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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.*
Reading books on electronic devices before bedtime disrupts the body’s natural sleep rhythms, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, 12 people read a book on an electronic device for 4 hours before bed, in a dimly lit room, for 5 consecutive nights. On another 5 nights, they read a real printed book on the same schedule. When using an electronic device, they were less drowsy, took longer to fall asleep, and were less alert in the morning. According to the researchers, use of electronic devices suppressed melatonin levels, making it more difficult to get a good night’s rest.
When it comes to feeling tired of feeling so tired, I'm certainly not alone. Insomnia is incredibly common in the U.S., with 30 to 40 percent of American adults experiencing some symptoms of insomnia each year. [Etiology of adult insomnia]. Dollander M. L'Encephale, 2003, Mar.;28(6 Pt 1):0013-7006. So for anyone out there who has developed an expertise in fruitlessly counting sheep, we've rounded up a few strategies for finally catching those long-lost Z's when you can't sleep. And if you’re reading this at 3 a.m. because your mind won’t stop racing, don’t worry; we have tips for what you can do right now to improve the chances of getting (at least some) sleep.
It may sound hippy dippy, but if you focus on it effectively, daydreaming about relaxing scenes can really help ease your mind. During visualization, know that it’s OK if your mind wanders but keep returning your focus to the scene. Try out different methods and audio tracks to see what works best for you. Visualization can also be a helpful mid-day stress reliever to keep in mind.
While some remedies, such as lemon balm or chamomile tea are generally harmless, others can have more serious side effects and interfere with or reduce the effectiveness of prescribed medications. Valerian, for example, can interfere with antihistamines and statins. Do your research before trying a new herbal remedy and talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any pre-existing conditions or prescriptions that you take.
A 2011 analysis found no studies that are rigorous enough to provide good evidence for aromatherapy for assisting sleep. The scent of English lavender aromatherapy oil has long been used as a folk remedy to help people fall asleep. It is one of the most soothing essential oils. Try putting a lavender sachet under your pillow or place one to two drops of lavender essential oil in a handkerchief. Or add several drops of lavender oil to a bath—the drop in body temperature after a warm bath also helps with sleep. Other aromatherapy oils believed to help with sleep are chamomile and ylang-ylang.
Even if you’re exhausted, try to stick to within 30 minutes of your normal bedtime. Going to bed hours earlier than usual may throw your body’s normal rhythm out of whack, says Dr. Emsellem. “Sticking to a routine is key to keeping insomnia at bay. While you may hate being locked into a schedule, your brain likes following a pattern.” Likewise, daytime napping, even if you slept poorly the night before, is also a no-no if you’re prone to insomnia.
When figuring out how much sleep you need, it’s important to know your sleep debt as well as your basal sleep need. Many people assume that if they lose an hour of sleep, they just need to get an extra hour of sleep the next night; however, you also have to make up for the extra hour that you were awake and your increased activity during this time. Using your basal sleep need as a foundation, you can determine your sleep debt and adjust it based on how tired you feel or how much extra sleep you think 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.
“Magnesium is my go-to recommendation for patients experiencing trouble sleeping,” says Dr. Goldstein. “It’s nature’s relaxer.” Magnesium plays an important role in helping to balance blood sugar and hormones; an imbalance in either could be affecting your sleep. By supplementing magnesium, “you’re replenishing a mineral that basically everyone needs, as well as helping to literally relax the body.” Before reaching for a traditional sleep aid, try starting off with magnesium to see if it makes a difference.
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."
Generally, non-benzodiazepines have fewer drawbacks than benzodiazepines, but that doesn’t make them suitable for everyone. Some may find this type of sleep medication ineffective at helping them sleep, while the long-term effects remain unknown. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently directed the manufacturers of Ambien and similar sleeping pills to lower the standard dosage due to the serious risk of morning grogginess while driving, especially in women patients. Other side effects include:
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."
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.
Millions of people are using smartphone apps, bedside monitors, and wearable items (including bracelets, smart watches, and headbands) to informally collect and analyze data about their sleep. Smart technology can record sounds and movement during sleep, journal hours slept, and monitor heart beat and respiration. Using a companion app, data from some devices can be synced to a smartphone or tablet, or uploaded to a PC. Other apps and devices make white noise, produce light that stimulates melatonin production, and use gentle vibrations to help us sleep and wake.
To set the record straight about being horizontal, Quartz spoke to one of the world’s most-talked-about sleep scientists. Daniel Gartenberg is currently working on research funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Aging and is also a TED resident. (Watch his talk on deep sleep here.) He’s also an entrepreneur who has launched several cognitive-behavioral-therapy apps, including the Sonic Sleep Coach alarm clock. All that with 8.5 hours of sleep a night.
Social or recreational drugs like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol may have a larger impact on your sleep than you realize. Caffeine, which can stay in your system as long as 14 hours, increases the number of times you awaken at night and decreases the total amount of sleep time. This may subsequently affect daytime anxiety and performance. The effects of nicotine are similar to those of caffeine, with a difference being that at low doses, nicotine tends to act as a sedative, while at high doses it causes arousals during sleep.
Cherries. They’re the only edible source of the sleep hormone melatonin, so consider having a bowlful for dessert. If they’re not in season, opt for thawed frozen cherries or a glass of tart cherry juice. Drinking two glasses daily helped people with insomnia sleep for 90 more minutes, found one study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder and CEO of Wellness Mama, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.
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.
Limit Your Intake Of Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine: Caffeine and nicotine can have a pronounced effect on sleep, causing insomnia and restlessness. In addition to coffee, tea, and soft drinks, look for hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate, cough and cold medicine, and other over-the-counter medicine. Alcohol consumption can result in nighttime wakefulness.
“I’m a strong advocate of mindfulness and meditation for relaxation,” says Barone, who recommends shutting off electronics 30 to 60 minutes before bed and sitting quietly, focusing on soft music or deep breathing. “And if someone wakes up in the middle of the night, I tell them to do a 10- to 15-minute session of meditation then, too.” If you’re new to meditation, Barone recommends finding a mobile app, audio program, or online video to guide you through some exercises.
Some small studies have suggested that magnesium can help with insomnia, but the research isn’t conclusive. One study found that while total sleep time didn’t change significantly for participants receiving magnesium supplements, there was improvement in the participants' Insomnia Severity Index score, which measures the nature, severity, and impact of insomnia in adults, as well as improvement in sleep onset latency (the length of time that it takes to fall asleep), sleep efficiency, early morning awakening, and more.
If you always seem to get a poor night’s sleep, it may be because you’re not following a bedtime ritual. One of the easiest natural sleep remedies: Make it a priority to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Introducing nightly habits like reading in bed or listening to music will also help to quiet your brain for the day and prepare it for sleep. Try setting your phone or iPod on a timer and nod off to your favorite soothing melodies. In one Taiwanese study, music helped 60 problem-sleepers fall asleep faster and snooze more soundly. Here are some more relaxation techniques to help you wind down for sleep.
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.
Psychological stressors like deadlines, exams, marital conflict, and job crises may prevent us from falling asleep or wake us from sleep throughout the night. It takes time to "turn off" all the noise from the day. No way around it. If you work right up to the time you turn out the lights, or are reviewing all the day's events and planning tomorrow (sound familiar?), you simply cannot just "flip a switch" and drop off to a blissful night's sleep.
Science shows that meditation significantly lowers stress and reduces anxiety. Meditation makes you aware of your automatc thoughts and impulses, and with that awareness comes more control. You learn to differentiate between a helpful thought and a destructive one. Meditation also rewires your brain, strengthening neural pathways that calm your nervous system.
Like all drugs, natural sleep remedies can have side effects and risks. Pre-market evaluation and approval by the FDA are not required for OTC aids, dietary supplements, or herbal products. The particular brand you buy may have inappropriate dosing. You may get less or more of the herb than intended, which could make it dangerous to use in treatments, especially for children or the elderly,
Of course we know exercise is good for us, but the time you exercise could help you sleep deeper at night. Sleep expert Shawn Stevenson shared in this podcast episode that even 4 minutes of exercise in the morning can reset the cortisol cycle to its natural levels. In studies, exercising in the morning resulted in a 25% reduction in blood pressure at night and improved melatonin production (the hormone that helps us sleep).
According to Ana, the ideal temperature is somewhere between 18-21°C but this can vary depending on sex, age and any existing medical conditions (people with underactive thyroids or bad circulation for example, tend to be colder). Work out your happy temperature (that includes pyjamas too – avoid fabrics that irritate, or cause you to overheat) and stick to it.
Anyway, basically your biggest zeitgeber is sunlight, and that’s the environmental cue that controls energy levels as well. But then also timing of meals, exercise, and having a consistent bedtime are all zeitgebers that impact your circadian rhythm. A bigger part of the problem is that we’re indoors so much now, so we don’t get that natural occurring sunlight when you wake up in the morning. That’s one of the best things that you can do to entrench your circadian rhythm.
“Most sleep problems are related to stress, and dealing with stress is really important," says Frank Lipman, MD. "I usually recommend some type of meditation practice or breathing technique." Spend 20 minutes doing something you enjoy (non-stimulating, of course), take 20 minutes for your hygiene routine, and use the last 20 minutes to employ a relaxation technique that works for you, such as meditation or yoga. (New to meditation? Try these 3 quick meditations absolutely anyone can do.)
Everyone varies, and this is why you need to find out how much your brain needs. And you do that by keeping a sleep diary over a week or two, and just taking an average of how many hours you are actually sleeping. So not lying in bed, but subtracting the time it took you to fall asleep and any time you lay awake in the night. That’s the amount of sleep your brain got that night.
Exercising in the morning may help you sleep better than working out in the afternoon or evening. In an unpublished study presented at the 58th meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, researchers at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, found that people spent 85 percent more time in light sleep and 75 percent more time in deep sleep when they worked out at 7 a.m. compared with working out later in the day. The authors aren’t sure why, but they believe early-bird workouts affect levels of stress hormones in a way that leads to better sleep quality later on. More research is needed to confirm these finding.
Activated charcoal: Toxins from kryptonite foods like refined flours and factory-farmed meat cause inflammation in your brain, messing with your sleep. Cleaning up your diet is the first step to flushing out toxins (find out more with this Bulletproof Diet Roadmap). An activated charcoal supplement speeds up the process, removing toxins from the gut before they reach your brain. Learn more about the benefits of activated charcoal and dosage guidelines here.