Do you struggle to get to sleep at night but often feel as if it would be easy to nod off during the day? Do you find that sleeping on some occasions is easy but that you just can’t predict when it’s going to be impossible? You may have a problem with your body clock. Fortunately, in most cases, there are things you can do to help develop proper sleep rhythms.
Causes of Broken Sleep Rhythms
Understanding the cause of your sleep rhythm problems is not always possible, but if you can figure it out you may be able to make lifestyle changes to improve your situation.
The most difficult types of sleep rhythm disorder to treat are those caused by brain damage, sometimes as a result of injury or intensive use of particular medication (including some types of chemotherapy). This can leave you with problems that cannot be cured, though it may still be possible to treat the symptoms and improve your quality of life somewhat.
The most common types of sleep rhythm disorder are caused by bad sleep habits. This doesn’t mean they are necessarily your fault – we all have to make difficult judgement calls sometimes. A long term irregular sleep pattern – whether it’s caused by partying, shift work, or difficult domestic commitments – can cause your body to break with its inbuilt sleep programming. In the short term this is a survival strategy – in the long term it can leave you with problems.
Broken sleep rhythms can also occur as a result of other factors that interfere with your body clock. If you fly a lot, for instance, jet lag and an irregular experience of night and day may contribute to the problem. Irregular habits of eating and drinking are a common factor, as are irregular patterns of exercise.
Mental and Physical Tiredness
One result of sleep rhythm problems is that you may find you don’t get mentally tired and physically tired at the same time. Synchronising these experiences is a good first step before you attempt to reset your overall sleep pattern to suit your lifestyle.
Adjusting your mental tiredness levels is difficult in the modern world, especially if you’re already suffering from chronic insomnia. The best approach is to wait until you are mentally ready to sleep and then undertake aerobic exercise to tire out your body. Make sure you push yourself past the point where you first want to stop. You should feel a wave of proper exhaustion passing through your muscles; then it’s time to lie down quickly and try to sleep.
Some people have difficulty controlling their sleep rhythms with exercise because they have disabilities that limit what they can do. In this case, regular tensing, holding and relaxing of muscles just before preparing for sleep can help.
Even if synchronising these rhythms initially means you have to sleep during the day, it can be worthwhile, because once you have got the two together you’ll find it much easier to gradually nudge them around, by an hour or so per day, to where you need them to be.
Diet and Sleep Rhythms
A major factor affecting sleep rhythms is diet. If you can stick to a regular, properly planned eating schedule, your body will adjust its other rhythms to fit in with this, and this can often help to treat sleep problems.
You might not think much about your sleep problems at the start of the day, but eating a proper breakfast is important. If you can do it at the same time every day it will send a clear message to your subconscious that this is when you need to be awake. Boost your energy levels with orange juice or fresh fruit and eat cereals or bread so there are complex carbohydrates available to give you energy all morning.
Although it’s important not to skip lunch, saving your big meal until the evening will help you to sleep at the right time. A large, late dinner will make your body shut down some processes during digestion, making you sleepy. If you are not exercising right before bed, a small supper can also help. Hot food will make you sleepier. Avoid sugary food that can keep your brain awake.
Maintaining Sleep Rhythms
Sleep rhythm problems are like weight loss diets – the majority of people who overcome them sadly get straight back into the same situation by repeating old mistakes.
If you have suffered from chronically disrupted sleep rhythms you will always be more vulnerable to them than other people. This means it’s important not to make flippant decisions about late nights out. Stick to your new established pattern if you want long term results.