March 2021




    Crisp sheets, comfortable pajamas, a quiet room: If you have all of these going for you and you still can’t get enough sleep, we feel you.  But there are other steps you can take to wake up well-rested, and they don’t require a prescription.  Follow our expert advice and call it a night.

    When you hit the sack only to find yourself awake again pondering the meaning of it all just a few hours later, you may feel alone in the universe.   But truth is, you have plenty of company.  Occasionally, short term insomnia is estimated to affect an eye-opening 30-50 percent of the world before 2020, aka The Year That Stole Everyone’s Sleep.  By July, experts were talking about “COVID-somnia,” a dramatic increase in sleep disorders caused by the upheaval of the pandemic.  Fortunately, there are simple ways to reduce that deficit and get some shut-eye.

    Warm Up, Then Cool Down. Those lucky people who effortlessly nod off have something in common: Their body temperature naturally drops a tiny bit just before bedtime.  This dip cues the brain to make melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.  To mimic it, take a warm bath about 90 minutes before bedtime.  The water will raise your body temperature; once your towel off, it will dive back down.  Keeping your room around a chill 65 degrees at nighttime also helps.  Working out can have a similar effect, but you need to do it earlier in the day to begin the cycle.  Exercising too close to bedtime warms the body too much.  Four to six hours before you turn in is ideal. 

    Eat Early, and Wisely.   A diet high in fiber-rich foods, including vegetables, pulses (lentils, chick-peas, split peas, and beans), whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds is tied to better sleep patterns.  First, you’re flooding your system with nutrients like magnesium that are tied to your internal sleep mechanisms.  Second, you’re likely reducing your consumption of red meat, refined grains and foods with high amounts of added sugars, all of which, when eaten routinely, can interfere with sleep.  What’s the deal with magnesium, you say?   We need about 400 mg/day.  If you aren’t getting enough in your diet, talk with your doctor about a supplement with magnesium glycinate, which isn’t associated with stomach upset the way other forms of the mineral are.  In addition to its sleep benefits, a healthy diet helps keep your heart and blood vessels in shape and can lower your body’s inflammation (elevated inflammatory markers are at the root of many chronic diseases).  Also, try not to eat within 2 hours of bedtime, but if you’re really hungry and won’t be able to sleep without a snack, have something light and easy to digest.   Fruit with some nuts or seeds would be a good late-night snack.  Light and loaded with magnesium.

    Feel the Love.  Ongoing research indicates that loneliness and sleeplessness go hand in hand, so embrace together time with your family.  Have dinners and movie nights and keep the FaceTime and Zoom catch-ups coming.  Focus on uplifting topics and shun doom-scrolling, the aimless intake of headlines and social posts that gobble time by the hour.  Even if your feed doesn’t rile you up, staring at the blue glow from your phone without blinking can leave you with dry, irritated eyes or worse:  the light from electronic devices can inhibit melatonin secretion, making it more difficult to fall asleep.  However, quite often the content of social media can be much more detrimental to healthful sleep than the light.  The bottom line: Shut off the news and your devices at least an hour before bed, or put your tech to good use and listen to a lulling sleep story on the Calm app.

    Roll Out Tension.  A quick hurts-so-good session with a foam roller can help erase the aches that keep you up by increasing the suppleness of your fascia, the layers of connective tissue that run under your skin.  Too much sitting, repetitive motions and old injuries can cause your fascia to stiffen up; the foam roller helps stretch things back out.  Grab one that’s soft (i.e., made of squishy EVA foam, not the rigid stuff; avoid descriptions like “high density”), about 6 inches in diameter and 36 inches long.  Then add this stretch to your nightly ritual: Lie back on the roller so that it runs the length of your head, spine and hips, and rest your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent.  Place your arms at your sides, and slowly inhale as you sweep them out and above your head, palms facing up, as if making a snow angel.  Exhale slowly as you sweep your arms back out and down.  Repeat 10 times to open your diaphragm and shoulders and release tension in your lower back and neck.  Then target other knotty spots, like your lats, iliotibial bands, and quads, breathing slowly and letting your body “melt” over the roller.

    Pop Something Safe.  Melatonin supplements work like a weak sleeping pill.  They signal the brain that night has fallen, biologically speaking, and it’s time to shut down.  The main advantage is that they are quite safe, with minimal to no side effects for doses up to 10 milligrams about 30 minutes before bed.  Start by taking 3 milligrams.  If that doesn’t help, up the dosage to 5 milligrams; then, if needed, 10.  As for the format: pills, drops or gummies are all fine.  Check the label for an immediate release preparation; this means it hits your bloodstream instantly rather than slowly dissolving.  Since supplements aren’t regulated by the U. S. FDA, look for the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) or Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) certification to confirm your choice is high quality.

    Swaddle Yourself.  Weighted blankets are emerging as heavy hitters in the sleep world.  The 5-30-pound throws create what occupational therapists call “deep-pressure stimulation,” and are thought to help reduce stress by putting our focus on physical sensations instead of the static in our heads.   Some research suggests they can relieve insomnia related to depression and anxiety, too.  While the studies so far have been small, and the blankets’ price tags can be hefty, the anecdotal evidence does sound like a dream come true.  So snuggle under and prepare to drift off.

    ** If you’re wide awake for longer than 15-20 minutes, don’t just lie there; do something.  Go to another room, keep the lights low, and read a book or fold laundry until you feel drowsy.

    Lauren Oster