Being tired is not enough to sleep.

Sometimes, no matter how exhausted we are, we can’t fall asleep.

This problem is more common than you may think.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:

  • 30 to 35% have brief symptoms of insomnia. 35%
  • 15 to 20% have a short-term insomnia disorder 15%
  • 10% have a chronic insomnia disorder 10%

It is a discouraging situation and can lead to serious repercussions for our bodies. 

And if you’re reading this, you’re possibly seeking for a solid solution to that trouble. If you continue reading, you’ll get the answer.

What would happen if you didn’t sleep? – Claudia Aguirre

In this TedEd video, Claudia Aguirre, a neuroscientist and mind-body expert, talks about— you guessed it— the effects of sleep deprivation.

It’s 1965 and a young high school student called Randy Gardner decided to do an experiment.

It consisted of staying awake for 264 hours in order to see what would happen if he didn’t sleep.

The results were these:

1By the second day, Randy’s eyes stopped focusing.
2Then, he couldn’t identify objects by touch.
3In the third day, he was “moody and uncoordinated”.
4By the end of this experiment, “he was struggling to concentrate, had trouble with short-term memory, became paranoid, and started hallucinating.”

As explained in WebMD, the lack of sleep can lead to serious health consequences.

A pretty clear example is mentioned by Claudia Aguirre:

In 2014, a devoted soccer fan died after staying awake for 48 hours to watch the World Cup. While his untimely death was due to a stroke, studies show that chronically sleeping fewer than six hours a night increases stroke risk by four and half times compared to those getting a consistent seven to eight hours of shuteye.

But please don’t panic. Death is the most extreme result, but:

N
Learning
N
Memory
N
Mode
N
Reaction time
… can also be deeply affected if you don’t sleep well. On the other hand, sleeplessness can cause:
N
Inflamation
N
Hallucinations
N
High blood pressure
N
Even linked to diabetes and obesity

But how does sleep deprivation cause all of these? Claudia Aguirre explains:

Scientists think the answer lies with the accumulation of waste products in the brain. During our waking hours,our cells are busy using up our day’s energy sources, which get broken down into various byproducts, including adenosine. As adenosine builds up, it increases the urge to sleep, also known as sleep pressure. In fact, caffeine works by blocking adenosine’s receptor pathways.

All these waste products are “cleaned-up” by something called the glymphatic system.

It basically works like the caché-cleaning-process in our smartphones…

… but in our brains.

When we fall asleep, this system is more active and removes all the “waste” created during the day.

It works by using cerebrospinal fluid to flush away toxic byproducts that accumulate between cells. Lymphatic vessels, which serve as pathways for immune cells, have recently been discovered in the brain, and they may also play a role in clearing out the brain’s daily waste products.

However, it is important to say that every person, depending on their age, need a different sleep duration.

Now you may ask: “Am I getting enough sleep?”

How much sleep do we really need?

This chart from the National Sleep Foundation makes it pretty simple:

  • Newborns (between 0 and 3 months) need from 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day.
  • Infants (between 4 and 11 months) need from 12 to 15 hours of sleep per day.
  • Toddlers (1-2 years) need from 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day.
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years) need from 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day.
  • School-age children (6-13 years) need from 9 to 11 hours of sleep per day.
  • Teenagers (14-17 years) need from 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day.
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours.
  • Adults (26-64):  7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours.

Now you know how much you need to sleep and what can happen if you don’t. You may be wondering what are the actual benefits of sleeping well. But what happens “when you feel so tired but you can’t sleep”?

How to Sleep Better – Fixing Insomnia

It is more than clear that we need to sleep.

However, there’s a health issue that affects many of us and we don’t consider it a real problem.

Yes, you guessed. It’s insomnia.

But what is it? The National Sleep Foundation explains it:

Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so.

They also claim it can be characterized based on its duration.

There’s acute insomnia or short-term insomnia, which often takes place because of life events such as:

N
When you can’t fall asleep the night before an exam
N
After receiving stressful or bad news,
N
Losing your job
N
Death of a loved one
N
Or divorce.

It’s probably that many people have experienced this and it usually solves with no treatment.

However, there’s a second type of insomnia— depending on its duration— called chronic insomnia. The National Sleep Foundation defines it as:

Disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week and lasts at least three months.

There are multiple causes like:

N
Environment changes
N
Unhealthy sleep habits
N
Shift work
N
Other clinical disorders
N
“certain medications that could lead to a long-term pattern of insufficient sleep.”

Well, in this video you’ll find the best options to deal with insomnia.

These are the options that PictureFit presents:

OPTION 1. CREATE A SLEEP HISTORY LOG

This method will allow you to detect patterns that might affect your sleep.

Day by day, write down how much time did you sleep, if you took a nap or any stressful event that you have been through.

As recommended in PictureFit, “after one to two weeks, evaluate your log and find any patterns that might affect your sleep.

Eliminating negative patterns can improve your insomnia and might even fix it entirely.”

OPTION 2. TRY COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY (CBT)

There are multiple non-pharmacological methods that can help you heal insomnia.

However, as mentioned in the video, one of the most effective is CBT, or cognitive behavior therapy.

Studies show that about 80% of people using CBT improved sleep efficiency for up to 24 months – something that medication alone has not been able to replicate.

Do you want to know what are the best strategies?
STRATEGY 1. SLEEP HYGIENE

Sleep hygiene means, in other words, manipulate your sleep environment in order to make it more comfortable.

This manipulation can include simple things such as:

  • buying a new mattress,
  • using a more comfortable pillow,
  • keeping your room dark,
  • and at a comfortable temperature.

However, sleep hygiene can go beyond those environment things. You should:

  1. Avoid stimulants— like caffeinated beverager— after lunch.
  2. Avoid alcohol in the evening, since it “negatively suppresses REM sleep”.
  3. Avoid smoking.
  4. Avoid taking long naps.
  5. Avoid going to sleep without resolving a stressful thought.
  6. Avoid eating too much 2 hours before bed.
  7. Avoid drinking too much water so you won’t get up and urinate.

Many things to avoid, huh?

But if there’s a thing that you should definitely not avoid is light exercising such as walking, for example.

Strategy 2. Keep the room dark

The second strategy is as simple as keeping your room as dark as possible.

This means you need to avoid sleep-disruptive effects caused by bright screens.

And yes, that also means;

  • no more TV in the bedroom,
  • no checking Social Media right before bedtime,
  • and no “late-night gaming sessions”.

FOODS FOR SLEEP: A LIST OF THE BEST AND WORST FOODS FOR GETTING SLEEP

As we always say in Paleo Life, food and nutrition are crucial elements in our health.

Whether you’re trying to improve your physical or mental health, what you eat is something that you must choose wisely.

We already talked about sleep hygiene. But, as said by the Alaska Sleep Clinic (ASC) in this article, “one of the most underrated sleep hygiene practices that really go far in improving quality sleep is making the right dietary choices.”

So here’s the list of more than 47 foods you should eat to fight insomnia, sorted by the vitamins and minerals they have, and those you should avoid.

NOTE: talking about nutrition, you can download our Lean Body Grocery List here, to learn how to improve your eating habits.

Tryptophan

The Alaska Sleep Clinic says:

Tryptophan is an amino acid that when ingested gets turned into the neurotransmitter serotonin and then converted into the hormone melatonin.

The best foods with tryptophan are:

  • Dairy products (milk, low-fat yogurt, cheese)
  • Poultry (turkey, chicken)
  • Seafood (shrimp, salmon, halibut, tuna, sardines, cod)
  • Nuts and seeds (flax, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, cashews, peanuts, almonds, walnuts)
  • Legumes (kidney beans, lima beans, black beans split peas, chickpeas)
  • Fruits (apples, bananas, peaches, avocado)
  • Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, asparagus, onions, seaweed)
  • Grains (wheat, rice, barley, corn, oats)
Magnesium

This mineral is a “natural relaxant that helps deactivate adrenaline.” Known as the sleep mineral, it’s found in:

  • Dark leafy greens (baby spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, flaxseed, pecans)
  • Wheat germ
  • Fish (salmon, halibut, tuna, mackerel)
  • Soybeans
  • Banana
  • Avocados
  • Low-fat yogurt

Calcium

The statement is clear: “A lack of calcium can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and have difficulty returning to sleep.” You can find it in:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Low-fat milk
  • Cheeses
  • Yogurt
  • Sardines
  • Fortified cereals
  • Soybeans
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Enriched bread and grains
  • Green snap peas
  • Okra
  • Broccoli
Vitamin B6

“A deficiency in B6 has been linked with lowered serotonin levels and poor sleep,” states the Alaska Sleep clinic. Rich Vitamin B6 foods are:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pistachio nuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Fish (tuna, salmon, halibut)
  • Meat (chicken, tuna, lean pork, lean beef,)
  • Dried Prunes
  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Spinach
Melatonin

The vitamins and minerals mentioned before, explain Kevin Phillips from the Alaska Sleep Clinic, “help aid in the production of turning serotonin into melatonin.”

Melatonin is “responsible for regulating your circadian rhythm” and can be found in:

  • Fruits and vegetables (tart cherries, corn, asparagus, tomatoes, pomegranate, olives, grapes, broccoli, cucumber
  • Grains (rice, barley, rolled oats)
  • Nuts and Seeds (walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, mustard seeds, flaxseed)

Drinks that are great for sleep

Some of the many drinks that can help you fight insomnia are:

  • Warm milk
  • Almond milk
  • Valerian tea
  • Chamomile tea
  • Tart cherry juice
  • Passion fruit tea
  • Peppermint tea
The worst foods for sleep

Some paragraphs before, you read multiple general things you should avoid in order to prevent insomnia.

When it comes to food, these are the things you must avoid:

  1. Foods and drinks that contain caffeine.
  2. Spicy foods. The ASC says: “Spicy foods are notorious for causing heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux. Heartburn can be made worse while lying down as it allows the acids to creep up into the esophagus and burn the sensitive lining.”
  3. Alcohol.
  4. Foods high in fat. “Fat triggers the digestive processes and causes a buildup of stomach acids, which while lying down can creep into the esophagus causing discomfort.”
  5. Foods high in protein. Since they are harder for the digestive system to break down, eating them before going to sleep can disrupt it.
  6. Foods containing water. The same with drinking too much water before going to bed. They may make you get up and go to the bathroom.
  7. Heavy meals before bedtime. If you eat too much before bed, your body will focus on the digestive process and you can lose sleep. If you’re hungry, try to eat a light snack, instead of a heavy meal.
When we are sleepy, it means that our body is giving tiredness signals to our brain. But, as I said before, sometimes being tired is not enough. The tips you just read can help you a lot to fight insomnia and sleep problems. If you try them— or have already tried—  we would like to know it. Give us your comments and share your experience!