Insomnia usually becomes a problem if it occurs on most nights and causes distress or daytime effects such as fatigue, poor concentration, and irritability. It predisposes to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, and psychotic disorders; to physical problems such as infections, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes; and to motoring and other accidents. The relationship between insomnia and psychological symptoms is far from simple, as insomnia can both cause, and be caused by, depression, anxiety, and stress, opening up a vicious circle.
When it comes to sleep, the less blue light you expose yourself to in the hours before bedtime, the better. Light of any kind can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, but blue light waves do so more powerfully, thereby shifting sleep-friendly circadian rhythms, says Harvard Health Publications. Besides electronic devices like tablets and smartphones, the biggest blue-light offenders in your home are likely fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights, which many people use because of their energy efficiency and powerful light. Give yourself a romantic break from all the blue and eat dinner by candlelight.
Though I’m not promising or claiming (nor does Weil) that practicing this breathing technique can fight disease or provide clinical benefits, I can tell you one thing: If it affects you like it did me, it will help you fall asleep way faster. Not only is it free, it also works for a number of different instances. In addition to using it to fall asleep in a pinch, you can practice it if you wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself thinking about something you have to do the next day, in order to fall back asleep; if you are nervous before an event (like a wedding, or giving a speech); if you are angry about something and want to calm down. My friend (the bride-to-be who slept like a baby the week before her wedding), who gets nervous to fly, uses it before flights and during if the plane encounters turbulence.
Clinical trials have not proven chamomile to be helpful for insomnia. Chamomile is an herb traditionally used to reduce muscle tension, soothe digestion, and reduce anxiety, which may help induce sleep. Sip a cup of hot chamomile tea after dinner, but don't drink it too close to the bed or you may have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Hops, passionflower, and ashwagandha are other herbs that are often used for insomnia. As with chamomile, they have not proven their effectiveness in studies.

They’re placed under a category called sedative hypnotics and include benzodiazepines and barbiturates. You’ve probably heard of the benzodiazepines, or psychotropic drugs, called Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Librium, which are also known as common anti-anxiety medications. Because they can induce drowsiness, they can help people sleep, but these drugs can be addictive too — and that’s not a good thing.
Each of us has different patterns of high and low states of energy throughout the day. Some people find that exercise in the morning can go a long way toward keeping their energy level consistent during the afternoon. A secret known to those who have become habitual exercisers is that effort creates energy. Don’t wait for energy to come when you are tired; as soon as you begin to feel that afternoon slump, shake it off by moving your body. Try taking a brisk walk after lunch. It may be what you need to keep you awake and alert the rest of the day.
Valerian root is a plant with roots that contain many healing properties, in particular for a relaxation and sedative effects. It’s often found in combination with chamomile in a tea. By increasing the amount of gamma aminobutryic acid (GABA), it helps calm the nerve cells in the brain, resulting in a calming effect. GABA works by blocking brain signals that cause anxiety and that ongoing trickle effect that can come from it. This calming effect has made it a favorite natural remedy for anxiety too. (9)
Sleep is an important part of reaching your health goals. Shakespeare called sleep “the chief nourisher in life’s feast.” Adequate sleep is a primary component of a healthy lifestyle. Although often the undesirable result of our busy lives, insufficient sleep may also be indicative of imperfect health, and can itself lead to future health problems.
Magnesium is crucial to our health for so many reasons, including its sleep-promoting and stress-reducing abilities. It’s not surprising then that a magnesium deficiency can result in poor sleep. Research has shown that supplementing with magnesium even helps insomnia, which can be defined as a persistent problem falling and staying asleep. Taking around 400 milligrams of magnesium before bed is ideal to promote a good night’s rest. You can also add more magnesium-rich foods like spinach, pumpkin seeds, and almonds to your diet. 

Turns out, you’re never too old for a bubble bath, especially when it comes to natural sleep aids. A study published in the journal Sleep found that women with insomnia who took a hot bath for about 90 to 120 minutes slept much better that night than those who didn’t. Temps for ideal bath water range from 98 to 100 degrees F, but the Goldilocks temperature hovers at around 112 degrees, according to the Wall Street Journal.


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).

As a psychiatrist with an integrative focus, Ellen believes mental well-being is powerfully influenced by sleep, exercise, thought patterns, relationships, nutrition, spirituality and creative outlets. She incorporates a variety of modalities into her psychiatry practice, including acupuncture, yoga philosophy, breathing, and relaxation techniques in conjunction with conventional treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and psycho-pharmacology. Ellen believes mental health is fundamental to primary care and treats a range of health issues, from panic disorders to bipolar illness and ADHD to fibromyalgia. After graduating from Yale University, Ellen earned her MD at Columbia University and stayed on to complete an internship at Columbia University Medical Center. She began her postgraduate training at Saint Vincent's Catholic Medical Center and completed her residency in psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is a member of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, and is a board-certified psychiatrist, licensed medical acupuncturist, and certified yoga instructor.

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."


If you’re experiencing sleep debt, you may be tempted to take a nap as a quick fix; however, this isn’t the ideal solution. Naps can interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night and can further disrupt your sleep schedule; if you absolutely have to nap, keep it to an hour or so during peak sleepiness hours in the afternoon, but keep it short, or else you might not be able to fall asleep that night.
There’s this new finding where playing sounds at a certain frequency when your brain is in deep sleep actually increases the percentage of time spent in deep sleep. We’re publishing this paper in Society for Neuroscience Conference in a couple of weeks, and it’s basically what my TED talk is about. Playing these pulses at the same frequency as your deep-sleep brainwaves primes more deep sleep. Scientifically speaking, it’s a similar process as transcranial direct-current stimulation, except it doesn’t use electricity—just sound. Sound gets transmitted into electricity because you’re picking up on the auditory cortex while you’re sleeping.

As a psychiatrist with an integrative focus, Ellen believes mental well-being is powerfully influenced by sleep, exercise, thought patterns, relationships, nutrition, spirituality and creative outlets. She incorporates a variety of modalities into her psychiatry practice, including acupuncture, yoga philosophy, breathing, and relaxation techniques in conjunction with conventional treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and psycho-pharmacology. Ellen believes mental health is fundamental to primary care and treats a range of health issues, from panic disorders to bipolar illness and ADHD to fibromyalgia. After graduating from Yale University, Ellen earned her MD at Columbia University and stayed on to complete an internship at Columbia University Medical Center. She began her postgraduate training at Saint Vincent's Catholic Medical Center and completed her residency in psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is a member of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, and is a board-certified psychiatrist, licensed medical acupuncturist, and certified yoga instructor.
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During the late '60s and early '70s, sleep studies suggested that the neurotransmitter serotonin may play a role in sleep induction. Later on, research in animals showed that destruction of parts of the brain that housed nerve cells containing serotonin could produce total insomnia. Partial damage to these areas of the brain caused variable decreases in sleep. The percentage of destruction of these particular nerve cells correlated with the amount of slow-wave sleep.


The artificial (or “blue”) light emitted by screens can disrupt our bodies’ preparations for sleep by stimulating daytime hormones. Dubious bargain: trading sleep for Leno and Letterman. Basner M, Dinges DF. Sleep, 2009, Jul.;32(6):0161-8105. Reduce exposure by turning off TVs, phones, and computers at least one hour before bedtime. Can’t give up the Daily Show? At least dim a screen’s brightness, either manually or with the help of automated programs.
The basal forebrain, near the front and bottom of the brain, also promotes sleep and wakefulness, while part of the midbrain acts as an arousal system.  Release of adenosine (a chemical by-product of cellular energy consumption) from cells in the basal forebrain and probably other regions supports your sleep drive.  Caffeine counteracts sleepiness by blocking the actions of adenosine.

It makes sense that relaxing with a cup of tea would help you wind down at night, and Cralle says you shouldn't underestimate its soothing power. "I like people to have a nice, relaxing transition from wake to sleep so they don't feel like they need to pop a pill or something," she says. "A cup of chamomile tea at night can be a nice part of that ritual." Chamomile has been used traditionally for treatment of insomnia and anxiety, and it also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. As with many herbal remedies, the science behind it is lacking, but it's definitely worth a try. (You can pick up a box in a really pretty, resuable tin on Amazon for $8.)
If pretending you’re tired sounds like too much work for you, you might want to look into hypnosis. Get that image of a creepy guy swinging his pocket watch back and forth until you bark like a dog out of your head. We’re talking about watching a five-minute hypnosis video while tucked in your bed. (YouTube is full of them; search “hypnosis for sleep.”) It might sound like a bit of hogwash, but researchers from the universities of Zurich and Fribourg beg to differ. Their 2014 study on the subject concluded that hypnosis can actually increase the quality of sleep. Huzzah.
So if you're unable to sleep for about a 15- or 20-minute stretch, slip into your bunny slippers and out of the room. Try something relaxing and non-stimulating. Listen to music. Read a book. Even consider cleaning the house or doing the dishes, Olson suggests. A bath might do the trick, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, because sleepiness can brew from the post-bath drop in body temperature. Whatever activity you choose, do it away from bed, and return when you're feeling drowsy.
Some of our expectations regarding our sleep might be slightly misguided. As an example, the thought that we will fall asleep almost immediately upon retiring to our beds may be improper. It should normally occur in less than 15 to 20 minutes, but it may take as long as 30 minutes as we get older. In fact, people who fall asleep in less than five minutes may be "pathologically sleepy." This means that they are so sleepy that they fall asleep quicker than might be normal. In some cases, this ability to fall asleep quickly—and enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep quickly—can be seen in excessive daytime sleepiness that might occur in sleep deprivation or narcolepsy.
Sleep issues can often be traced back to an underlying issue. When we asked Dr. Breus for his first choice in treating sleep issues, he told us, “It’s never a pill. I would want to know the root cause. There could be an anxiety component where cognitive behavioral therapy could be helpful.” If you face sleeplessness regularly, it’s well worth speaking to your doctor about underlying causes.

Before setting off on this path of personal improvement, you should candidly assess your level of commitment. Are you willing to make some hard choices? Is it a good time in your life to focus on your sleep and set necessary boundaries? Can you see this process through to its end? If your life is in an uproar, now may not be the perfect opportunity to focus on your sleep. But if you're ready and willing to improve your sleep, there is no better time than the present to make some changes.

In other words, daylight helps your body’s natural clock—which is dictated by the 24-hour cycle of day and night—know when to feel awake and when to feel tired. When your hypothalamus—the gland responsible for regulating sleep and energy levels—senses a change in light, it tells your body to ramp up or ramp down its production of the sleep hormone melatonin. During the day, you feel energized and alert because you don’t produce much melatonin. At night, you produce more, so you feel sleepy.


One of the more paradoxical CBT-I methods used to help insomniacs sleep is to restrict their time spent in bed, perhaps even to just six hours of sleep or less to begin with. By keeping patients awake for longer, we build up a strong sleep pressure—a greater abundance of adenosine. Under this heavier weight of sleep pressure, patients fall asleep faster, and achieve a more stable, solid form of sleep across the night. In this way, a patient can regain their psychological confidence in being able to self-generate and sustain healthy, rapid, and sound sleep, night after night: something that has eluded them for months if not years. Upon reestablishing a patient’s confidence in this regard, time in bed is gradually increased.
I couldn’t wait to put the trick to the test, and to my complete disbelief, I woke up the next morning unable to even remember getting to the eighth second of the exhale because it knocked me out that fast. For the next four nights leading up to the big day, even as my stress increased, I was able to fall asleep the minute I tried the 4-7-8 trick. I also used it to relax in the moments leading up to the speech.
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