Good Night Brain: The Science of Sleep
Truth be told, I have always been a good sleeper. In a lumpy bed, with or without a pillow, even on the floor, I can sleep just about anywhere. But when life throws you a curve ball and suddenly this thing you have taken for granted is now something you have to work for, everything can seem out of balance.
So I thought I would dedicate a little room in this blog to talking about sleep. Surely I can't be the only one that is struggling to sleep at night?
First, the big why question: why do we spend one-third of our lives doing this thing called sleep? From what I gather, there are a number of reasons and scientists are still working on an answer.
- "Psychology Today" puts it rather simply, "We know that sleep has restorative effects on our bodies down to the cellular level."
- According to Harvard scientists, inactivity at night is an adaptation that served a survival function by keeping organisms out of harm’s way at times when they would be particularly vulnerable.
- BBC reports that "during the day, brain cells build connections with other parts of the brain as a result of new experiences. During sleep it seems that important connections are strengthened and unimportant ones are pruned."
What I take from all this, as an English/history major, is that we need sleep because science says so. If you want to read more about the mystery of sleep, check out these titles.
So Why Can't I Sleep?
I have done my research and I can get behind what the good people at "Forbes" magazine list as some of the top reasons you can't sleep:
Your room isn't dark enough
You're exercising too late
You're drinking alcohol too late
Your room is too warm
You still have caffeine in your system
You're watching the clock ("if I fall asleep in ten minutes, I'll get four hours of sleep")
You're watching television as part of your sleep routine
You're trying to problem-solve in the middle of the night
You're eating protein too close to bedtime
You're smoking before bedtime.
Since I am a librarian who loves organization, let's group these reasons into categories. First and easiest to remedy are the physical space reasons why you're not sleeping. Make sure your room is dark, on the cooler side, and remove any clocks from your bedroom. I have a friend who swears by lavender essential oils (on her pillow case, in a diffuser, in her detergent); personally, it's not my favourite scent but it may be worth exploring?
Next let's tackle the technological reasons for our sleeplessness. Cut out the television and try a book as part of your bedtime routine (said the librarian). I would chime in here and say that all the technological clicks, swipes and scrolls before bed on your smart phone or tablet definitely fall under this category.
Lastly are the lifestyle reasons. We are all creatures of habit and if our lack of commitment to New Years resolutions means anything, I know these are the hardest to break. Do your best. Save problem-solving for the daytime, avoid exercise (just before bed, not in general, nice try!), stop smoking (I would say this generally), stop the caffeine after dinner time, and avoid protein close to bedtime. The caffeine is kind of a no-brainer but the no exercise or protein I thought was interesting!
What Do I Do Now?
I think the key is to not stress yourself out about your lack of sleep. I know, I can't believe I just wrote that too but it's true! Don't put too much pressure on yourself as stress will hinder your ability to sleep. It's important to not give up too quick, stick with one of the above techniques for a couple of weeks and see if your sleep improves. At the end of the day, please consult a health care professional if you are having a hard time sleeping. Sleep deprivation obviously impedes our overall wellness, but it can also lead to serious health risks.
Stay healthy friends and good night!