According to the American Sleep Association, one in every three adults experiences occasional insomnia, while another one in 10 has chronic insomnia. While most of us crave a good night’s sleep for the short-term benefit of feeling more alert, we also realize that sleep is crucial to our health. During those nightly hours of shut-eye, our bodies experience a prolonged period of repair and renewal that can improve everything from treatment of chronic conditions to weight management.
Sleeping well directly affects your mental and physical health and the quality of your waking life. Fall short and it can take a serious toll on your daytime energy, productivity, emotional balance, and even your weight. Yet many of us regularly toss and turn at night, struggling to get the sleep we need. There is a solution. Making simple but important changes to your daytime routine and bedtime habits can have a profound impact on how well you sleep, leaving you feeling mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day long.
Other potential health benefits: Melatonin may help to guard against cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative disease. It’s also being investigated as a therapy for some cancers. Supplemental melatonin may be effective at improving sleep quality and sleep quantity in people with ASD, and also may help improve daytime behavior. Melatonin has shown promise as a natural treatment for a range of conditions, including fibromyalgia, menopause, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Valerian research is more contradictory than that pertaining to melatonin. One valerian study found no benefit to taking the herb at the 14-day mark but discovered that it “greatly improved sleep” after 28 days. Dr. Goldstein confirmed this, noting that, while valerian will work for some “super sensitive” people the first time they take it, for others it may need to build up in their system for weeks before they start to notice any changes (though she notes that the same has been said about melatonin).
How magnesium helps sleep: This mineral has a range of scientifically-backed connections to sleep. Magnesium helps to regulate the body’s bio clock and melatonin. Low levels of magnesium are linked to low levels of melatonin. Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people who sleep poorly. Magnesium can also help insomnia that’s linked to the sleep disorder restless-leg syndrome. This mineral can help with symptoms both mild-to-moderate anxiety and mild-to-moderate depression, which in turn can help you rest better.
Night shift workers often have trouble falling asleep when they go to bed, and also have trouble staying awake at work because their natural circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle is disrupted. In the case of jet lag, circadian rhythms become out of sync with the time of day when people fly to a different time zone, creating a mismatch between their internal clock and the actual clock.
If you’ve tried natural remedy after natural remedy and are still having difficulty sleeping, it’s a good idea to talk about your insomnia with your doctor. Together, you can discuss your symptoms, which could point to underlying health issues that might be making it harder for you to fall asleep. She can also review any prescriptions that you’re taking to see whether they might be interfering with your ability to nod off.
If you routinely fall asleep within 5 minutes of lying down, you probably have sleep deprivation or a sleep disorder. Microsleeps, or very brief episodes of sleep in an otherwise awake person, are another mark of sleep deprivation. In many cases, people are not aware that they are experiencing microsleeps. Some suspect that the widespread practice of “burning the candle at both ends” among harried workaholics has changed perceptions so much that what is really abnormal sleepiness is now considered normal.
Light therapy is used as part of sleep treatment plans. If you have trouble falling asleep at night or have delayed sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light in the morning. Light exposure plays a key role in telling the body when to go to sleep (by increasing melatonin production) and when to wake up. A walk outdoors first thing in the morning or light therapy for 30 minutes may help.
Black, D. S., O'Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015, April). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Internal Medicine, 175(4), 494–501. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998?hc_location=ufi
Certain protein-rich foods like milk, eggs, peanuts, and soy contain an amino acid called tryptophan that causes sleepiness, says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. For best results, combine these foods with a source of carbohydrates, which help more tryptophan enter the brain. Some recommendations: roasted soybeans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, cheddar cheese, canned tuna, and pistachios. You don't need much: "Even smaller snacks can provide a tryptophan dose that studies have shown to be significant in helping with sleep," Rumsey says.
Slowed responses and dulled concentration from lack of sleep don't just affect school or sports performance, though. More than half of teens surveyed reported that they have driven a car while drowsy over the past year and 15% said they drove drowsy at least once a week. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration estimates that more than 100,000 accidents, 40,000 injuries, and 1,500 people are killed in the U.S. every year in crashes caused by drivers who are simply tired. Young people under the age of 25 are far more likely to be involved in drowsy driving crashes.
Eat Foods That Help You Sleep: Tryptophan is a naturally-occurring amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Eat carbohydrate snacks such as whole grain crackers before bedtime. Also include foods rich in vitamin B6, found in wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and bananas, which enhances the body's conversion of tryptophan. Note that L-tryptophan supplements are not recommended as they have been linked to eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome.
In my article about passion flower, you can see the numerous benefits, including calming and anti-anxiety effects. When we have anxiety, it can greatly affect how we sleep because you just cannot seem to turn the brain off — especially while you’re trying to rest. Passion flower can provide the calming effect needed to help stop that vicious circle of thought.
Try relaxation techniques. Call to arms whatever relaxation tips you know to combat this inappropriately timed alertness. Try your favorite calming yoga pose (Savasana, anyone?). Meditate. In this travel meditation article, neuroscience researcher Catherine Kerr explains a simple way of unwinding through breathing. You simply note the rising and falling of your breath, and focus on the parts of your body where you feel these slow inhales and exhales, whether it's in the lungs, abdomen, tip of your nose or elsewhere.
Watch something boring. Just about everything you read about improving sleep advises you to avoid screen time before bed. But the truth is, a lot of people do it anyway. If you’re going to watch TV or your laptop in bed, watch something unexciting. Think a Ken Burns documentary, or an episode of House Hunters. No scary movies, thrillers, or the 11 o’clock news. If it’s likely to get your pulse racing, turn it off. There’s even a website for it — Napflix, which serves up the most snooze-worthy videos on YouTube (think Bonsai tree pruning or tropical fish swimming in an aquarium).