How many times have you asked yourself why you can’t sleep at night? You may be surprised to learn that that your sleep is strongly affected by the state of your hormones.
Sleep is crucial to your health. Without sleep, your body gets messed up! You can’t concentrate at work, you may feel a bit depressed, and you can end up functionally impaired just like you would be after a few alcoholic drinks! I can attest to this last part – there are days when I know I should not be driving because I am THAT tired.
Without adequate sleep, stress skyrockets. You’re told to sleep more to manage your stress response and avoid feeling overwhelmed. But, what happens when your body just won’t cooperate?
Health Problems Associated with Lack of Sleep
Before we look into why you can’t sleep at night, let’s cover some of the health risks of poor sleep. (Because, yes, you need more stress in your life, right?)
- Lack of sleep messes up appetite regulation, leaving you feeling hungrier than you should.
- People who sleep less than 6 hours a night are more likely to be overweight or obese.
- Insulin resistance sets in and, eventually, Type II Diabetes can occur
- Memory fails, mood swings develop, and cognition disappears
Why You Can’t Sleep At Night
If you’ve ever gone to bed early because you felt exhausted, only to find yourself wired, you know how frustrating it can be to not fall asleep!
Or, you fall asleep with no problem. But, suddenly, you’re wide awake at 2 AM. No amount of counting sheep or deep breathing can help you!
Have you been there? I know I have – more times than I’d like to count.
These sleep issues are strongly related to your stress levels. People who are stressed out all the time OR have a very relaxed lifestyle likely can’t sleep at night. (Yep, not enough stress can impair your sleep too!)
I Can’t Fall Asleep!
Your stress hormone, cortisol, plays a role in your sleep and wakefulness patterns. Normally, cortisol begins to rise in the early morning and is at its highest around 8 am; it’s at its lowest between midnight and 4am.
When you’re stressed, cortisol rises, enhancing alertness. Chronic stress and adrenal fatigue causes your adrenals to release cortisol at the wrong times, making it difficult to sleep.
If you have trouble falling asleep or feel ‘wired and tired’ at bedtime, your body is producing too much cortisol later in the day. To combat this and improve sleep, do relaxation techniques like deep breathing, coloring or yoga poses before bed. Anything that calms the mind and reduces stress will help you sleep better.
What to Eat to Fall Asleep Faster
Foods high in tryptophan can help relax you for a better sleep. Eat organic chicken and turkey, cage-free eggs, raw dairy products, sesame seeds, brown rice or wild-caught salmon in the evening. Some studies have shown that increasing your tryptophan intake can improve sleep better than melatonin supplementation.
The 2 AM Wake-Up Call
If, on the other hand, you keep waking up at 2 or 3 AM, you may have low blood sugar. With adrenal fatigue, often the adrenals have trouble producing enough cortisol. Cortisol helps increase blood sugar when the body needs it – for concentration, exercise, or during stressful events.
But, when the adrenals don’t produce enough cortisol, your blood sugar becomes too low and the body panics. If your blood sugar drops too low in the middle of the night because of adrenal fatigue, you wake up. Another reason for 2 AM wakefulness is low glycogen reserves in the liver. Glycogen is stored to be converted to glucose when your body has used up all the glucose in your blood.
If you experience anxiety, nightmares or restless sleep between 1 and 4 AM, your blood sugar is too low. This is typically due to low cortisol and low glycogen stores.
What to Eat To Stay Asleep
A healthy bedtime snack containing complex carbohydrates can help combat early morning waking. You don’t need a lot of food, just a couple of bites. Digestion can interrupt sleep, too, so keep your snack small and avoid too much protein or fat. A slice of toast with a tablespoon of nut butter, or a quarter cup of gluten-free oats with a teaspoon of coconut oil should do the trick.
Avoid sugar or refined foods, though, because they’ll just make things worse. Blood sugar will spike right away and drop dramatically in the middle of the night, waking you up.
A bit of exercise before bed might help. Exercise raises cortisol levels. If you do exercise, keep it low to medium impact and finish your session off with some relaxation and stretching.
Tips for A Better Sleep
Until you get a better handle on your stress levels, you will continue to ask yourself “why can’t I sleep?” However, there are some actions you can take now to promote sleep.
- Avoid caffeine after 10 am. Drink no more than 2 cups of coffee or 4 cups of green tea a day. Instead, try an energized Green powder like this one.
- No alcohol at night!
- Schedule sleep and stick to it. And I mean stick to it, like…Every. Single. Night. Even on weekends.
- Exercise every day, but avoid strenuous activity an hour or two before bed. (Do 2-3 minutes of a high-intensity interval activity right before bed, though, to help balance blood sugar throughout the night.)
- Enjoy an afternoon nap, if you can. Stick to 20-30 minutes only and try not to nap too late in the day.
- Do something relaxing before bed. Read a good book, color, do yoga, practice deep belly breathing. Anything goes as long as it relaxes you!
- Ditch the electronics at least 2 hours before bedtime. And tell that husband of yours to take his phone or tablet to another room so his device isn’t messing you up!
- Try a warm bath before bed.
- Get up at the same time every day. Remember #3? Single. Morning!
- Eliminate distractions, light and weird noises from your room (if possible). That kitten running across your bed at 3 am doesn’t help…it sure doesn’t!
Now You Know Why You Can’t Sleep At Night
Take note of when you’re having trouble sleeping and start eating some of the foods listed above for each situation. When you can’t sleep at night, it’s helpful to keep track of what’s going on. Certain foods, stressful situations or an awesome book can all be reasons why you can’t sleep at night.
You can be wired and tired at bedtime and then wake up at 3 am too! This is definitely not fun but it happens – trust me. Messed up sleep is your body telling you that your stress levels have reached a breaking point.
Over time you can stop asking yourself “why can’t I sleep at night?” Be diligent in following the tips and dietary recommendations I’ve given you and eventually you will notice a change. The effects of chronic stress take months to reverse so be patient. Contact me if you’re still struggling or you want a faster solution. I can provide you with a personalized meal plan along with supplements that will help you sleep through the night!