Do you toss and turn during the night, counting crows or sheep? Join the club.
Insomnia is almost an epidemic with an alarming number of people suffering from sleeplessness for myriad reasons. The COVID pandemic has only added further to these woes.
It truly is extremely frustrating not to be able to sleep when you want to, plus without fail it messes up the next day, and possibly your health too in the long term. In fact it is now clear that if you want to ward off diseases, then good sleep is imperative.
Getting enough sound sleep has a profound impact on your stress levels, immune function and disease resistance. Sleep time is when your body and immune system do most of its repairs and rejuvenation. And not sleeping enough reduces the strength and functionality of our immune system.
While there could be other complex reasons adding to your struggle with sleep, very often the solution might be as simple as restructuring your food—what you eat, how you eat it and when, bolstered with a few effective lifestyle changes. Below is a checklist of 10 such steps that can help you sleep better.
Going to bed right after a meal (and an over-full stomach) does not make for a good night's sleep. While you may feel drowsy and fall asleep quicker, all the action needed to digest a large-sized meal is likely to cause frequent waking and relatively poor quality of sleep.
Plus when you sleep on a distended belly filled with food, the stomach is pushed up and with it the diaphragm, leaving less space for the lungs… and you literally cannot breathe. So keep a time gap of three hours between your last meal and sleep time.
Along with the portions, also keep the meals low fat and low in spices. High-fat meals and big servings prolong the work of the digestive system, and all the gas production and consequent rumblings may keep you awake and grumbling.
Often, highly seasoned and spiced food interfere with sleep, and may lead to heartburn. Spicy foods can be trouble as they may lead to acid reflux. Push gas-forming foods to the morning menu, and chew food well to avoid gulping air.
Coffee equals caffeine and caffeine disrupts sleep because it is a stimulant. Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bedtime and cut down on your total daily use too. Same rule applies for aerated drinks and tea too.
Caffeine accelerates the nervous system and also leads to an increase in the adrenaline level of the blood, which increases the breathing rate, heart rate, urine output and the production of stomach acids. This is a lot of action when you want to slow things down, really. Strike off all caffeine-containing beverages before sleep, or have them only 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
Alcohol may seem the quickest way to get knocked out and hit the sack. However, it interferes seriously with sleep. You may lie almost unconscious for the first 2-3 hours, but this will, more often than not, be followed by disturbed sleep, frequent urination and dehydration.
In the end, you will sleep less soundly and wake up more tired.
Drinking too close to bedtime can also accentuate sleep problems like sleep apnea, snoring, and insomnia and make acid reflux and GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) worse.
Besides a full bladder will not let you sleep at all, as you get up again and again to hit loo. And, of course, never mix alcohol with sleeping pills.
Stop smoking generally but definitely near bedtime or upon waking up at night, as nicotine is also a stimulant that may "trigger" your body to remain alert
Having to pee often may be one reason for not getting enough sleep. Take liquids at least 90 minutes before bedtime if the need to urinate wakes you up in the middle of the night. That’s the time your body takes to process most liquids.
Obesity can cause restless nights in a few ways. Excess weight causes the deposition of soft tissue in the pharynx and larynx (throat), which causes sleep apnea, a condition in which one stops breathing for a few seconds while sleeping. This disturbs the sleep quality extensively (link to the column on sleep apnea). Diets that help in loosing weight also help in overcoming the problem of sleep apnea.
A nap of 30 minutes early in the afternoon helps improve alertness, sharpen memory, and generally reduces the symptoms of fatigue and help lower stress levels.
But, that said, if you fail to get a good sleep one night, do not oversleep or nap the following day (unless it is a regular routine). Maintain your regular schedule for rising and your normal level of activity, to avoid messing up your night sleep cycle.
Don’t neglect exercise. Physical fatigue is a great old-fashioned sedative. But try not to work out near your bedtime, as exercise pumps up endorphins in the body and raises the body temperature, which can keep you awake for a long time. Ideally exercise at least three to four hours before you turn in for the night.