Coming up after this commercial break on Dancing with the Stars is the Sleep Tango, and why I can’t fall asleep.
Your sleep performs a dance each night, and if the judges observe miscommunications and being out of sync, then falling asleep is going to be a difficult and frustrating activity.
Introducing the Dancers
Who are the players in this sleep Tango dance? Your body has two 2 components that must be aligned in order to fall asleep. The first is your sleep drive. Sleep drive is the period of time that has passed since you woke up. Think of it like your battery. In the morning ideally it is almost fully charged and depending on how you exert your energy for the day, determines how much is left at the end of the day. The second component is your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is the daily rhythms of your body systems. It controls when hormones, neurotransmitters and body systems turn on and off.
To be able to fall asleep easily, your sleep drive must be high (low battery) and your circadian rhythm needs to be releasing melatonin and shutting down cortisol. If one of these is out of whack, then sleep is elusive.
This is why it is hard to fall asleep during the day and stay up at night if your systems are aligned.
Insomnia presents itself in a number of ways from delayed sleep onset, fragmented sleep, or early rising. When you are trying to overcome insomnia and its side effects some of the tools you resort to help in the immediate term, but potentiate the problem long term.
Some of the tools would be
- Sleeping in late in the morning
- Increasing caffeine intake
- Taking multiple naps or long naps too late in the day
- Exposure to bright light and blue light at night
Let’s explore how some of these help in the near term, but snap back to increase insomnia.
Sleep tools that stop working
Sleeping in late – When you keep hitting snooze, or just chuck the alarm clock and sleep late into the morning, this impacts your circadian rhythm and sleep drive. Your circadian rhythm resets itself in the morning when you wake up and take in bright light from the sun. Staying in bed in a dark room prolongs that. What happens is the day is humming along, but your body is operating in a timezone 2-3 hours behind. You see this play out at night when the clock says 11pm and you want to sleep, but it takes you to 1am to fall asleep.
When you are in bed late, you are not expending energy so your sleep drive remains low (high battery life), so come bedtime your battery is not ready to be charged.
Increasing caffeine – One way to try and offset a non restful night of sleep is to prop yourself up with caffeine. This accomplishes the job at first, but it comes at a price. Caffeine can stay in your system for a decent amount of time. This means when you are trying to fall asleep you probably still have caffeine keeping you awake even if you do not feel wired or full of energy.
The second thing caffeine does is put pressure on your cortisol levels. That is how caffeine makes you feel like you have energy. It blocks the receptors that make you feel tired and raises your cortisol levels. If you are already stressed this sends your cortisol levels even higher increasing anxiety, heart rate, and breath rate. On the flip side if you have adrenal fatigue, you are taxing a system that is taxed out.
Multiple Naps – Naps are a great tool if employed properly. Employed properly would be taking a 20 minute nap or an extended one of 90 minutes early in the day. If you take it early enough, say by noon, then it helps to shore up for the sleep the night before. If you take it too late it lowers your sleep drive so you will not be as tired at night prolonging your ability to fall asleep.
Naps should be planned out. Set a time each day and set up the environment for maximum efficiency. So dark, notifications off, and cool.
Bright light and Blue light at night – Some people are very sensitive to light, even as much as 50x difference. Studies show that people who experience more chronic insomnia are more sensitive to light stimulation. This makes sense as light is the biggest influencer of circadian rhythm. If you are experiencing insomnia, and spend most of the night in front of the TV, phone, room lights on all of these work together to push your circadian rhythm later which means it will take longer until you can fall asleep.
Light pollution is one environmental component most do not give a second thought to. Light is almost omnipresent in our lives with a flick of a switch, but the quality of the light and when you are exposed to light can be having a bigger influence on you and your sleep than you realize especially if you are a person that is more sensitive to it.
People that suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder fall into this category as the shift in light and amount of light as seasons change throws off their circadian rhythm and melatonin levels.
There you have it. An overview of the Sleep Tango. If you are having insomnia or just not getting the quality sleep you think you should be getting reach out to me and let’s start a conversation.