This is what normal sleep should look like:

You fall asleep easily.

It should take about five to 10 minutes to fall asleep. If you fall asleep immediately, you’re probably sleep deprived from consistently not getting enough sleep. If it takes you longer than 10 minutes, then something is keeping you awake that shouldn’t be.

You sleep seven to nine hours “uninterrupted.”

It’s normal to wake up during the night in between sleep cycles. They’re called partial arousals. This is when you change sleep positions or go to the bathroom. You don’t always remember waking up during these times because you should fall back asleep quickly.

You wake up feeling rested.

If you sleep eight hours and wake up feeling tired, something isn’t right. You should feel rested and refreshed after a good night’s sleep.

If you aren’t sleeping normally, there are two things that are keeping you awake at night:

Your mind. Your body.

How your mind keeps you awake

If you’ve struggled to sleep for any length of time, whether it’s weeks, years, or since childhood, you don’t have a positive association with sleep. The longer you can’t sleep, the more these worries and anxieties about sleep become reinforced in your brain. You identify as a poor sleeper. Working to change your thoughts about sleep and lessen your anxiety before bed will help you sleep better.

General, everyday stress can also sabotage your sleep. Being constantly busy and rushing around causes your body to always release cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that wakes you up and keeps you alert, which is great during the day, but you don’t want your body releasing cortisol at night when you want to be asleep.

Worrying about money, not being happy in your marriage or working a job you dislike can keep you in the fight-or-flight stress response, which keeps you awake at night. Having a negative outlook on life can also sabotage your sleep because you’ll continuously feel stressed and have a hard time relaxing.

Because the mind has a powerful effect on sleep, I work with my clients on their thoughts about sleep and their stress in general. I also help them see what thoughts they aren’t aware of that are ruining their sleep.

How your body keeps you awake

There can be hidden things going on in your body that are keeping you from sleeping normally. These physical reasons are often overlooked, which is why so many people struggle to sleep these days. Some of these physiological conditions cause your body to release cortisol at night when it shouldn’t. A few examples include a pathogen in your gut, food sensitivities and liver detox problems.

Other physical reasons why you can’t sleep could be hormone issues (low estrogen or progesterone, high testosterone, low melatonin), mineral imbalance, and an unhealthy gut that can’t make neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and melatonin like it’s supposed to.

If you’re following all the “sleep rules,” like avoiding screens before bed, meditating and exercising every day, and you still can’t sleep, then there’s definitely something in your body that is keeping you from sleeping.

Functional lab testing will show the big picture of what’s happening in your body that might block healthy sleep.

How to sleep normally

You need to address everything in your body and your mind that is causing your insomnia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia doesn’t always work because it addresses your mind but it doesn’t look at what’s going on in your body.

Because chronic stress causes your body to break down over time, you need to work on minimizing and managing stress.

If you look at the physical reasons without looking at how your mind is affecting your sleep, you won’t be able to sleep well either.

If you only look at one physical cause of your insomnia, like hormones for example, but you don’t also address your gut health, then you won’t fully fix your sleep problem. There is likely more than one thing going on and you have to find and address everything that could be keeping you awake at night.

It’s amazing how quickly your body can heal itself. If you think about it, it took years of not being fully healthy for your body to break down enough to not get the sleep it needs. It only takes one to six months for my clients to start sleeping better, even after years of struggle. This is what is possible for you too. You can fall asleep easily, stay asleep all night and wake up feeling rested, even if you haven’t slept well for years.

As always, wishing you a good night’s sleep.

Martha Lewis is a certified Sleep Sense consultant and owner of The Complete Sleep Solution. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @completesleepsolution. Email her at completesleepsolution@gmail.com.

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