You've followed the usual tips for getting enough sleep — sleeping on a regular schedule, avoiding caffeine and daytime naps, exercising regularly, avoiding lighted screens before bed, and managing stress. Still, it's been weeks and a good night's sleep remains elusive. Is it time for an over-the-counter sleep aid? Here's what you need to know if you're considering medication to help you sleep.
Frankly, we feel like spending that energy focusing on falling asleep might just tire us out enough to drop off anyway. But if you're out of other options—and don't want to take medication—it may be worth practicing this technique before bed for a couple weeks and see if you notice any changes. Make sure you're not also doing these other 10 habits that can actually sabotage your sleep, according to our nutritionist.
This yoga method is thought to reduce blood pressure and calm you. Holistic sleep therapist Peter Smith says: “Lie on your left side, resting a finger on your right nostril to close it. Start slow, deep breathing in the left nostril.” Peter, author of Sleep Better With Natural Therapies (£13.99, Singing Dragon, out October 28), says this technique is particularly good when overheating or menopausal hot flushes are preventing sleep.
During deep sleep, you get these long-burst brainwaves that are called delta waves, but during REM, your brainwaves are actually functioning very similarly to waking life. Your body is also paralyzed during REM—it’s a very noticeable physiological difference. You also lose thermo-regulation, meaning if it’s hot in your environment, your body gets hot, kind of like you’re a chameleon.
“This is number one—most of us have this reflex where our cellphone has to be within arm's length, even when we go to bed," says Raj Dasgupta, MD, sleep expert and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. "We need to break that habit.” Studies have shown that the blue light generated by electronic devices can delay the onset of sleep. (Here's how spending just one extra minute on your phone before bed can rob you of 60 minutes of sleep.) Turn your phone on silent and keep it on a dresser or far end of the bedside table so you’re not tempted to text, check one last email, or get lost in social media.
Second, we capped melatonin supplements’ per-pill dosage of melatonin at 1.5 mg. While any average melatonin supplement likely contains up to 10 mg of melatonin, Dr. Michael Breus (a clinical psychologist who runs the website thesleepdoctor.com) says that’s far too much for the average person. “The data suggests that the average adult needs between 0.5 and 1.5 mg,” he says.
First, we required our natural supplements to be verified by a third party like LabDoor, ConsumerLab, or the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). These independent organizations analyze off-the-shelf supplements, verifying that the claims on a product’s label match what’s in the bottle. This ensures accurate dosage and that there are no contaminants or unlisted ingredients in your supplement.
It depends on the sleep aid. Consumer Reports writes that while the antihistamine diphenhydramine isn’t physically addictive, it can be psychologically addictive. On the other hand, Mayo Clinic says that you’re unlikely to become dependent on melatonin with short-term use. Again, it’s best to talk to your doctor to figure out which option is best for you.
Many medications can interfere with sleep and turn into sleep aids that actually cause insomnia, including beta-blockers, thyroid medication, decongestants, medications containing caffeine, and certain antidepressants. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about changing dosages or medications. Now, find out the 8 little changes you can make to sleep better in just one day.
2. Minimize noise, light, and temperature extremes during sleep with ear plugs, window blinds, or an electric blanket or air conditioner. Even the slightest nighttime noises or luminescent lights can disrupt the quality of your sleep. Try to keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature -- not too hot (above 75 degrees) or too cold (below 54 degrees).
Unwind by keeping the lights low. Light signals the brain that it's time to wake up. Staying away from bright lights (including computer screens!), as well as meditating or listening to soothing music, can help your body relax. Try to avoid TV, computers and other electronics, and using your phone (including texting) at least 1 hour before you go to bed.
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.
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.
The thalamus acts as a relay for information from the senses to the cerebral cortex (the covering of the brain that interprets and processes information from short- to long-term memory). During most stages of sleep, the thalamus becomes quiet, letting you tune out the external world. But during REM sleep, the thalamus is active, sending the cortex images, sounds, and other sensations that fill our dreams.
That was really interesting. If you have an extreme case of depression, sometimes some therapists will sleep deprive you a little bit. It’s basically to activate your fight-or-flight response and jolt you out of your depression. But things like empathy and working with others are also impacted when you’re sleep deprived, and you’re also more sensitive to pain. Some people are studying this link to address the opioid epidemic and through actually sleeping better: Chronic pain might be associated with deep sleep.
Sleep also is important for good health. Studies show that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep on a regular basis increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and other medical conditions. In addition, during sleep, your body produces valuable hormones. These hormones help children grow and help adults and children build muscle mass, fight infections, and repair cells. Hormones released during sleep also affect how the body uses energy. Studies find that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, develop diabetes, and prefer eating foods high in calories and carbohydrates.*
Chamomile tea. Simple, delicious, and effective. Chamomile tea has been used as a relaxation aid for centuries, but it’s more than just a folk remedy. One review found that the stuff acts as a mild sedative, helping to calm the nerves, reduce anxiety, and ease insomnia. And don’t be afraid to make a strong brew. Some experts recommend using two or three tea bags to get the full, sleep-promoting effect.
Clusters of sleep-promoting neurons in many parts of the brain become more active as we get ready for bed. Nerve-signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters can “switch off” or dampen the activity of cells that signal arousal or relaxation. GABA is associated with sleep, muscle relaxation, and sedation. Norepinephrine and orexin (also called hypocretin) keep some parts of the brain active while we are awake. Other neurotransmitters that shape sleep and wakefulness include acetylcholine, histamine, adrenaline, cortisol, and serotonin.
Sleep needs and patterns of sleep and wakefulness are not the same for everyone. The first step in determining your need for sleep is through self-evaluation. Ask yourself: "How tired do I feel during the daytime? When do I feel most alert? When does fatigue set in?" Even moments of sleepiness that you may think of as routine, for instance, falling asleep on the subway on the way to work, or during a lecture, are likely a sign that you are not getting enough sleep.
A very helpful tool to track your sleep time and patterns is a sleep diary. Used in sleep research and clinical settings, a sleep diary is a handy reference to help people become familiar with their own natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness. The information that you will record in the sleep diary is simple and straightforward. It includes the time you go to bed, the time you wake up, your total hours of sleep, and whether you had any nighttime awakenings (and if so, how long you were awake) and any daytime naps. In addition, noting how you feel upon awakening (refreshed or tired), and how you feel at different times of the day will enable you to become more aware of your patterns, and help you determine if you are getting adequate sleep. Just keeping track of your sleep in this way may help improve your situation. If you need more help to improve your sleep, refer to Adopt Good Sleep Habits and Address Your Sleep Issues.
You can practice mantram anywhere, especially as a sleep aid and a natural remedy for insomnia- it is a totally portable technique, requires no training or equipment, and can be used in any circumstance, so long as you don’t practice it while doing something that otherwise requires your undivided attention. Try experimenting with it – choose a word, sound or phrase that is pleasing to you, and repeat it. If your mind wanders, simply focus back on the word. You will be amazed at the results.
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."
“This is a stimulus control theory,” says Meltzer. “Everything in life has a stimulus value, even your bed,” meaning your body should recognize that lying in bed means it’s time to go to sleep. To give your bed that value, the only things you should be doing in it are sleep and sex, she explains. “Getting out of bed if you can’t sleep is the hardest one to do, but it’s so important. If you’re spending 10 hours in bed, but only sleeping six, that’s really bad. Your bed becomes a place for thinking, worrying, watching TV, and not for sleeping.”
Apparently it's all to do with sleep cycles rather than getting more hours of sleep. If you wake up at the wrong time during a sleep cycle, you'll find yourself more tired - even if you were asleep for longer. So if, for example, you need to be awake by 6am, you should either get your head down at 8.46pm, 10.16pm or even 11.46pm or - if you're feeling like a real night owl - 1.16am.
Keep precautions in mind. Diphenhydramine and doxylamine aren't recommended for people who have closed-angle glaucoma, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, severe liver disease, digestive system obstruction or urinary retention. In addition, sleep aids pose risks for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, and might pose risks to people over age 75, including an increased risk of strokes and dementia.
Postpone worrying and brainstorming. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive after a good night’s rest.
Challenge yourself to stay awake – your mind will rebel! It’s called the sleep paradox, says psychotherapist Julie Hirst (worklifebalancecentre.org). She explains: “Keep your eyes wide open, repeat to yourself ‘I will not sleep’. The brain doesn’t process negatives well, so interprets this as an instruction to sleep and eye muscles tire quickly as sleep creeps up.”
Adjust the thermostat. If you’re too hot or too cold at bedtime, sleep isn’t going to come easy. While there’s no ideal temperature for everyone, most people sleep comfortably when the bedroom is between 60 and 67 degrees. As you start to feel drowsy, your body temperature drops, which in turn helps you drift off to sleep. A cooler bedroom facilitates that. Don’t cool it off too much, though — shivering in bed isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep.