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Sleep it Off

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Many of us have found ourselves unable to sleep, spending entire nights wide-awake. And in times like these – changing seasons, holidays rapidly approaching -- we can end up staying up past our bedtimes.

Megan Cuzzolino, a yoga teacher and life coach who also happens to be Soapwalla’s Product Manager, suffered from insomnia for years. After having overcome these sleepless nights, Megan shares her advice as holiday season (and the accompanying stress) ramps up:

Lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your body, your emotions and your skin. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that self-care is at the core of living the life I want. I'm not my best self when I’m lacking sleep, so despite the feelings of productivity I’m really not moving myself forward by staying up late to get stuff done. 

During sleep your body rejuvenates, replenishes, and rebuilds. The hours that you sleep give your digestive system a break and allow elimination processes to catch up, which ultimately keep your body light and happy. Unfortunately for night owls like myself, the most healing time for sleep is between 10pm and 2am.

Sleeplessness can really throw off an otherwise healthy lifestyle, and make it difficult to maintain. Sleep also regulates hormones that affect mood and control your appetite. Lack of sleep can lead to increased appetite, and cause you to crave sugary foods and carbohydrates. Because insufficient sleep also depletes valuable resources for healing and coping with stress, you may be more likely to succumb to these cravings.

If you find your mind is racing, or you partake in a stubborn-kid-at-bedtime routine like myself, I encourage you to put yourself back at the top of your priority list. 

First, begin to set yourself up for a night of restful sleep a few hours before bedtime:

  • Start to dim the lights to ease yourself into a restful state.
  • Write down your worries or to-do list so you’re not still thinking about it when it’s time to sleep.
  • Avoid bright lights; the blue light in our TV’s, computers, and smartphones is stimulating, keeping us awake. If you must use your computer before bed, download an app called f.lux, which adapts the light of your screen to the time of day.
  • Bring the temperature in your bedroom down, and dim the lights. Even the light from our charging phones can disrupt sleep, so plug it in outside the bedroom when it’s time for bed.

If you still find yourself tossing and turning, don’t get too stressed about it, and try some of these tips to beat the insomnia.

  • Do a muscle scan: mentally scan your body from your toes all the way up to your head, relaxing each part as you go. Hide your alarm clock to avoid anxiously glancing at it, which typically leads to calculating how many hours of sleep you can still get, causing stress.
  • Create white noise – you can download an app on your phone if you don’t want to buy a noise machine, or turn on a loud fan.

Still awake? Get out of bed after 30 minutes of sleeplessness. Yes, you read that correctly.

  • Try reading, meditation, deep breathing, or gentle yoga, only returning to bed when you actually feel sleepy. Staying in bed when you can’t sleep may lead to a wandering mind, and begin to associate your bed with lying awake instead of sleeping.

Assign “worry time.”

  • Is your mind reviewing your worries or to-do list? Try some journaling, or just jotting down these thoughts or things you don’t want to forget. Identify some time in tomorrow’s schedule (while riding the train, or going for a run) when you can come back to these thoughts. By assigning this “worry time”, you can free yourself from feeling like you must think about them now.

Relax, ha! But not in the way you think.

  • Be gentle on yourself. Let go of judgments, like “Why did I need to watch that 3rd steaming episode,” and negative thought patterns, “If I don’t get eight hours of sleep, I’ll be useless at work tomorrow.” Try not to convince yourself that you'll feel like crap tomorrow (maybe you won't!), and focus on the silver lining: perhaps you’ll get to see a gorgeous sunrise :)

This post originally appeared here on September 29, 2015.