Insomnia is the most common complaint associated with sleep in the world. Simply, it means that you are unable to sleep enough to feel well-rested and fresh the next day. However, the amount of sleep varies amongst individuals therefore; insomnia is based on the quality of sleep, not on how many hours you are sleeping.
For example, even if you get 8 hours of sleep, you waking up the next day feeling fatigued and drowsy may indicate that you have insomnia.
Insomnia is often referred to as a symptom of an underlying cause, which can also vary amongst individuals. For some, it may be due to overconsumption of caffeine or alcohol or emotional stress-related issues such as having too much work or feeling like you have too many responsibilities to deal with. Tension is one of the most common causes of stress-related insomnia in adults.
If you want to learn more about the causes of insomnia, have a look at this.
If you’re suffering from stress, insomnia, or both, take heart, there is a solution for everybody and no, we aren’t talking about sleeping pills or medicinal drugs. There are several natural remedies for stress and insomnia; you just need to find the ones that suit you best.
But first, let’s look at the common symptoms associated with insomnia:
Having difficulty falling asleep, even if you are exhausted
Trouble going back to sleep once you have been awakened
Frequently waking up in the night
Waking up too early
Fatigue, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, mood swings and irritability during the day
Having to rely on sleeping aids, OTC sleeping pills and alcohol to sleep at night and caffeine to keep yourself awake during the day
How to cope with stress
Stress is a normal response in our everyday life. During any threatening situation, we go into a fight or flight mode which protects us from danger. Caveman used this to save themselves from possible danger, for example, when they were being chased by say, saber tooth lions while they were hunting.
However, this stress response sticks with us and occurs even when we are in a negative situation. For example, you have a deadline to meet and you only have a few hours to complete a project. This is when the pressure builds up, you start working faster, your concentration level elevates, you are able to stay up for several hours in the night to finish the task and in the end, you are done with it.
However, too much stress can cause anxiety, depression and sleep problems. Fortunately, there is a way to deal with stress and allow you to sleep at night without any issues:
Find out what’s stressing you out so much
Your first move should be to find out what the cause is. Have a good look at yourself and your lifestyle. Is your stress work-related or related to your social or personal life? Are you having a tough love life or is your partner complaining too much? Is your stress more of a physical problem – do you have any physical condition that is affecting your daily activities because of the pain etc.? Identify the stressors in your life, write them down and find ways to prevent them from causing stress.
Seek help from others
Spend time with your friends and family more often to calm your body and mind. Share your problems with people who love you and care for you. It doesn’t hurt to seek support from others when you aren’t able to determine a solution that’s best for you. This may be the most clichéd thing you’ll see on most health sites, but hanging out with friends and family, having your meals together and having positive conversations is the best way to buffer the stress in your life.
You can however, improve your mood solo by doing things you enjoy such as reading a book, evaluating your life and being grateful for what you have or just going for a leisurely walk in the park – smell the roses!
Calm your body
Overthinking your problems will just tax your mind further and allow stress to linger longer. If you stress more, your body produces more cortisol, thus pushing your stress level higher. It’s a chain that can only be broken by you.
Have you ever tried exercising to reduce stress or doing some yoga? There are many ways through which you can relax your mind through physical exertion. Some other examples include dance or zumba, pilates, tai chi, jogging, swimming etc.
Understand that any form of physical activity will make you feel better because exercise does give you a positive high. It stimulates the release of dopamine and endorphins in the brain that increase feelings of pleasure and make you feel good. Furthermore, exercise makes you more confident about yourself and the actions you make in your daily life. For some, exercise is quite superficial, we do it to make ourselves look better but the benefits of exercise are above and beyond your aesthetics. You just need to give it a try.
Here are some excellent videos you can try today or better yet, right now to ease your tension:
If you’re into yoga, try this video by Teisha Maher, BodyRock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmZC8N4pnyQ
If you want something a bit up tempo, you can’t go wrong with Zumba. If you’re in the mood for some Shakira, try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK2CZa7pgLM or you could try this, which is easier to follow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haV8Cas6Xnw
If you want to have fun with pilates and kill your abs, you have to try Blogilates! This is my ultimate favorite sweaty workout these days that really jazzes me up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUOySFM5HWc
When you’re stressing out in the night, try controlled breathing. Meditation is the best way to be completely aware of yourself.
Try alternate nostril breathing. Close your right nostril with your index finger and inhale as much as you can through the left one. Once you have inhaled completely, unblock your right nostril; block the left one and release through the right. Inhale through the right and then exhale through the left. Keep alternating until you have completed 10 breaths. You can obviously do more if you want.
Here’s the video tutorial on alternate nose breathing by Yoga With Adriene, she explains this whole routine beautifully and its easy to follow along with her:
Limit your bedroom to sleep and sex only
This means you have to keep all pieces of technology and food out of the room. The light emitted from phones and computer screens, also known as blue light, suppresses the melatonin in the body. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep.
Exposure to blue light can disrupt the normal rhythm that governs your sleep and wake cycle. Make an attempt to stop using all pieces of technology an hour or two before bed time. Use the hour before to relax so that you can peacefully go to sleep.
Have foods that fight stress
When it comes to stress and food, emotional eating is not the solution. When you reach for foods to cope with your emotions, you often turn towards foods that are calorie dense and full of unhealthy fat, such as a tub of ice cream.
You might object to this and believe such foods actually make you feel better during an emotional or stressful situation but what’s actually happening is that there is a higher than normal level of serotonin, a feel-good chemical, in the brain, which may temporarily ease your stress or feeling of misery.
Unfortunately, what this temporary moment if bliss is doing to you in the long term outweighs its short term effects. You gain weight, consume excessive salt, sugar, fat and carbs which are clearly bad for your overall health and worst of all, you actually make yourself more susceptible to stress. There are foods that help relieve stress in a healthy manner and there are foods that worsen stress in the long term. Let’s look at the good stuff first:
Turkey – Turkey is packed with the amino acid, L-tryptophan which may have a positive effect on stress as it triggers the brain to release feel good chemicals. Tryptophan has been known to make people feel calmer and more relaxed which is a common result after having some good turkey. Apart from turkey, you can also find tryptophan in chicken, milk, cheese, bananas, nuts, peanuts, soy, sesame seed and oats. Looking for something simple yet satisfying for dinner? Try this paleo turkey meatza, you won’t be disappointed!
Dark chocolate – There is a reason why chocolate makes you feel good. Researchers have found that chocolate, specifically dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids. Flavonoids have a relaxing effect on the brain and help stimulate the release of feel good chemicals. Studies also show that people who consume chocolates regularly have lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in your blood. This is one of the reasons why chocolate is commonly known as a pleasure food, it triggers feelings of pleasure. However, instead of having milk chocolate which is mostly fat and sugar and only a little bit of real chocolate, have dark chocolate which is rich in antioxidants and minerals that your body loves. Guilty of loving chocolate mousse way too much? Guess what, there’s a clean and healthy version! Here’s the recipe by The Healthy Foodie. It tastes so amazing, you won’t even miss the unhealthy type anymore.
Salmon – Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are full of omega 3 fatty acids that not only improve heart health and reduce ones risk of heart disease, but also relieve stress and improve mood as well. Studies show that the daily intake of omega 3 supplements may drastically drop stress levels by as much as 20 percent. Furthermore, research also indicates that having omega 3s regularly in your diet may prevent the influx of cortisol during a stressful situation. Salmon and tuna are also rich in vitamins B6 and B12, which have also been known to improve mood. However, make sure you have your fish clean and healthy instead of frying them or having them with a lot of butter or mayonnaise. There are plenty of ways you can enjoy fish in a heart-healthy way. Here is an example: http://paleoleap.com/salmon-cherry-tomato-salsa-asparagus/ This recipe is clean and paleo, plus it includes asparagus, which is also a stress-busting food!
Asparagus – I don’t know where to start. The benefits of asparagus are way too good to be true, which is why most models and celebrities swear by them. Asparagus contains high levels of folic acid, which plays a huge role in regulating your mod. Minerals and vitamins such as B vitamins and folic acid help in the production of serotonin — which makes your mood positive. So if you’re prone to every day stress, try adding asparagus to your meals. It’s low-cal too! Here’s a simple asparagus recipe which will just take a few minutes to prepare: http://www.heandsheeatclean.com/2012/11/the-modern-pilgrim-lemon-garlic.html Here’s another asparagus recipe which has quinoa as the main ingredient: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/quinoa-salad-with-asparagus-dates-orange. Quinoa is amazing for health. It’s high on fiber and contains all essential amino acids! Read all about its nutritional value and benefits here.
Beef – Beef may have a bad reputation among many health enthusiasts but if consumed in moderation, it is actually pretty awesome. In fact, it may actually help you cope with your stress. Beef consists of B vitamins, iron and zinc which are three nutrients that have known to be great mood stabilizers. Opt for grass-fed lean cut beef as it has a lower fat content and is nutritionally rich as well. Other sources of B vitamins include chicken, pork, legumes, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, eggs, brown rice, quinoa and citrus fruits. Here is a super healthy and clean recipe which includes beef and broccoli – two amazing foods for good health and good mood: http://www.muscleandfitnesshers.com/recipes/beef-and-broccoli
Greek yogurt – Greek yogurt is among the richest sources of protein, which helps you improve your mood. Protein regulates the mood by stimulating the production of dopamine and norepinephrine which have a similar effect on the body as serotonin. They carry impulses between nerves cells and have a positive impact on your cognitive health, increasing your concentration level, your alertness, your mental energy, your mood and your reaction time.
Some of the best sources of protein include Greek yogurt, chicken, cheese, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and whole grains such as quinoa.
Focus on having a balanced meal with majority of your plate consisting of greens and protein and the remainder being complex carbs such as from whole grains or tubers such as sweet potato.
Here is a list of all complex carbs and take a look at the comparison of complex carbs and refined and simple carbs as well. We call complex carbs the healthier carbs because they have not undergone any processing or refinement in the past. They are often higher in fiber and require a longer time to be digested. Moreover, their nutrient potency is also preserved because they are minimally refined.
Milk – Milk is another protein source which is also rich in vitamin B2 and B12 along with calcium. The intake of calcium has been linked to reduced mood swings, even in the case of PMS. In order to make your day less stressful, start your morning with a protein and calcium rich breakfast such as a smoothie containing Greek yogurt or oats with milk. You just have to have a look at this.
Oatmeal – Consuming complex carbs will help you boost your mood and give you a great kick start to your day because of the level of serotonin being produced in your brain. Moreover, whole grains such as oats consist of ample fiber that takes longer to digest, thus allowing the slow and steady of serotonin in the brain. And besides, a warm bowl of oatmeal can put a smile on anyone’s face.
Here are some awesome things you can do to oatmeal. I’ve got to say that my favorite add-ins are dark chocolate and banana: http://www.self.com/flash/recipes-blog/2012/01/national-oatmeal-month-unique/
Tea – Certain types of tea do contain caffeine but you’ll be happy to know that tea can actually help you relax, unlike coffee, which has the opposite effect on the body – more on this later. Green tea consists of flavonoids and amino acid, theanine, which help promote sleep, reduce anxiety and relieve stress.
Tired of having the same old green tea every day? Try adding in some oomph and try this recipe for iced green tea with mint and ginger. It is uh-mazing and so refreshing.
Avocado – Avocados are rich in potassium and monounsaturated fats that lower blood pressure, relax the body and promote positive feelings in the brain. Research shows that avocados have more potassium than a banana! Do I hear a PB and Avocado sandwich coming up?
Oranges – We all know that vitamin C boosts our immune system but studies also show that having more vitamin C is actually linked to reduced stress and cortisol levels. Vitamin C also has a positive effect on your blood pressure. Therefore, if you’re in a stressful situation, have an orange or any other citrus fruit such as strawberries, blueberries or grapefruit – you’ll bounce back in no time!
The best way to have citrus fruit is to have it whole. So try chopping up your favorite fruits into a salad. Here’s a recipe you should try out today. It is filling, refreshing, hydrating and extremely low-cal and healthy.
Almonds – Almonds are an amazing source of vitamins B2 and E and they contain zinc, magnesium and good fats. Research shows that vitamin E may fight free radicals linked to stress and free radicals that cause cancer as well.
As a bonus, almonds and other nuts serve as crunchy snacks so if you’re in a stressful situation again, you know what you have to dig your teeth into. Or you can try munching on a no-bake paleo nut bar. Recipe here.
Avoid having the worst foods for stress
According to many studies, while some foods might make you feel calmer, others may wreak havoc in the body and act as stimulants for a short period. Most of us turn towards common quick-fixes such as coffee or sugary foods to elevate our mood, but the effect is temporary and may lead to further problems.
The following are foods that may boost anxiety and do more harm than good in a stressful situation.
Coffee and other caffeinated beverages – Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, cola and energy drinks help boost your energy levels instantly but they can also boost your stress levels.
Caffeine inhibits serotonin levels in the brain, which ultimately may result in negative emotions such as irritability and depression. In addition, caffeine is a diuretic which can increase the number of bathroom visits you make. Diuretics dehydrate the body which may also cause depression.
Most importantly, caffeine keeps you awake which also leads to anxiety and stress. Sleep is essential for positive mood so instead of relying on coffee or energy drinks to keep you awake, try having a good night’s rest.
Coffee has been proven several times to be healthy as it has a positive effect on the heart. However, stick to no more than one or two cups a day and try your best to not get dependent on it and have it truly because you enjoy it.
Looking for something refreshing yet healthy? Try having an apple and cucumber juice.
Sweets and candy – Let’s face it; most pieces of sugary sweets cannot even be termed as food. Perhaps, the only “food” in candy is sugar and sometimes honey, if we don’t include chocolate bars in the list. If you’re not very concerned about the junk that you’re eating, you may benefit from taking a look at this. You’re welcome.
Candy may make you feel good for a short period of time but this again, is just a temporary mood lift. The science behind this is simple. Sugar gets rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream because unlike in the case of complex carbs, the body doesn’t really have to do much to break it down. The rapid absorption will instantly give you more energy but once the effect wears off when the body starts increasing insulin levels to get rid of the excess sugar, you begin feel fatigued.
Moreover, having too much sugar results in sugar crashes and increases your craving for more.
It is also important that you understand the importance of minimizing the amount of refined sugars in your diet if you’re prone to frequent stress or if you just want to improve your overall health and lifestyle. Sugar is a major cause of inflammation in the body, which is an underlying stressor that can affect you negatively, physically as well as mentally.
Sugar stresses the pancreases to produce more insulin and as I mentioned before, this causes insulin levels to spike leading to blood sugar crashes. This makes you irritable, stressed out, sometimes even angry and hungry for more sugar.
Therefore, your best bet would be to cut out sugar as much as possible, putting less pressure on your pancreas. You can substitute sugar with natural ingredients that give out their own delicious and unique flavors such as coconut sugar, bananas, raisins, nuts, berries, raw honey, dates, apples etc.
Alcohol – Many people seek to ease their stress and anxiety or try to escape from their problems by having more alcohol. However, the positive rush you get through alcohol consumption is highly temporary.
Alcohol is a stimulant like caffeine and drinking more than you should, may result in some serious mood problems. Alcohol is a diuretic – which means it causes dehydration and makes you go to the bathroom a lot. Staying hydrated is the key to a happy lifestyle.
In addition, alcohol triggers the release of cortisol in the brain and studies show that heavy drinkers often have the highest levels of cortisol in the body than non-drinkers or light-drinkers. Therefore, if you do drink alcohol every day, stick to one glass of wine daily or no alcohol altogether.
Processed food – Pies, cakes, rolls, hot dogs, burgers, pizzas… you name it, every type of processed food can result in physical and mental health problems.
One study shows that people who mostly eat high fat, fried, processed or sweetened foods had a 58 percent higher risk of mood-related problems such as depression compared to people having whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish and unprocessed meat.
Most processed foods that we turn to such as fries and burgers are also high in carbohydrates which often cause sluggishness and fatigue in most people. Consumption of high sodium foods also increases a person’s risk of hypertension.
Instead of turning towards processed junk, try your best to have clean, unrefined versions of foods and have them whole. Canned and packed products are extremely low on healthy nutrients. To jump start your clean eating journey, start here.
Spicy food – I love spicy food but having food that’s too spicy or having spicy food too frequently may cause digestive problems, which can cause stress as well. Therefore, if spicy food exacerbates the digestive symptoms you experience, it’s best to avoid it completely. Having stress also slows down your metabolism which makes it more difficult to digest food. This may later lead to acid reflux which can be worsened by having spicy or oily food.
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