
Every Little Detail
This could be a light shining in from the hallway, the temperature of your room being off, or there is too much noise outside your window.
"You need to feel both physically and psychologically safe to sleep," says Prichard. “If there's something that you are really worried about, if you are sleeping next to someone you don’t trust, if you’re worried that the newborn that you’re caring for might stop breathing, it’s going to be hard to fall asleep.”
This is why anxiety is such a common factor in nights spent awake.
Up And At 'Em
It's also why relaxation is such an important aspect of getting a good night's sleep. That's not the piece of advice that often surprises people though, of course you want to be relaxed when you sleep! It's what you should do to help get yourself in that state that leaves people shocked.
If you're spending too long in bed fretting over not being able to sleep, tossing and turning, and worrying yourself over, then there's a simple instruction that will help calm those thoughts.
Divert Your Attention
"If you're unable to fall asleep in what seems like or feels like 20 minutes or so, or you feel your body getting more amped up because you’re getting anxious that you’re not falling asleep, then I would recommend getting out of bed and sitting somewhere quietly with dim light and just relaxing, doing something boring," Hutchison explained.
Things like reading, drinking some (caffeine-free) tea, or doing some breathing exercises can help calm your mind and make you stop worrying about not sleeping.
It's also best to avoid things like exercise, snacking, or using any device with a screen during this time.
It takes some practice, but you have to focus on not getting into a thought loop about missing out on sleep. All that does is create more stress and disturb your sleep further, not to mention you won't actually get anywhere with those worries as your prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for things like analysis, doesn't get as much blood at night.
Psyching Yourself Out
In fact, there's a growing belief within the scientific community that the brain in general processes things worse in the night time.
"The mind, after midnight..., is less equipped to problem-solve and more prone to find problems," Prichard says. “It's really easy to wake up in the middle of the night and freak yourself out about something that you could probably problem-solve more effectively later.”
So not only is worrying at night keeping you from sleeping, you also won't be solving any of these worries by dwelling on them so late.
Let Yourself Fall Behind
If you find yourself up late one night anyhow, both experts don't recommend trying to catch up the next day by sleeping in or taking naps. While it'll feel good in the moment, it'll trigger a cycle of issues falling asleep at night.
"If you nap during the day, especially longer naps, then your brain gets little snippets of sleep and will be less likely to fall asleep quickly at bedtime," Hutchison said. Your brain needs to crave sleep for it to fall into sleep faster.
And, of course, if your issues falling asleep are chronic or persistent over a longer period of time, there's likely something else at play here. While there's advice for helping the odd sleepless night, you shouldn't ignore your physical health because you might start experiencing issues with sleep every night. If you're having issues sleeping that affect your daily life, talk to a doctor!
Sleep is the most important tool we have for healing our bodies and minds. It's a necessary rest, a reset on the day, allowing us to start anew in the morning with a fresh mind. You shouldn't sacrifice a good night's sleep for anything, as you deserve a well-earned rest.
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