Fix Your Sleep First

When I got my CPR certification, I learned an important rule: breathing trumps bleeding. If someone stops breathing, they don't have more than a few short minutes to live before brain damage then death ensues. So, breathing comes first. Get them breathing before trying to stop the bleeding. In this case, priorities could mean the difference between life and death.

And when it comes to your health, sleep needs to take priority over many other concerns.

Are you struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep? If you are getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, there is a good chance you are sleep-deprived. We humans need anywhere from 7-10 hours per night. Young people who are still growing, pregnant and lactating women, serious athletes, and many other groups tend to need more. Sleep is essential to our mental and physical health. It affects every system in our bodies. Did you know you can literally die from lack of sleep?

Lately, I've been experiencing some sleep disturbances. This is not typical, so I've begun to examine possible reasons for lying awake at night. And there is no lack of possibilities! Are these things an issue for you as well?

1) Caffeine. I am a HUGE coffee lover. Normally I drink a cup in the morning and another cup around 2-3pm. In order to assist my sleep efforts, I am switching to tea in the afternoon. If you are having trouble with getting to sleep, caffeine could be the reason. Check your consumption of coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, and energy drinks.

2) Alcohol. Although alcohol is usually classified as a depressant, and can make you feel sleepy at first, as the alcohol wears off, it often awakens people in the middle of the night. If you drink on a regular basis, yet still have trouble sleeping through the night, you might want to decrease your alcohol consumption and see if that helps.

3) Dieting. Cutting back on calories, specifically carbohydrates, can result in insomnia. Unfortunately, if you go too far in this direction, your diet plan could directly result in an inability to sleep, and thus an inability to lose weight. Basically, this is like shooting yourself in the foot to fix an ingrown toenail. Or something like that. Try tracking your carbs over the course of a week. If you're below 100 grams on a daily basis, you might want to up this and see how your body reacts. Low carb diets can also cause you to excrete water, meaning you could be up all night using the bathroom. (Believe me, I know!) Try drinking the bulk of your water earlier in the day.

4) Exercise. One of the symptoms of over-training is insomnia. If you are exercising hard, constantly sore, tired all the time, craving sugar, constantly sick, and unable to sleep, you could be exercising too frequently or too intensely, without giving your body adequate recovery time. This is another example of shooting yourself in the foot. Exercising late at night can also stimulate adrenaline and keep you awake. You might need to switch up your routine.

5) Stress. There are many types of stress and many different stresses that we are all experiencing every single day. While it is impossible to live on this planet with zero stress, there are steps you can take if you feel stress may be interfering with your sleep. Yoga, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, deep breathing, and even counting sheep can all help relax the body and mind. Take a few minutes each day to develop a specific practice that helps you relax.

6) Screens. We are all addicted to our screens these days. How many hours per day do you spend looking at some sort of screen? Your computer, cellphone, television, I-pad, etc. all count as screen time. This artificial light stimulates our brains and can keep us awake at night. Experts recommend reducing overall screen time, especially during the last couple of hours before going to bed. If you must look at screens at night, try using special glasses designed to filter out the blue light. This might help.

Whatever the cause of insomnia, it is vital that we take steps to remedy the situation. Sleep is not optional; it is mandatory for our continued existence! Get your Zzzzs!