Is there something keeping you up at night? Do you wake up in the morning feeling tired and groggy? Is it affecting your productivity, making you irritable and giving you dark circles? You are not alone. Sleeping problems are increasingly prevalent today. Sleep disorders such as insomnia affect millions of people around the world. They impair individuals’ abilities to get good quality sleep on a usual basis. The National Institutes of Health recommends seven to eight hours of sleep daily for the body to function at its best, however studies by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim almost 30 percent of adults report sleeping less than six hours per night. This is indeed a matter of concern. We all know that sleep deprivation affects our physical and mental wellbeing and is associated with a plethora of serious health issues and disorders including cardiovascular problems, diabetes, obesity and even depression. But before resorting to sleeping pills and other possibly harmful and expensive treatments and therapies, it is important to understand how we influence our own sleep cycles. Did you know that your seemingly innocuous habits and daily activities might be the actual culprits behind your nighttime sleeplessness? That’s right! A lot of the research and sleep studies in the last few decades show that what we do throughout the day affects how well we sleep at night. Here are five surprising things you are doing everyday that are possibly at the root of your disrupted sleep patterns and keeping you from a good night’s rest.

What you’re eating

Is your diet high in fats? Do you love a good spicy meal? Well, don’t be surprised when you can’t manage to fall asleep afterwards. Foods that are high in fat content interfere with the production of neurotransmitter orexin that facilitates the regulation of the body’s circadian rhythms also known as the sleep/wake cycle. Spicy foods, on the other hand, can lead to heartburn and worsen stomach ulcers. Heartburn is exacerbated by lying down as it causes the acids to enter into the esophagus and then burn the sensitive lining. It is not hard to see how the resultant discomfort will get in the way of quality sleep.

So what foods are quality sleep-inducers? Food items that are rich sources of certain vitamins and minerals and encourage melatonin production in the body are natural sleep-aids. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that regulates the human body clock. Incorporating these vitamins and minerals into your diet through the foods listed below will help you sleep better at night.

  • Tryptophan: Milk, yogurt, red meat and nuts
  • Calcium: Flaxseeds, almonds, beans and lentils
  • Magnesium: Cruciferous vegetables and fruits such as bananas and avocados
  • Vitamin B6: Fish, eggs and wholegrain cereals

It must be noted however, that it is not just what you are eating alone that affects sleep. When you are eating is almost equally significant. We have all heard the old proverb “breakfast like a king, dinner like a pauper”. Consuming large meals not long before bedtime, even the ones suggested above, will hinder sleep. A heavy dinner is going to cause the body to work hard to digest the food instead of preparing it for sleep which would lead to wakefulness as well. Especially having proteins near bedtime can be problematic as they are harder for the body to digest. So what can you do? Have an early dinner and make sure it is not too heavy. You should also consume your proteins during breakfast and lunch. It is best to have a light snack from the foods suggested above if you feel a bit peckish before bedtime to fill your stomach and promote sleep simultaneously.

What you’re drinking

Who doesn’t love their daily dose of caffeine through a hot cup of coffee? It should be no surprise that the beverages we rely on to keep us alert and active throughout the day, also prevent our body from being willing to relax at night. Alcoholic drinks do not really make for sleep promoting beverages either.  Drinking alcohol is tied to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea as it can narrow the air passage and cause breathing problems. Although alcohol does inhibit senses and promote drowsiness, research shows people who frequently consume alcohol before bedtime have trouble entering deep sleep or REM stages and sleep more restlessly.

So what are the alternatives? It never hurts to take the herbal route as it offers the least side-effects. Teas such as Chamomile, Lemon Balm and Valerian have great tranquilizing effects. Chamomile Tea has also been dubbed “sleep tea” and comprises of apigenin, which is an antioxidant that has calming effects on the body. Lemon balm tea has long been used as a herbal remedy for sleep disorders such as insomnia as it too has a sedative effect and reduces stress and anxiety, promoting restful sleep. Valerian Tea,

Screen Time

In this increasingly connected, fast-paced world, many hours in the day are spent staring at smartphones, laptops and television screens. Most of us are guilty of this indulgence. These screens give off blue light, which research has proven to reduce the duration of sleep, cause tiredness after waking up and disturb the circadian rhythms. Exposure to them in the evening and night especially can hinder sleep due to cognitive stimulation. So if you are having trouble sleeping, it is best to limit your daily screen exposure. Do a little digital detoxification. It may just do wonders.

Exercise

Exercise enhances the quantity and quality of sleep. Physical activity boosts sleep quality because it works off the body’s stress, reduces anxiety by lowering cortisol levels and essentially makes you exhausted. Exercise during daytime can also allow for adjustment of the circadian rhythms by causing variations in the body temperature, making them to go up by a little and then fall which brings about sleepiness. Working out in the open air is especially beneficial during daytime as it increases your sun exposure, lets you absorb that natural vitamin D and helps improve overall health.

Medication

Sleep deprivation has also (almost always) been linked to the usage of various medicines. These drugs consist of alpha blockers, beta blockers and anti-depressants which can have expected (and unexpected) effects on sleep patterns as well as quality and quantity of sleep. They might be responsible for your daytime drowsiness also. It may be wise to ask your GP about the side-effects of certain medication before you start taking them and ask them how to combat them.

Conclusion

We have more power over our bodies than we are aware of. Simple changes in our routine activities can have a magical impact on our health and fitness. While habits are indeed hard to break, the results they promise are worth the effort of making small adjustments in our life. It can save us a lot of visits to the doctor and consequently a lot of money too! So why not give it a shot? No pressure, maybe you should sleep on it.