We’re all familiar with that silly image of the person who resorts to counting sheep when they just can’t seem to fall asleep. But when you’re the one who’s been tossing and turning all night, insomnia is no laughing matter.
Why Insomnia Happens?
Insomnia can be temporary—or it can be long-term. But regardless of how long you have to deal with it for, it’s never fun.
At some point or another, most of us will experience a short, unpleasant bout of insomnia. Often, it’s the result of stress or a change in routine (like a new work schedule or having a baby), or medications that mess with sleep like antidepressants, blood pressure meds, allergy meds, and corticosteroids. The good news is that usually, once you find a way to deal with the situation, your sleep pattern will get back to normal.
But other times, insomnia can become a long-term thing. Sometimes, that can happen as the result of a more serious health condition, like depression, anxiety, or sleep apnea. Other times, insomnia can stem from crappy sleep habits, like eating too many heavy snacks before bed, sleeping in an uncomfortable environment, or staying glued to your Smartphone or tablet all night long.
Either way, missing out on sleep leaves you feeling exhausted, irritable, and generally unable to function during the day. And over time, it can put you at risk for health issues like obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
In case you missed the memo, being physically active is essential for sleeping well. Mounting evidence shows that people who exercise regularly tend to snooze better than their couch potato counterparts—especially when it comes to those with chronic insomnia.
Not convinced? Consider this.
One study concluded that people who get 60 minutes of exercise five days per week have more normal REM sleep than non-exercisers. But you might not need to sweat it out for quite that long to reap the benefits. Other findings show that insomniacs who engage in thirty-minute spurts of exercise just three or four times a week sleep for nearly an hour longer than sedentary folks and wake up less frequently during the night.
Using Sunlight to Promote Healthy Melatonin Production
The sun might force you awake in the morning, but it’s also essential for helping you achieve restful sleep at night. That’s because your body relies on natural light to figure out what time it is, and determine whether to pump out energizing hormones or ones that leave you feeling relaxed and sleepy, like melatonin. You can take zopiclone pills too, but make sure that you consult your doctor first.
In other words, daylight helps your body’s natural clock—which is dictated by the 24-hour cycle of day and night—know when to feel awake and when to feel tired. “When our pineal gland is triggered by light, especially sunlight, it sends signals and releases wake-promoting hormones,” says Michele Roberge, RT(R), RPSGT, a neurodiagnostic lead technologist at Parrish Sleep Disorder Center. “A simple walk to the mailbox every morning could really benefit someone who is suffering from insomnia.”
When your hypothalamus—the gland responsible for regulating sleep and energy levels—senses a change in light, it tells your body to ramp up or ramp down its production of the sleep hormone melatonin. During the day, you feel energized and alert because you don’t produce much melatonin. At night, you produce more, so you feel sleepy.
One way to keep everything on schedule is by flooding your body with light as soon as you get out of bed, which sends a clear message to your body that it’s time to wake up. Try opening your blinds, exercising outside, or even going sans sunglasses on your way to work.