woman lying in bed, unable to sleep, with pillow over her head

The world may feel like a jungle but it’s unlikely that I’m the lion who sleeps tonight. Sometime in the last several years, I seem to have forgotten how to stay asleep and how to go back to sleep. It’s no wonder. The hormones that promote healthy sleep are not as plentiful as they once were and sleep-disrupting hormones, like cortisol, are on the rise in my aging body. Perimenopause and menopause are known to affect sleep for women. It’s challenging to sleep peacefully through night sweats. For men, a natural reduction in testosterone is a known culprit. I’ve also gained a lot of weight in the last several years which is directly correlated to the volume of my snoring and I have been known to snore myself awake on more than one occasion.

I started writing this post after a good friend let me know that she’d been up for hours the night before just scrolling on her phone because she couldn’t sleep. Been there. You wake up, try everything you can think of to go back to sleep, nothing works, you get frustrated, you pick up your phone and figure you’ll look at Instagram for a few minutes and then fall back to sleep. Three hours later, you’re nowhere close to dreamland and the doom scrolling has left you depressed and anxious. You’re not sleeping because you’re anxious or are you anxious because you can’t sleep. Chicken? Egg? You be the judge. By the way, the very fact that you picked up your phone and thought about not being able to sleep guarantees a plethora of sleep tips and ads for sleep aids will be all over your social media feeds in the morning.

Meanwhile, funny how we all know that turning to our phones when we can’t sleep is not the answer and yet there we go. Once we get started and go down the rabbit hole of scroll, it’s ridiculously hard to stop. Getting lost in the scroll is a topic for another day. Today it’s all about sleep.

Sleep is a key component of optimized wellness. Yet, we’ll focus on making big and hopefully lasting changes to our diet, exercise, confidence, motivation, work environment, and relationships. We’ll even sometimes seek and pay for help to make those changes but we don’t seem as keen to get help with sleep unless it’s to diagnose and treat a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea.  Sleep is often an afterthought with my clients, rarely a priority. But sleep deficiency is linked to so many situations we’d all like to avoid, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression, not to mention a higher chance of injury. It deserves to be bumped to priority level.

Tips and tricks to help fall asleep and stay asleep are plentiful. Most lists start with terminating your screen time (“powering down”) at least 30 minutes before going to bed and keeping your phone out of reach while you’re asleep. I’m guessing that’s the “thank you, next” recommendation for most people. We’re advised to exercise during the day, set a regular sleep schedule, get rid of bright lights, try meditating, and/or maybe play some soft music (but not the singalong variety). 

For a long time, when I woke up in the middle of the night and knew it was one of those “this is gonna be a while” disruptions, I started playing Wordle on my phone, followed by Dordle, then Quordle, and then Octordle. If my eyelids were nowhere close to heavy, I’d move on to Sudoku, the NYT mini crossword puzzle, and, eventually, Instagram or Facebook. I easily kept busy for the three hours I was awake, then rolled over and just rested (miserably) until I was out again. I accepted that this is just the way I’m wired these days until I embarked on my wellness journey. That’s when I understood that there’s so much more I could change than I realized. Including my sleep patterns. My phone is still next to my bed every night as I sleep (because I’m convinced that if it isn’t, I’ll miss an emergency call and my world will end) but I don’t reach for it until morning.

I try to set myself up for a good sleep by making my bedroom cold and dark. I limit my coffee drinking to mornings and I try to drink a lot of water and eat enough protein during the day. I’ve learned that when I eat a lot of sugar during the day, I’m uncomfortable and my sleep is restless, which is one of many reasons I’m trying to limit my added sugar intake (see last week’s post on that subject).

Some nights, when I’m feeling particularly motivated and powerful and I’m able to peel myself away from the couch, tv and my phone, I’ll do a 30 minute restorative yoga class before bed. I’m not sure if it helps me fall or stay asleep but I am positive it helps me go to sleep happy and that’s worth a lot. I still wake up during the night and some nights it makes me crazy but I’m usually able to get back to sleep in less than an hour, which is a huge improvement. I wish I could say I wake up feeling refreshed every morning but I don’t. I’m working on it. 

Here’s how to go back to sleep

The Sleep Foundation suggests multiple research-backed strategies and relaxation exercises to promote relaxation and reduce tension so you can fall back to sleep. Atop every such list is deep breathing, specifically the technique called the 4-7-8 method: inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7, and then exhale for 8. Breathing strategies are my favorite. Sometimes I use this one and sometimes I just count inhalations and exhalations, in through the nose, out through the mouth. These strategies tend to work for me. I think breathing is the answer to everything human the way unplugging and restarting is the answer to most everything technological. To that end, I heartily recommend the book Breath by James Nestor.  

Additional Sleep Foundation tips include various types of meditation, like mindfulness meditation and guided imagery as well as progressive muscle relaxation, which involves progressively tensing and then relaxing each muscle in the body. You can start with your feet, then move up to your head one muscle group at a time. After you tense a muscle, try to keep it contracted for at least five seconds, then slowly release it.

The Sleep Foundation also provides a list of things to avoid when you wake up during the night. Avoid watching the clock, looking at electronics, turning on lights, and staying in bed too long. If you wake up during the night and can’t fall back asleep, get out of bed after 20 minutes and try meditating or reading a book in another room so your brain associates your bed with sleeping rather than with being awake. Get back into bed when you feel tired.

There’s no shortage of suggestions out there and there’s also no one-size-fits-all. Be sure to see a doctor if you’re concerned you have a condition like apnea or you’re interested in trying sleep meds or supplements. Sleep is essential and worth more than a few hours of daylight to address.

Sweet dreams!

Something to think about: “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” – Ernest Hemingway

Something to try: The 4-7-8 technique is a relaxation exercise that might help you get back to sleep. Why not try it?

  • Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight.
  • Repeat the process until, you know, you’re asleep.

If a breathing exercise isn’t your thing, you can always try the Sleepy Girl Mocktail that went viral on TikTok:

  • Ice 
  • ½ cup pure tart cherry juice
  • 1 tablespoon of magnesium powder
  • Lemon lime-flavored soda or sparkling water

Fill a glass of your choosing with ice. Next, pour in the ½ cup of cherry juice. Add 1 tablespoon of magnesium powder to the liquid and stir well. Then top it off with your favorite lemon-lime flavored beverage.

If you try the breathing or the drinking, please let me know what you think!

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  1. I love your sense of humor! And the mocktail is new for me. Despite the no electronics, I’m a big fan of the Get Sleepy podcast which always sends me sleep 😴

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