If you’ve ever struggled with insomnia then you’re more than likely used to the feelings of lethargy and irritability the next morning. Not only does a lack of sleep have an impact on our mood and mental health, but your overall health can also be impacted and put you at an increased risk of things like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
When you’re wide-awake at 3 AM, getting back to sleep can sometimes feel like an impossible goal – and if it’s chronic it can be all the more frustrating. There are, however, different things you can do to combat that feeling of being wide awake and help you get a better night’s rest, and that might start with making a few minor (but crucial) lifestyle changes that family physician Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends below.
1. Stay in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. This means going to sleep and getting up at the same time, as this will help to reset your internal clock and give you a better quality of sleep. Once you develop this habit, you may even be able to wake up without the assistance of an alarm. You should also avoid sleeping in, even on days where you might not have anything to do. By sticking to the same sleep routine, you are less likely to disrupt the circadian rhythm. If you find you’re someone who tends to feel fatigued during the day, you can take naps, but they should be limited to no more than 20 minutes per day.
2. Avoid television, computer screens, smartphones and tablets before bedtime. Many of these devices can be stimulating to the brain as they emit a blue light, and that blue light easily tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime rather than night-time, which can completely throw your circadian rhythm off kilter without you even realizing it. While things like TV’s, computers, smartphones and tablets can all be addicting and hard to put down sometimes, it’s recommended that you shut down those devices (or switch them to silent/do not disturb) within 1 to 2 hours of your bedtime in order to get a good night’s rest.
3. Avoid exercise before bed. While regular physical activity can reduce the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea, and can leave you feeling better rested during the day, vigorous exercise prior to going to sleep can actually keep you awake, tossing and turning at night – so, if you can, try to avoid exercising at least 1 or 2 hours before going to bed.
4. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that can leave you feeling wide-awake; and while you might think a glass of wine would have the opposite effect, that nightcap can actually interfere with your sleep cycle.
5. Try melatonin. Melatonin, a natural hormone found in our bodies, is made by the brain’s pineal gland and helps control the body’s sleep/wake cycle. If you’ve tried all of the above suggestions and still find that you’re not getting a proper sleep, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends patients try taking a melatonin supplement, which can be found at any health store or pharmacy. Melatonin supplements are also commonly used to treat SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as well as to reduce chronic cluster headaches.