“Dear Mind, please stop thinking so much at night. I need sleep.” ~ Unknown
We’ve all been there.
You feel exhausted from the time you wake up until you lay down for bed. But then, for reasons unknown, your mind believes it’s time to solve the world’s problems.
You can feel wholly depleted mentally, emotionally, and physically once your head hits the pillow. It seems as if you never needed sleep in the first place.
Thoughts race through your mind, such as,
“Where was this energy during my big meeting today?”
“Why don’t I feel energized like this when I wake up?”
“What’s keeping me from falling asleep right now?”
These thoughts of questioning are related to the day’s stressors - what went well? What didn’t go well at all? “Why did I say that weird thing to my coworker?”
My best hope for this article is to begin a process of understanding what keeps you up at night.
Here Are Three Things That May Be Keeping You Up at Night:
1. Your Stress is Managing You
Very common to our society is the idea of “work harder, longer hours,” “pay your dues,” and “just push through it.”
Your body has an internal, subconscious system called the Autonomic Nervous System. The ANS is responsible for things you don’t often think about, like breathing, heart rate, digestion, etc.
The ANS are two separate branches: the Sympathetic Branch and the Parasympathetic Branch.
The SNS (sympathetic) is responsible for your “fight or flight” response. We call it the stress response.
The PNS (parasympathetic) is responsible for your ability to rest, recover, and digest.
What can happen, through the build-up of everyday stressors throughout the day, is that the SNS branch becomes dominant. Essentially like having an elephant on one end of a teeter-totter with a mouse on the other.
As a result, symptoms such as these arise:
- Lack of emotional control
- Racing thoughts
- Unable to “shut off” the mind
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
These are just a few symptoms that arise when the ANS is out of balance, leaning toward the sympathetic.
If you feel like your stress is managing you rather than you managing your stress, you can try simple practices such as diaphragm breathing, meditation, or gratitude journaling to bring a sense of balance back to your ANS.
2. You’re Exercising Too Late
What is the primary goal of exercise?
Elevate your heart rate to develop a more robust cardiovascular profile.
What happens when you go to bed with an elevated heart rate?
You don’t sleep well.
Back to our brief discussion on the autonomic nervous system - a key indicator in autonomic health is heart rate variability (HRV).
A higher HRV demonstrates increased physical fitness, younger biological age, and your body’s ability to recover from stress.
HRV and heart rate are directly related. Therefore, if your heart rate is elevated, your HRV will be lower. If your HRV is lower, it indicates you are not recovering well.
If you’re having difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, consider what time you’re working out. Maybe consider moving it to earlier in the day?
3. You’re Eating Too Late
We live in a society that struggles with doing one thing at a time.
If we’re working on writing a paper, developing a project at work, or even going for a walk, we’re listening to something, checking our phones, and sending our minds in multiple directions.
The same happens when we sit down to watch T.V. at the end of the day.
Television watching and snacking seem to go hand and hand. We all struggle with it.
Your body and brain have a task list each night. Things need to get done to prepare for the next day.
This list includes:
- Brain flushing out toxins
- Cells repairing damage from the day
- Cleaning processes at a cellular level
- Gut being restored/given a break from digestion
Let’s say you like to go to bed at 10 p.m. You watch your favorite show or movie while eating a bowl of chips leading right up to the time you brush your teeth and head to bed.
Rather than working on the above task list, your body needs to process and digest the food you take in.
In turn, the task list gets pushed off until later, your heart rate remains elevated until the wee hours of the morning, your HRV stays low, and you wake up feeling like a zombie.
If you are restless during the night, consider backing off that last caloric intake 2-3 hours before bed.
Find Your Rhythm & Routine
Since you have your unique health profile, you will respond differently than others to certain things. Keep this in mind as you work towards improved sleep.
Consider what it looks like for YOU to be healthy and well-rested.