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.
But the good news is that you can take steps toward a good night’s sleep that are easy and painless. There are effective natural sleep aids that can help improve the quality and duration of your sleep, and they won’t leave you with all the unwanted side effects of conventional sleep medications. Here are the five most powerful all-natural sleep aids:
Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking other products that cause drowsiness such as opioid pain or cough relievers (such as codeine, hydrocodone), alcohol, marijuana, drugs for sleep or anxiety (such as alprazolam, lorazepam, zolpidem), muscle relaxants (such as carisoprodol, cyclobenzaprine), or other antihistamines (such as cetirizine, chlorpheniramine).
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According to one study, exposure to electrical lights between dusk and bedtime might negatively affect our chances at quality sleep. Assuming you don’t want to sit in the dark for hours, find the happy medium by dimming the lights as bedtime draws near. Also consider changing all light bulbs to “soft/warm” varieties with a color temperature less than 3,000 kelvins, all of which can reduce lights’ effects on our nervous systems.
Insomnia is defined as the inability to fall asleep, remain asleep, or get the amount of sleep an individual needs to wake up feeling rested. Its symptoms include difficulty falling asleep, frequent wake-ups during the night, waking up too early in the morning, daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. Insomnia can be acute (lasting one to several nights) or chronic (lasting from a month to years). It’s also the most common sleep complaint among Americans (especially women).
How glycine works: Glycine is considered among the most important amino acids for the body. It exerts widespread influence over our bodies’ systems, structure, and general health, including cardiovascular, cognitive, and metabolic health. Glycine helps the body make serotonin, a hormone and neurotransmitter that has significant effects on sleep and mood.
"If you find yourself unable to fall asleep, get up and go into another room. Stay up as long as you wish and then return to the bedroom to sleep. Although we do not want you to watch the clock, we want you to get out of bed if you do not fall asleep immediately. Remember the goal is to associate your bed with falling asleep quickly! If you are in bed more than about 10 minutes without falling asleep and have not gotten up, you are not following this instruction."
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.
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.
Although it's common to have the occasional sleepless night, insomnia is the inability to sleep or excessive wakening in the night that impairs daily functioning. Of natural remedies, three have been shown to be useful, and others have some preliminary but inconclusive evidence. Since chronic lack of sleep may be linked to a number of health problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression), it's important to consult your physician and avoid self-treating with alternative medicine. Here are 14 natural remedies to consider:
A sleep deficit affects everything from someone's ability to pay attention in class to his or her mood. According to a National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America poll, more than 25% of high school students fall asleep in class, and experts have tied lost sleep to poorer grades. Lack of sleep also damages teens' ability to do their best in athletics.
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.
Beyond food and plants, regular exercise and turning off electronics can make a huge difference in getting some rest. Exercise wears out the body and is one of the best natural remedies. As for electronics, the blue light emitted can trigger the brain to stay awake. Try developing a nightly bedtime routine that promotes relaxation and allows you to wind down. The brain will begin to associate the routine with sleep and help you get the rest you need.
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.
What I Did: Every night, I wrote down the time I ate dinner, when I turned off electronics, and what time I turned out the light. The next morning I added my wake up time and a brief note about how I slept. Even after only a week or two sleep journaling, I saw some interesting patterns (or lack of patterns) and knew what I needed to work on to get better sleep.
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.
Sleep medications, which are most useful for short-term sleeplessness, do require some caution, because they can result in hangovers the next day, or, even worse, lead you to eat, amble about, and even drive while asleep, with no memory of having eaten, ambled about, or driven. The FDA suggests that if you take Ambien, in particular, and at certain dosages, you shouldn’t drive the next day, or take part in other activities that necessitate your being completely awake, because the drug can remain in your system at levels that may affect your functioning.
If your bedroom is boiling hot — or even slightly warm — do what you can to cool it down. "Warmness may make you feel sleepy, but is not conducive to deep sleep," Logie says. "Our body starts to naturally cool later in the day and keeping your room cooler can help speed up this process that's involved with you falling asleep quickly and getting that deeper sleep."
You have a peak moment of awakeness during the morning. After lunch you usually have a glucose spike, especially if you have a big heavy lunch, like a cheeseburger. That glucose spike combined with a circadian dip gives you a period of fatigue between around 2 and 4pm. You’ll then have another spike in alertness right before dinner, and then you’ll start getting tired again closer to bedtime. That’s your 24-hour circadian rhythm, basically.
We know we told you to put away your phone before bed but, for this, we’ll make an exception. Try to drown out the noise of your fighting neighbours and their barking dog with an app like Sleep Genius ($6 on iTunes). Its underlying technology has been tested and used by NASA to help astronauts fall asleep. We say: If it’s good enough for the space program, it’s good enough for us.
When you eat and what you eat can significantly impact the quality of your sleep. While you don’t want to go to bed feeling hungry because low blood sugar can interrupt your sleep, it’s also not beneficial to eat right before you hit the sheets. Therefore, it’s best to eat 2-4 hours before going to bed. There are certain foods consumed during this window that can be beneficial for sleep, while other types of foods can hinder your slumber.