This is my first post on sleep, a topic I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while.
If you’re reading this, I’m betting you’ve been scouring the internet for a long time, browsing around, looking for all kinds of useful tips and tricks on getting out of the living hell called insomnia. Anything that will help you sleep.
And there’s literally hundreds of websites that deal with sleep problems.
What I’m seeing when I frequent these sites and forums, is that most of the people out there with insomnia, they’re extremely desperate. They’ve tried out dozens of different home remedies, they have bought a truckload full of different supplements, and many of them have taken lots and lots of sleeping pills.
If you identify with this kind of person, you have probably tried reading dozens of books about insomnia. Some of those might have even provided you with helpful information that helps you sleep, if at least for a while.
You might have learned all kinds of different tactics, for example:
- Stick to a set sleep schedule
- Drink milk with honey in the evening
- Stay away from coffee
- Do exercise every day
- Eat healthy (whatever that means, because everyone on the internet seems to have a different opinion on diet)
Some of the experts out there tell you to do detoxing cleanses, they tell you to take melatonin, they tell you to eat some magic food or a special sleep-inducing herb.
As if it were impossible to sleep without eating a banana.
In addition, people with sleeplessness often post daily on insomnia forums about their pain, and are apt to show others the lists of supplements they’ve been taking (some of those lists are veeeery long).
Some of the tactics seem to work…for a while. That magic pill you got from the doctor will work for a week or two, and then suddenly the magic is gone, and you’re right back to ground zero.
Or you might have been told to try out Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, do some positive thinking, which works to some extent and which I encourage, but which requires a conscious effort every day.
And once you fall back into those bad habits again, you’re back off where you started. Think about it, when you used to be able to sleep just fine, did you do any conscious effort? No, right? It got late, it got dark, you got sleepy, you went to bed, and you fell asleep.
How is it that getting to sleep is so hard? It’s one of the most natural things there is, isn’t it? And you used to be able to sleep just fine, even after drinking loads of coffee every day.
So somewhere along the way, you must have gotten sick or something. Maybe you even think you’ve got brain damage or a neurological disorder.
And you try all these separate tactics out of desperation. But let me guarantee you, before you’ll be able to consistently get your 8 hours of sleep, what you really need is to understand WHY you aren’t sleeping. Then, once you understand the underlying reason that you are unable to snooze, you’ll be able to come up with a strategy.
No more separate and unconnected tactics, none of the ‘7 Magic Tricks To Fall Asleep’ you seem to find all over the web. A general, all-encompassing strategy.
And I’m going to help you think of one.
To do that, first, we need to figure out the primary reasons you’re unable to fall asleep.
And today we are going to talk about a big one. We’re going to talk about STRESS.
I can hear you saying already: ‘Wow, stress is bad for sleep, tell me something I don’t know’
But do you really?
To clarify what I mean, we first need to define stress further.
Most of you have an idea of stress as ‘thoughts going into your mind, your boss being a dick, your children keeping you up at night’. And then you say those things stress you out. You think stress is something psychological, something that is exclusive to the mind.
But if you think that, you don’t fully know how your body works. You see, your mind is somewhere in your brain. And your brain is an biological organ. It’s part of your body. So that’s why you can’t just see your body and mind as separate entities. Your mind is linked to your body, just as your body is linked to your mind. What affects one, will affect the other.
So, you might ask: how does stress play a role in this? Well, I’ll explain a bit further.
When you encounter a situation that you perceive as stressful, your body releases glucocorticoids. That’s a complicated name for stress hormones. You might know these hormones by their more common names, such as cortisol and adrenalin.
The role of these chemicals is to help your body survive. You see, when the body perceives it’s in danger, the brain releases hormones to generate extra resources to help you cope with that stressor. And that’s why it pumps cortisol and adrenalin into your bloodstream, to help your body to produce glucose, and increase your performance to help you survive a dangerous situation.
But the cause of the stress can vary widely. The brain isn’t all that smart and it perceives lots of different things as threatening your survival. When children are crying, that loud noise is perceived by your brain as being a danger, or a risk. Something’s going on. So the brain releases stress hormones to give you more energy to deal with a dangerous situation.
Another stressor is exercise. Now, exercise is usually a good thing, but when you’re running a marathon, does your brain know you’re running for your own amusement? No, it doesn’t. It thinks it’s running to survive and it releases a ton of stress hormones. And so you are pumped up with adrenalin and cortisol. Also, when you’re running a marathon, your food is inadequate to sustain your effort. So the body releases stress hormones to cope with the increased energy demand.
Dieting, another big one. Did you know that going on a diet is basically replicating a famine? What are you telling your body when you’re eating only 1000 calories a day? You’re telling the body there’s not enough food around, that its survival is threatened.
When there’s not enough resources coming in through food, your body literally breaks itself down to create glucose to give you energy, and allow you to survive. It does that by releasing a shitload of stress hormones.
Negative thoughts? You’re telling your brain something bad is going on. The brain thinks: okay, survival is threatened, release some stress hormones. And what’s more, being in a state of physiological stress automatically generates negative thoughts. These are also to help you survive, because they keep your guard up. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle of sleep deprivation.
I could go on and on about all the different kinds of stressors, but there are too many to count, and the cause of your stress could be about anything.
Still, here’s a small list of examples:
- Using stimulants
- Not sleeping (I know you’re going think I’m a dork for saying this)
- Eating shitty, processed food
- Having arguments with others (fights equal threats equal stress)
- Not taking time to relax and chill out
- Slow, long distance cardio exercise (which I think is the worst form of exercise)
- Being too cold
- Being too hot
Think about this: if your body thinks its survival is threatened, do you think it’s going to let you go to sleep? This goes back to caveman times: imagine you’re a caveman (or cavegirl), and you’re being chased by a sabretooth tiger. Would it be a good idea to take a nap when a big cat is trying to eat you?
My guess is no. And while you might not be chased by big cats, your brain can’t really make the distinction. It’s still kind of primitive, in a way.
My point being: stress is actually a measurable physiological effect. It’s not something that’s just in your head. It’s actually kind of in your blood, a chemical cocktail that’s keeping you awake. You could let your blood be tested and the lab people would be able to tell by the results whether you’re stressed or not.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you ought to take a good look at your daily lifestyle, and identify all the different possible causes of stress, and the situations in your average day that could possible cause your body to dump adrenalin or cortisol in your bloodstream.
Take an honest look at your daily routine, at your daily life, at the food you put into your mouth, at the people and situations you encounter everyday. And then think about what stresses you out, and find ways to avoid or eliminate those stressors.
So, the actionable steps to take from this:
- Every day, look at the things that you think might stress you out.
- Write them down
- After a while, you’ll be able to see some recurring elements
- Then, think of a way to avoid them or deal with them
For instance, when there’s someone in your daily life who always acts like a dick to you, avoid that person. If you think you’re under too much physical strain every day, or you’re doing a ton of exercise, take some time to rest more.
Do that, and you’re on the right track to get a good night’s sleep.