A study published in Sports Medicine out of France was conducted to help better understand ways to improve the sleep of elite soccer players given their chaotic schedules, late-night games and need for recovery through a good night of sleep. The study found that by consuming carbohydrates — such as honey and whole grain bread — and some forms of protein, especially those that contain serotonin-producing tryptophan like turkey, nuts and seeds, it helped promote restorative sleep. Even tryptophan-filled tart cherry juice, which also contains healing properties like antioxidants, could be a great option. (3)
This amino acid comes from green tea and not only helps maintain a calm alertness during the day but also a deeper sleep at night. However, green tea doesn't contain enough L-theanine to significantly boost your REM cycles. Besides, you might then wake up to go to the bathroom. Instead, buy a brand called Suntheanine, which is pure L-theanine. (Other brands have inactive forms of theanine that block the effectiveness.) Take 50 to 200 milligrams at bedtime.
Melatonin has been used successfully for sleep enhancement in healthy individuals, as well as to reduce feelings of jet lag during global travels. This natural hormone is also being tested as a sleep aid with the elderly and other populations. In addition, studies are focusing on whether or not melatonin can help improve sleep patterns in individuals with depression.
The brain stem, at the base of the brain, communicates with the hypothalamus to control the transitions between wake and sleep. (The brain stem includes structures called the pons, medulla, and midbrain.) Sleep-promoting cells within the hypothalamus and the brain stem produce a brain chemical called GABA, which acts to reduce the activity of arousal centers in the hypothalamus and the brain stem. The brain stem (especially the pons and medulla) also plays a special role in REM sleep; it sends signals to relax muscles essential for body posture and limb movements, so that we don’t act out our dreams.
If any of this resonates with you, you might be interested in a new book by Henry Nicholls called Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest. Nicholls, a science journalist in England, chose the topic of sleep in part because of his personal experience with narcolepsy, a rare neurological disorder that impacts the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles. So he decided to write a book about how to sleep better.
If melatonin doesn’t work or patients don’t want to take it, Barone suggests trying valerian root. A 2015 review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine concluded that “a few high-quality studies report modest benefits of valerian for insomnia patients,” adding that while the overall evidence remains mixed, the safety of valerian is well-established.
Your need for sleep and your sleep patterns change as you age, but this varies significantly across individuals of the same age. There is no magic “number of sleep hours” that works for everybody of the same age. Babies initially sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours per day, which may boost growth and development (especially of the brain). School-age children and teens on average need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings. Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep.
Get comfy in bed and try what's known as the "4-7-8" breathing exercise. "This technique is also known as 'The Relaxing Breath' and helps promote better sleep," Tramonte says. To do it, simply breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold it for seven, then breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight. And just like that you'll be asleep.
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Alcohol is a known sleep saboteur — it may make you fall asleep, but it disrupts normal sleep cycles, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night. Cherry juice, on the other hand, may help ensure restful slumber, because it’s thought to be naturally high in melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycles. A small study of 11 subjects published in March 2017 in the American Journal of Therapeutics found that participants with insomnia who drank tart cherry juice for two weeks increased the amount they slept. Cherry juice is presumably low risk, but if you have a tendency toward elevated sugar it's best to discuss with your doctor before you start.
That doesn’t mean that you should never use medication, but it’s important to weigh the benefits against the risks. In general, sleeping pills and sleep aids are most effective when used sparingly for short-term situations, such as traveling across time zones or recovering from a medical procedure. If you choose to take sleeping pills over the long term, it is best to use them only on an infrequent, “as needed,” basis to avoid dependence and tolerance.
Dr. Goldstein warned, however, that the sleep you get from an antihistamine isn’t going to be as restorative as unmedicated sleep. “It’s like alcohol,” she told us. “You’ll get sleep, but you’re not going to wake up with mounds of energy.” Dr. Zammit explains, “When you take a sedating antihistamine, REM sleep may be suppressed at the beginning of the night. But then it rebounds at the end of the night, and this can lead to vivid, intense, and sometimes disturbing dreams.”
Maintaining a regular bedtime and wake time all seven days of the week is important for quality slumber (yes, even on the weekend!). “People stay out late on Friday night after a long week, then sleep in the next morning, which carries over to Sunday; then you have Sunday night insomnia, which sets you up for sleep debt during the week, and it becomes a cycle,” says Dr. Dasgupta. (Do you have a sleep disorder? Answer these 5 questions to find out.)
But remember: It's important to talk with your doctors about consistent sleep problems. You should also let them know if you're taking any type of sleep aid, natural or otherwise, to ensure there isn't a potential risk with existing health conditions or other medications you're taking, says clinical sleep educator Terry Cralle, RN. "Like all drugs, natural sleep remedies can have side effects and risks. I think it's good to get information about them and then discuss it with a healthcare provider."
Studies have shown that classical music, or any music that has a slow rhythm of 60 to 80 beats per minute, can help lull you to sleep. In a 2008 study, students aged 19 to 28 who listened to relaxing classical music for 45 minutes before bed showed significant improvement in sleep quality. Bonus: They also reported decreased symptoms of depression.
Gallup has reported that over the past 50 years, we’re sleeping a whole hour less per night than we did in the 1950s. That’s a lot. A lot of that has to do with having TV on all the time, and mobile phones are taking it to the next level. But I think the biggest issue right now is the lack of work/life balance. I mean, I’m an entrepreneur, so I feel like I’m basically always “on”. A lot of people have jobs where they’re getting emails all hours the night, and there’s no longer a nine-to-five schedule.
REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Your eyes move rapidly from side to side behind closed eyelids. Mixed frequency brain wave activity becomes closer to that seen in wakefulness. Your breathing becomes faster and irregular, and your heart rate and blood pressure increase to near waking levels. Most of your dreaming occurs during REM sleep, although some can also occur in non-REM sleep. Your arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed, which prevents you from acting out your dreams. As you age, you sleep less of your time in REM sleep. Memory consolidation most likely requires both non-REM and REM sleep.
Work stress, a tall stack of bills or relationship woes can keep you up at night. To the rescue: Stress-Relax Tranquil sleep aid. The tropical fruit-flavored chewable tablets contain melatonin along with the amino acids suntheanin and 5-HTP, which work together to boost relaxation and nix stress for more restful sleep. And because the formula is fast-acting, you’ll be off to dreamland in no time.
Directions Adults and children 12 years of age and over: take one tablet 30 minutes before going to bed; take once daily or as directed by a doctor; children under 12 years of age: do not use Adults and children 12 years of age and over: take one tablet 30 minutes before going to bed; take once daily or as directed by a doctor. Children under 12 years of age: do not use. Use: helps to reduce difficulty in falling asleep. — —
Sleeping pills and other sleep-promoting pharmaceuticals can offer a short-term solution to a temporary bout of insomnia. And plenty of people use them. But often, prescription sleep aids come with unpleasant side effects like headaches, sore muscles, constipation, dry mouth, daytime fatigue, trouble concentrating, dizziness, and more. Add them all up, and they’re about as bad—if not worse–than your garden variety sleep deprivation.
Why is working out seemingly so beneficial? The mechanisms aren’t entirely known, but National Sleep Foundation experts say that it could have to do with exercise’s ability promote feelings of relaxation and reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Staying active might also help to keep your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle in sync—particularly if you do it outside (more on that below).
The other benefit of speaking with a healthcare professional is that you can discuss the use of sleeping pills. There are two major classes of prescription medications that can help you sleep: benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepines. The list of sleeping pills is long and includes drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, Trazodone, Belsomra, and others. These should not be used longer than a few weeks and if insomnia persists, you may want to seek other treatment. In particular, you can ask for a referral to a psychologist who might be able to teach you cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) techniques.
Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
Alison Moodie is a health reporter based in Los Angeles. She has written for numerous outlets including Newsweek, Agence France-Presse, The Daily Mail and HuffPost. For years she covered sustainable business for The Guardian. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she majored in TV news. When she's not working she's doting on her two kids and whipping up Bulletproof-inspired dishes in her kitchen.
Journaling. You might think that writing stuff down would make you dwell on it. But when you focus on the things that you appreciate, you might actually sleep better. One recent study, published in Applied Psychology, found that students who wrote in a gratitude journal for just 15 minutes per night worried less at bedtime—and achieved better sleep.
Go dark. It’s known that the light from a smartphone interferes with sleep. But what about your bathroom light? If you have the urge to go at night, don’t flick on the lights. “The latest recommendation is to use a flashlight if you need to get up at night,” Gamaldo says, because it offers less visual disruption. And remember: If you do wake up for a bathroom break, it might take up to 30 minutes to drift back off. This is completely normal, she says.
Innovative fibers like Celliant may help you drift off sooner. Used in Amerisleep mattress covers, Celliant is a fabric infused with minerals that absorbs body heat and converts it to infrared waves. It’s been shown to help regulate body temperature (to avoid overheating) and to boost circulation. In one study, people fell asleep 15 minutes faster on a mattress with a Celliant cover.