Poor or disturbed sleep is a common health problem. Poor sleep leads to a bad mood, irritation, reduced concentration, and a lack of memory which causes depression, anxiety, and addiction. It may also lead to frequent headaches and results in lower productivity at home and work.

The sleep-wake cycle is your 24-hour daily sleep pattern which has 16 hours of wakefulness and 8 hours of nighttime sleep. Melatonin and cortisol are 2 main hormones that help in regulating your sleep patterns. 

As a part of your daily sleep-wake cycle, cortisol spikes in the morning, which helps you wake up, feeling refreshed. As the day progresses, your levels of cortisol gradually decline, and melatonin levels increase which induces sleep.  

Melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, is released before your scheduled time of sleep, in darkness, at a cool, comfortable temperature, and when you relax. Melatonin is naturally created by the body (released by the pineal gland in the brain) but can also be available as a dietary supplement. It plays a fundamental role in helping you get quality sleep. 

Causes of Poor Sleep

Inability to stick to a sleep schedule or undue indulgence in gadgets or substances, are common reasons for poor or disturbed sleep.

Other reasons why you are not sleeping well include:

  • Sleep apnea (a potentially serious sleep disorder in which there is an interruption of breathing during sleep)

  • Large dinner portions

  • Too much of caffeine

  • Lack of exercise

  • Pain of any kind

  • Depression/anxiety/stress

Getting enough good-quality sleep is essential for your overall health. With certain diet and lifestyle modifications, you can sleep better.

5 Ways To Help You Sleep Better

1. Stick to a fixed bedtime. Sleep daily at around the same time, so that the brain automatically releases melatonin and doesn’t have to calibrate whether one needs to sleep or not. 

Remember that darkness signals the pineal gland to start producing melatonin while light causes that production to stop. As a result, melatonin synchronizes your sleep-wake cycle with night and day. 

2. Stay in dim light for around an hour before your scheduled time of sleep. This is quite important as we presume that we would fall asleep as soon as we switch off the light; which in reality, is just the opposite of a natural pattern. 

Your sleep hormone is just like any other hormone that gets affected by the gradual day-night transition which needs acclimatization, and is a slow process. Therefore, sudden switching off the light and expecting to fall asleep immediately is not correct.

3. Make sure your bed is clean and comfortable. Studies have found that people who wash their bedding and sheets regularly, reported a 19% better rest at night, than those who neglected this hygiene habit. Keeping your bed clean and clutter-free will also help you fall asleep faster and deeper.

4. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. Yoga, meditation, journal writing, reading, or listening to light music can all help you get good sleep. If you continue to carry the burden of the day's work or of your emotions, you may keep your mind working and hence, resist the onset of sleep. 

Practicing a relaxation technique for 10 to 15 minutes before bedtime can provide a reserve of inner calm which is essential for a good night’s sleep. 

5. Eat foods rich in calcium, magnesium, and tryptophan (an essential amino acid that can improve sleep by increasing the production of melatonin). 

Calcium helps the brain in using tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, which induces sleep. Milk and dairy products, fish bones (such as in canned salmon and sardines), and dark-green, leafy vegetables are the best sources of calcium. Eat poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.), fish, nuts, seeds, and soy products to get enough tryptophan.

Magnesium increases GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels in the body that encourages relaxation as well as sleep. GABA is an amino acid produced naturally in your brain and functions as a neurotransmitter. Its function is to reduce the activity of neurons in the brain, leading to relaxation, a decrease in stress, and increased sleep. 

GABA is also available as a supplement. Magnesium is abundantly found in spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. 

Besides the above tips, it is advisable to keep all electronic devices and mobiles away, when sleeping. The light and radiation emitted from electronic devices not only decreases the release of melatonin but also keeps the mind engaged and working, thus, hindering your sleep.

If you are experiencing difficulty in falling asleep and/or staying asleep (insomnia) or disturbed sleep patterns, consult your physician immediately.

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