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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Why can't I sleep?

Monday, October 11, 2010

What could be worse – not being able to get to sleep, or not being able to stay asleep? I’m not sure, but a disrupted night’s sleep feels awful, dampening your enthusiasm for the day, and hampering your creativity. By the end of the day you can’t wait to crawl back under the covers; except that you know that, like most other nights, just being in the bed hasn’t help stop you staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning.

So what’s going on? Lets look at the major reasons why people can’t get a refreshing sleep.

Lack of exercise. Although you may feel tired, a fitness training session may be just what you need to burn off some stress. Counter-intuitive as it sounds, using up energy in exercise will actually give you energy. For people who have trouble sleeping, the best time of day for training may be afternoon. Why? Its all to do with cortisol.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands that helps wake you up in the morning. Your body’s cortisol production should peak between 6-8am, then decline slowly through to the evening. As night falls and your cortisol levels drop further, then melatonin (the hormone that helps you fall asleep) is released by the pituitary gland in your brain. In the morning the reverse happens: melatonin secretion declines as cortisol helps wake you up. (Light helps wake you up too, but that’s another story - shift workers may enjoy this article)

People who are feeling stressed tend to have higher circulating levels of cortisol. They need to burn it off to get to sleep; and exercise will do just that.

People who are exhausted when they wake but get a burst of energy late at night (when they really should be asleep) ("tired but wired") can sometimes be suffering adrenal fatigue, where their cortisol production has become exhausted. This condition requires professional treatment. Read more about adrenal fatigue here

A wind-down routine may help you get to sleep. That means switching off the computer, the television, and going through a routine like stretching, meditation, peaceful music. These kind of activities will give your brain the message that its time to stop for the day. A regular bed time and regular wake up time helps too. Your internal body clock will gradually adjust to the steady routine.

Watch out that caffeine, the ‘wake up’ drug found in coffee and energy drinks, isn’t keeping you awake. If you think it might be, try stopping all caffeine at midday and see if you find it easier to get to sleep over the next few days.

So there’s your checklist for improving your sleep:

  • more exercise, 
  • a regular sleep time, 
  • a wind down routine,
  • avoiding caffeine. 

What works for you? Join the conversation by leaving your comments below

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