Health & Wellness

3 Sleep Challenges & Hacks to Overcome Them

Karen Shopoff Rooff
By Karen Shopoff Rooff

Do you ever feel like the darkness of the bags under your eyes are like the rings of a tree, but your face is telling people how many years you’ve gone without good sleep?

In our overscheduled, race-around lives, sleep is a unicorn.

But it’s also the keystone for your overall health and wellness. Learning to prioritize sleep and setting yourself up for sleep success, can massively boost to your quality of life.

There are three contributing factors that make sleep challenging for many people.

SLEEP CHALLENGE #1: BLUE LIGHT

The first sleep obstacle is a relative newcomer to the bedtime disruption scene. The awesome technology that we have like smart phones, laptops, and eReaders– most of these devices are emitting blue light. But why is blue light such a big deal?

To think of this in terms of brain chemistry, we can think of it this way: We are all hard wired, as human beings, to have a circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our natural sleep and wake cycle.

Sleep researchers and chemists, like Brian Zoltowski from SMU, have found that the blue light emitted from the screens is the same wavelength of light that is emitted and most prevalent in sunlight at the beginning of the day. That means the light coming from our devices is sending cues to our brain that say “wake up.”

This happens because as the light comes in to our eyes, the cells behind our eyes that are collecting the light send the message to your brain to wake up. So, if you’re lying in bed and using your screen to wind down, you’re actually winding yourself up.

What we really need to be doing before bedtime is to have more red light. That’s the wavelength of light emitted at dusk. And that’s the wavelength that when collected by the cells behind your eyes tells your brain to shut down.

When we can better honor the innate circadian rhythm of waking and sleep cycles, we’re going to have better quality sleep. Fortunately, many newer devices have blue light blockers built in. Check in the settings of your device.

If your device doesn’t have a blue light blocker and you’re not willing to find a new wind down activity, a pair of blue light filtering glasses will do the trick.

SLEEP CHALLENGE #2: ERRATIC SLEEP SCHEDULE

Do you work the night shift? Do you pay strict attention to your bedtime? Have you ever “Netflixed” just “one.more.episode” before going to bed?  I’m going to guess there are at least a few nights a week you stay up later than you really mean to.

If you have erratic “going to bed” and “waking up times,” you are fighting your body’s circadian rhythms. Your body likes patterns. Your body likes predictability. Abiding by regular sleep and wake times for yourself is a way to fine tune and honor the circadian rhythm that’s already plugged in your brain and hard wiring.

If it knows you eat at a certain time, then you wind down and then it’s time to sleep, your body can sleep as long as it needs to; then you wake up.  And if you can wake up at the same time every day, you’re going to eliminate that groggy Monday morning feeling most people have, even when it’s not Monday.

The key to overcoming erratic sleep and wake times is to set a sleep schedule. This is much like a child who has a bedtime routine followed by a set bedtime. And while it can be a challenging habit to establish, the rewards are worth it.

You owe it to yourself to give it a try for five nights in a row. Just see how much better you feel when you go to bed and wake up at consistent times.

Warning: establishing a sleep schedule can be life-changing!

SLEEP CHALLENGE #3: HORMONES

If you’re riding the hormonal rollercoaster of perimenopause, disrupted sleep may be one of your biggest symptoms. As hormones like estrogen and progesterone fluctuate during perimenopause, sleep disturbances are noted to increase. This is due to hormonal symptoms like night sweats.

But it’s not just the reproductive hormones that affect your sleep. Hormones like cortisol, a stress hormone, also contribute to quality sleep. If you’re one of those people who experience night waking or insomnia, research indicates this could be due to elevated levels of cortisol.

And while it may seem like hormones are way harder to control than limiting blue light exposure and setting a sleep schedule, it can be done.

Because cortisol pairs with insulin as part of the natural blood sugar wave, eating a small high-protein snack just before bed can help stabilize your blood sugar as you sleep. This means your body won’t experience a middle-of-the-night cortisol spike that wakes you up (and keeps you up).

In dealing with sleep challenges and attempting to create better sleep practices, control what you can. Adopting healthy sleep habits will have a positive ripple effect throughout other parts of your life.

Think of all the things you’re able to accomplish now. Imagine all you could do—and feel good while doing them—if you were truly well rested.

Karen Shopoff Rooff
Karen Shopoff Rooff is a Women’s Wellness Warrior who champions realistic approaches to living a fit and healthy life. She holds certifications as a personal trainer, prenatal yoga instructor, aqua yoga specialist, health coach, and women’s wellness coach. Karen coaches...Read More

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