We tend to think of sleep as a time when the mind and body shut down. But this is not the case; sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs. Exactly how this happens and why our bodies are programmed for such a long period of slumber is still somewhat of a mystery. But scientists do understand some of sleep's critical functions, and the reasons we need it for optimal health and wellbeing.
SOUND: We focus on sound a lot. Quiet environments are going to improve your sleep quality. Your brain has these micro arousals throughout the night without you being consciously aware of it—even an air-conditioning unit turning on wakes up your brain. So blocking out noises is a low-hanging fruit to improve your sleep quality. Bose just released an earbud that you can sleep with, for example.
Stay out of your head. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over your inability to fall asleep again, because that stress only encourages your body to stay awake. To stay out of your head, focus on the feelings in your body or practice breathing exercises. Take a breath in, then breathe out slowly while saying or thinking the word, “Ahhh.” Take another breath and repeat.
Valerian Root. Valerian root helps relax the body, decrease anxiety, and regulate your sleep cycle. While it helps to induce sedation, it won’t make you feel groggy in the morning, which, unfortunately, can be a common side effect of other sleep-promoting supplements and medications. Valerian root not only improves your quality of sleep, but it also helps you fall asleep faster.
Genes may play a significant role in how much sleep we need. Scientists have identified several genes involved with sleep and sleep disorders, including genes that control the excitability of neurons, and "clock" genes such as Per, tim, and Cry that influence our circadian rhythms and the timing of sleep. Genome-wide association studies have identified sites on various chromosomes that increase our susceptibility to sleep disorders. Also, different genes have been identified with such sleep disorders as familial advanced sleep-phase disorder, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome. Some of the genes expressed in the cerebral cortex and other brain areas change their level of expression between sleep and wake. Several genetic models–including the worm, fruit fly, and zebrafish–are helping scientists to identify molecular mechanisms and genetic variants involved in normal sleep and sleep disorders. Additional research will provide better understand of inherited sleep patterns and risks of circadian and sleep disorders.
For those that are looking to get a good night's rest or ease their insomnia the natural way without the use of sleep medications, there are certain plants and foods that can help out. As someone who has tried pretty much anything and everything other than taking sleeping pills, I can tell you that these natural sleep remedies do make a difference.
When we can't sleep, we become more focused on it. Panicked by our lack of shut-eye, we make constant changes to improve the situation - whether that's going to bed earlier, having longer lie-ins, or watching TV in bed. Consequently, we spend less time actually sleeping in the bedroom. The result? The connection between bed and sleep becomes weak, and we effectively un-learn how to sleep.
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.
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.
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We swear, we’re not pulling your leg. Try and remember what you physically feel like when you’re tired: Do your arms go limp? Do your eyes roll back into your head? Now, mimic those physical signs: While lying in bed, think of a weight pressing evenly across your entire body. Okay, that sounds a little scary, but concentrating on the weight will stop other thoughts (e.g. the school lunches you still have to pack for tomorrow) from distracting you. Next thing you know, you’ll find yourself waking up the next day, wondering how the heck you fell asleep so fast.
The influence of tryptophan on sleep continues to be studied in major sleep laboratories across the nation. While this amino acid is not available as a natural dietary supplement or sleep remedy, you can easily include tryptophan in your diet through food sources such as turkey, cheese, nuts, beans, eggs, and milk. You can also boost serotonin levels in the brain -- helping you to feel calm and sleepy -- by eating foods rich in carbohydrates.
Valerian is one of the most common sleep remedies for insomnia. Numerous studies have found that valerian improves deep sleep, speed of falling asleep, and overall quality of sleep. However, it's most effective when used over a longer period of time. One caveat? About 10% of the people who use it actually feel energized, which may keep them awake. If that happens to you, take valerian during the day. Otherwise, take 200 to 800 milligrams before bed.
Melatonin is the hormone that controls sleep, so it's no wonder that it naturally induces sleep. Although some experts recommend taking higher doses, studies show that lower doses are more effective. Plus, there's concern that too-high doses could cause toxicity as well as raise the risk of depression or infertility. Take 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams before bed.
If sleep has plunged to the bottom of your to-do list, you're not alone. Although the National Sleep Foundation recommends getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night, the average American logs only six hours and 40 minutes. What gives? Blame crazy schedules and, of course, sleeping woes. Before you rush to the drugstore to buy an over-the-counter (OTC) sleep medication, try one of the following natural sleep remedies. "These are safer and have fewer side effects than OTC medications," says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic and medical director of the national Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers. Many of these can not only help you fall asleep and stay asleep, but they may also promote muscle relaxation.
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."
Wear socks to bed. While a cooler core body temperature helps you fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep, cold extremities (hands and feet) can have the opposite effect. If you tend to have cold feet at bedtime, put on a pair of cozy socks, rest your feet on a heating pad, or pile an extra blanket on the foot of your bed. If none of those appeal to you, try wearing a pair of warm slippers in the evening so that your feet will be toasty when you climb in bed for the night.