Why do I have trouble falling asleep?
Daily productivity is at an all time high in the history of the United States and along with that comes stress. With all of this stress it is no wonder more people are having trouble getting a good night’s sleep.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, approximately 40 million U.S. citizens suffer from chronic long-term sleep disorders each year and an additional 20 million struggle with occasional problems sleeping. According to the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, there are over 100 kinds of sleeping disorders. With so many people having difficult falling and staying asleep, a lot of research is happening to try to help people sleep better.
In a groundbreaking book, Undoing Perpetual Stress, Dr. Richard O’Connor makes a solid case that the human brain and nervous system just cannot process the constant stress that most Americans absorb every day. He laments that the health-care establishment hasn’t been able to adequately help patients with sleeping problems. And, our sleep problems are being compounded, too, by the light-emitting iPads, iphones and televisions we think we’re relaxing with at night and even in bed. As a result, 132 million Americans have trouble sleeping at least one night each week and the sleep aid industry earned $34 billion dollars in 2014 (a 50% increase from 2008’s $23 billion dollars.)
Here is a short list of some of the most common sleep ailments;
According to the National Sleep Foundation, what separates occassional trouble sleeping from insomnia is that it becomes a chronic affliction. You often hear people claiming that they have suffered from insomnia the night before, but unless it is a chronic issue then they simply had trouble sleeping.
Chronic snoring is often a symptom of a larger problem, sleep apnea. The Stanford Health Care website explains that snoring happens when airways get blocked preventing the air we breathe from getting into the lungs. This can be a serious medical condition that could warrant a trip to the doctor. If you have chronic snoring issues then a doctor should certainly be consulted. Sleep apnea is also a life-threatening and progressive condition that can worsen over time.
Circadian Rhythm Disorder
Our bodies have an internal self-regulating clock known as the ‘circadian rhythm’. It’s what wakes us in the morning and tells us when it’s time to go to bed at night. A patient is diagnosed with this kind of disorder when their internal clocks either stop regulating sleep or tell us to sleep or wake at the wrong times of the day. This can be a temporary disorder but a doctor should advise if you begin to see chronic signs of this type of sleep disorder.
Parasomnias: Nighttime Sleep Behaviors
This type of sleep disorder is common among children and sometimes older adults but can happen at any age. It is characterized by physical activity during sleep, such as sleep walking, talking in your sleep, nightmares, confusing arousals (a person exhibits confusion upon waking about their location or circumstances), REM behavior disorder (a person twitches or moves about while they are asleep) and others. These kinds of disorders are most commonly occassional, and can be brought on by drugs (prescription or recreational) or alcohol, although chronic sufferers should seek the advice of a doctor.
With well over 320 million U.S. residents, most of us just suffer from the occassional stressful day, over exertion, over exercise, money problems, work related stress and other occassional causes for sleep loss. The good news is that for most of us there are solutions to help with sleep that don’t involve doctors or drugs. In many instances we simply need to develop better behavioral patterns to foster a good night’s sleep.
Tips on How to Sleep Better at Night
Turn Off the Light
Our circadian clocks are tuned to light and daylight. Especially if you have an unusual work schedule where you have to sleep during the daylight hours, it is critical to block out the light. We have evolved to sleep in the dark. Turn off the lights.
Shut Out the Noise
We live in a very noisy world. Those of us who live in cities particulary have issues with noise pollution. If you commonly fall to sleep with the television or music playing then you may only think you are getting a good night’s sleep. If you find you are often tired in the morning or feeling run down in general, consider turning off the television before bed or turning off the music. In extreme cases ear plugs may be the solution.
Naps often seem refreshing but it is not in our nature to sleep during the day. When we sleep during the day our bodies internal clocks begin to get out of tune with time of day. A long nap can often lead to a sleepless night or later than usual bedtime. It is better to struggle through a sleepy afternoon by keeping yourself physically active than to give in to a daytime nap.
Clean and Seal Your Bedding
Dust and dust mites as well as pet hair can exacerbate allergies. It’s a good idea to launder your pillows and other bedding regularly to reduce allergens. Buy a good mattress cover that protects and seals your mattress against mites and dust. Allergy sufferers often report trouble sleeping.
Watch Television in a Chair
Use your bed for sleep and intimacy only. Getting in the practice of watching television from bed often leads to falling asleep in front of the T.V. and a poor night’s sleep. The same with laptops, tablets or other mobile computing devices.
Turn Off the Electronics Early
In addition to the errant light and noise from electronic devices, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that you turn away from computers and other electronics at least one hour before bedtime. Turning away from computers and mobile phones allows the brain to begin to relax and helps to clear the mind before bed. Electronic devices actually require a lot of brainpower to operate.
Keep a Set Bedtime
We are creatures of habit and it’s easy to fall into bad habits like staying up late to watch our favorite television shows or partying on work/school nights. Our hunter/gatherer ancestors evolved a circadian clock to ensure we could make good use of the daylight hours. Our survival depended upon it. Now we have options but we need to learn to make the right choices. Set a regular bedtime and write it in stone. Your body will thank you for it.
Avoid Alcohol and Other Chemicals
No matter what the studies say about the benefits of reasonable alcohol use, it is an addictive substance that has far more damaging properties than anything it does for your heart. There are lots of studies that claim that a glass of wine every night with dinner is beneficial for heart health. But let’s be honest; who actually stops at one glass of wine with dinner? And while alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, the longterm effects of a regular, elevated level of alcohol in your blood has symptoms that include sleeping disorders among many others. If you are serious about good health and good sleep then avoid any chemical substances other than those prescribed by a doctor.
Stop Caffeine Intake After Noon
Some people claim that coffee or tea before bed actually helps them sleep at night. If that’s you then you should be watching your sleep habits carefully to make sure it never becomes an issue. Lots of foods contain caffeine including chocolate. Especially dark chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine that could keep some people up at night, not to mention the sugar. Take a close look at your diet in the afternoon and try to cut down on caffeine and sugar intake.
Eat Your Dinner Early
When we go to sleep our bodily functions begin to slow down, especially our digestive systems. When we eat a large meal before bed the acids that digest our food remain at a higher level during sleeptime causing symptoms such as heartburn and acid reflux. Eating before bed has also been shown to lead to problems with weight since bedtime snacks are often unhealthy choices.
Complete Exercise Several Hours Before Bedtime
Exercise is very beneficial to our health and it is critical to get some physical activity every day, however exercise elevates the heart rate and causes your body to release BDNF (Brain-Derived Neorptrophic Factor). Our bodies go into preservation mode falsely believing we are under attack or fleeing from predators. It takes some time after exercise is completed for our bodies to calm down and to become relaxed. Allow a good period for your body and brain processes to calm down after a workout, before going to bed.
Try Just Clearing Your Mind
There’s conflicting advise about meditation before bed. Psychology Today explains that the purpose of meditation is to feel more awake and connected to the world around you. They advise against meditation just before bedtime as it could be detrimental to sleep to get your brain very active just before bed. But the Harvard Medical School says that meditation can help fight insomnia and actually improves sleep quality. Apparently there is a difference between clearing your mind and meditation but it is important to let go of the cares of the day when you are trying to fall asleep.
Sleeping Pills Should Never Be Used Casually
Some over the counter medications can be used with less caution; aspirin is an example. But sleeping pills have dangers beyond those. A doctor should always be consulted if you are considering using sleeping pills to help at night. A doctor will tell you that the proper way to use sleeping pills is to only take them when you are sleep-deprived and then take them for a short period only. Using sleeping pills without a doctors oversight can lead to more serious sleep disorders.
Take a Warm Bath or Soak in a Hot Tub
Consider a warm bath or soak in a hot tub 20-30 minutes at least two hours before bedtime. Several hours before bedtime our body temperatures start to drop. By elevating your body temperature 2-hours before bedtime it creates a situation where your body will experience a greater drop in body temperature causing you to fall asleep faster.
How does a hot tub or a hot bath help me to sleep better?
Some hot tub manufacturers will simply tell you that hot tubs help you to sleep better, without an explanation. Here at Hot Spring® we won’t make a claim like that without telling you how or why a hot tub helps you to sleep better;
More Drastic Drop in Body Temperature Makes You Sleepy
At bedtime and as we fall asleep our body temperature starts to take a dip. By taking a soak in your hot tub, 2 hours before bed, the body temperature is elevated causing a greater decline in body temperature when we are falling asleep. This drop in body temperature causes reduced brain activity and helps us to fall asleep faster. The drop in body temperature also causes the brain to release melatonin according to sleep expert, Michael Breus, PhD.
A Soak in a Hot Tub is a Thermal Workout
Soaking in hot water enlarges the arteries and increases blood flow bringing more oxygen to the brain. Research indicates that time spent in your hot tub resembles other kinds of physical exercise in regards to how the body responds. Especially if you have a desk job or other more physically sedentary work, a long soak in a hot tub, a few hours before bed, will help to make you feel tired and fall asleep faster.
Opens Pores and Removes Toxins from the Skin
Hot water makes us sweat causing skin pores to enlarge and release any toxins we may have gathered throughout the day. This includes any allergens that could wake you in the night.
Hot Water Relaxes Muscles
Soaking in hot water has analgesic properties. Pain from lactic acid waste build-up is relieved and the heat is also very therapeutic for muscle or joint soreness.
Soaking in a Hot Tub Can Reduce Anxiety
Firstly, if you are having serious issues with anxiety then you should consult a professional. A hot tub helps with minor occassional instances of depression or anxiety but by no means should be seen as a solution for a chronic problem. Relaxing in a hot tub can help to relax the mind and body relieving the normal stresses of the day. This helps to clear the mind making it easier to fall asleep at night.
Soaking in a Hot Tub Helps to Clear Your Sinuses
Aside from cleansing your skin of allergens, a long soak in a hot tub can loosen mucus in the airways and sinus cavity helping you to breathe better during sleep. While it is not recommended to use any kinds of bath salts or essential oils in your hot tub, you can consider a hot tub salt water care system. It will save money over the long term, is easier to manage and eliminates the chlorine smell that often accompanies hot tub use.
Reduce Minor Swelling and Pain
Pain and swelling can keep you up at night. If you have any kind of wound or more serious medical condition then a doctor should be consulted before using hot water for swelling but for common, minor joint swelling brought about by overwork or exercise, a hot tub can be a big help. Hot water therapy (thermotherapy or hydrotherapy), has a lasting effect that goes beyond the period of hot water immersion.
Stress Hormones Like Cortisol Can Be Decreased
With all the stresses of our modern society many people have trouble falling asleep after a stress-filled day. Soaking in hot water has been proven to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol.
All of these physiological changes can promote better sleep.
What is the Price of a Hot Tub Compared to Sleep Deprivation?
When you compare the cost of sleep aids and the incalculable costs of trying to get through your day with sleep deprivation, the cost of a hot tub in relation to the cost of sleep disorders is negligible.
Sleep specialists push insomniacs to develop a night-time, wind-down routine involving darkness to work with our natural brain wiring. For decades, these hard working researchers have known and broadcast the fact that light affects the brain, sleep patterns and mood. Their (and the insomniac’s) biggest enemy now is artificial light, delivered after sundown. So to get your best sleep, put the device down and get into your hot tub. Turn the lights down or off. Listen to relaxing music before bed (but not while trying to fall asleep). Alone time is a great strategy to wind down. Make this a nightly ritual, and sleep like a baby.