What Do You Need To Let Go Of In Order To Sleep?

11 Practical Things To Try To Make Up With Your Old Friend, Sleep.

As humans today, we are constantly consuming.  We over consume food, information, light, and some even say, oxygen.  Our society drives consumption, even naming us “consumers.” It’s no wonder we’re all buzzing around in over-drive and unable to slow down.

Balance is the key to wellness and therefore, if we’re constantly consuming, then we must balance what we consume with letting go.  This pertains especially to sleep because in order to slow down and eventually sleep, we must lighten the load on our minds and bodies after all that consumption all day long.  

You likely instinctively know this but, sleep is essential to emotional and hormonal balance. Insufficient sleep can adversely impact your hormones, trigger your fight or flight response (stress!), cause you to eat more and make bad food decisions, rob you of your sex drive, and make you more sensitive and emotional.  Not helpful when you're trying to work through life's more difficult challenges.

If you’re having trouble sleeping or would like to improve your sleep quality, consider this: instead of consuming something in order to sleep (i.e. background television noise or medications), ask yourself - What do you need to let go of in order to sleep?  

Here are 11 commonly reported causes of sleeplessness and what you can let go of in order to welcome sleep:

1) LET GO OF RUMINATING THOUGHTS, WORRIES, SELF-CRITICISM AND YOUR BUSY MIND - Our brains are programmed to think millions of thoughts a day, and after all of that consumption and stimulation, they tend to work overly hard.  Also, if you’ve experienced trauma and are working through some difficult emotions, getting into bed can often be prime time for those things to pop up.  Notice what is coming up for you - Is it that embarrassing moment at a meeting earlier today? The strange comment from a coworker you can't stop replaying? Tomorrow's to do list? Or is it deeper, such as worrying something is wrong with you or suffering from grief after a loss?  

You're likely either worrying about the future or reliving the past.  Not much can be done at 11:00pm when you need your rest so know that what you can do tomorrow, you will, and what happened today, yesterday, or a while ago is gone.  

TRY THIS:  Before bed, make it a habit at night to write down the top three things you feel good about having accomplished that day, the top three worries you are carrying, and three things you are grateful for.  Leave it all on the paper and know the universe is working with you to ease your worries, reward your successes, and bring you more of what you are grateful for.

2) LET GO OF THE FEAR OF BEING UNABLE TO SLEEP - You are a mammal, all mammals are built to sleep.  Trust that your body knows what to do and that if you give it half a chance, it will do it.  You cannot force yourself to sleep, you have to give into it.  

TRY THIS: Instead of popping pills or forcing yourself to stay up later to make yourself extra tired, get horizontal.  Simply laying down will start telling your brain it is time to slow down.  Try some deep breathing exercises and use mantras such as “I trust my body knows what to do.” or “I welcome sleep to come to me now.”  

Aromatherapy during this time can work wonders, using calming essentials oils such as lavender and jasmine. See below in the additional resources* for a suggestion of a cute and mighty diffuser.

3) LET GO OF UNCOMFORTABLE TEMPERATURES - Do you need to take away some heat? The body’s temperature typically drops throughout the night but many of us find ourselves waking up warm due to the body’s cycle being off or hormones that are out of whack.  

TRY THIS: Adjust the temperature in your bedroom to a few degrees cooler and layer blankets so you can add or take away as needed.  

4) LET GO OF THE LIGHT - Our natural circadian rhythm was designed to take cues from daylight, awaking us with the sunrise, and slowing us down with the darkness.  Today, we push through the darkness, almost seeing it as a negative thing.  

TRY THIS: Turn the lights down a couple of hours before bedtime, and make sure your bedroom is as dark as it can be when you go to sleep.  Light blocking curtains or curtain liners* go a long way. Layering blinds and light blocking curtains is even better.

5) LET GO OF NOISE - Noise can disrupt our sleep without us ever realizing it.  Sometimes even the switching on and off of the heat or air conditioner can be enough to bring us back to consciousness.  

TRY THIS: Creating consistent noise with a small fan or white noise machine can help ensure inconsistent noises do not disturb you.

6) LET GO OF DIGESTIVE DISCOMFORT - Food is important and fun, and let’s be honest, sometimes we over do it and go to bed too full.  Stress can also affect the digestive system, slowing it down or sending into overdrive, which can lead to gas, cramping, and acid reflux come bedtime.  

TRY THIS: Avoid eating and drinking at least two hours before bed as regularly as possible.  If you’re uncomfortable, prop yourself up on an incline and/or sleep on your left side, which eases heartburn, gas, and feeling full.

7) LET GO OF OVERSTIMULATION FROM ELECTRONICS - Computers, your phone, even the TV can seriously mess with the message you are sending to your brain about what time of day it is and how much time it has before it needs to wind down.  

TRY THIS: Give yourself permission to unplug from working on the computer and socializing/playing on your phone a couple of hours before you want to go to bed.  (Your coworkers, friends and family will forgive you and thank you for performing better, being more present and available for them overall!)  Try stepping away from the TV an hour - 30 minutes before bedtime.  Shut it off and then do your face-wash routine, write your Top 3’s down, and get horizontal in bed to give yourself space between the screen and sleep. If you need some noise to help you fall asleep, try turning on a mellow podcast, a relaxing guided meditation, or use the app Relax Melodies or Source Vibrations Radio, which allow you to choose sounds or music and set them to a timer.

8) LET GO OF DISRUPTING LIQUIDS - Caffeine, alcohol, sleepy time tea; many of us are on a cycle of liquids to try and help pick ourselves up and then to calm us back down again. America runs on caffeine and the stigma of even holding a coffee cup in our hands.  Alcohol is both a stimulant and a depressant and is often used for a second wind when we’re tired but have to socialize, or as a relaxant to unwind after a long day.  The problem is, either way, it also will wake you up as it metabolizes in your system in the middle of the night.  If you really want a good night’s sleep, your best bet is to avoid it.  Lastly, sleepy time tea before bed is marketed as a great tool to calm your body down.  Instead, chamomile is actually a diuretic, making you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

TRY THIS FOR CAFFEINE:  Switch that afternoon coffee to green tea for less caffeine and to increase mental focus, or decaf coffee, and experiment with your cut-off time.  Some people cannot have coffee past 4:00pm, for others it’s 2:30pm, for some, it’s past noon.  Everyone is different so see what works for you.

TRY THIS FOR ALCOHOL & SLEEPY TIME TEA:  A great solution for replacing your after-work glass of wine and your sleepy time tea is to fix yourself a cup of lemon balm tea* when you get home.  It is a natural relaxant so it helps the stress of the day melt away and starts slowing you down early without consuming liquids too close to bedtime.

OVERALL: I recommend avoiding liquids two hours before bedtime all together.

9) LET GO OF FATIGUE DURING THE DAY - It’s a vicious cycle - you aren’t sleeping so you’re tired during the day.  Because you’re tired, you aren’t as active.  Because you’re not as active, you haven’t exerted enough physical energy during the day for your body to be able to shut down at night.  

TRY THIS: Incorporate 30 minutes of gentle physical movement in your day.  Go for a walk at lunch time or do a restorative yoga sequence* after work.  

10) LET GO OF THAT SECOND WIND - Are you a “night owl”?  If 10:00pm hits and you’re suddenly ready to go, there are ways to reverse your schedule.  

TRY THIS: The trick is to get in bed and asleep before that second wind hits.  Aim to be asleep an hour or so before the time of your second wind.  The benefit is you will get more rest and will gain those extra hours back in your day in the morning.  

In addition, light box therapy first thing in the morning can be helpful in resetting your schedule. Getting just 20 minutes of at least 3,000 Lux light from a light box* early in your day every day can jump start your cycle, boost your energy and mood, and prepare your system to slow down earlier in the evening with the dark.

11) LET GO OF GLUTEN AND PROCESSED CARBOHYDRATES - You may not be gluten sensitive but gluten is still a processed protein that makes the human system work extra hard to digest.  Processed carbohydrates are difficult to digest, containing hormone disrupting chemicals, and digest into sugars in our system.  Both gluten and processed carbohydrates can disrupt the balance in our gut flora.  When your digestive system is working extra hard and is out of balance, everything else in your body has to work extra hard as well, and sometimes puts our immune system on defensive overdrive.  It’s more difficult for the body to slow down and achieve restful sleep if it is working that hard.  

TRY THIS: Swap out your regular pasta for gluten free brown rice* or quinoa pasta. Swap out your regular sandwich bread for sprouted grain bread* (found in the freezer section). For lunches, try brown rice or quinoa bowls if salads aren’t enough.  Avoid the crackers, chips, bars and other processed snacks and try nuts or granola instead. Focus on eating sweet potatoes, lots of leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale instead of white potatoes, corn, and rice with your meals.

Lastly, should you really need a little extra help, melatonin supplements are an option in combination with the adjustments above.  3 mg of low dose, high quality melatonin for one month at night can help restore your circadian rhythm, and even reduce acid reflux.  

Sweet dreams!

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