Making it through each sleep stage is crucial to getting high-quality sleep, but exactly how many times do you need to go through the sleep cycle? Many people argue that they get by just fine on very little sleep. However, research shows that only a tiny fraction of people can function well on fewer than eight hours of sleep each night. Sleep expert David Dinges, PhD, estimates that, over the long haul, perhaps one person in a thousand can function effectively on six or fewer hours of sleep per night.

The amount of sleep needed each night varies, but for adults, getting at least seven hours every night is crucial to having a healthy mind and body. And when we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies aren’t the only things that suffer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a whopping 49.2 million people have trouble with focus due to lack of sleep, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationreported that millions nod off while driving! (1, 2)
The hypothalamus, a peanut-sized structure deep inside the brain, contains groups of nerve cells that act as control centers affecting sleep and arousal.  Within the hypothalamus is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) – clusters of thousands of cells that receive information about light exposure directly from the eyes and control your behavioral rhythm.  Some people with damage to the SCN sleep erratically throughout the day because they are not able to match their circadian rhythms with the light-dark cycle.  Most blind people maintain some ability to sense light and are able to modify their sleep/wake cycle.
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.
Ease anxiety. Sometimes the sleeplessness stems from worry. Your brain is on overdrive, thinking about your bank account and the big meeting tomorrow and your kid's detention. For people who consistently have trouble "quieting the mind" at night, Olson suggests trying "to train your mind to think about those things at more appropriate times of the day." Schedule a time each day – say, between work and dinner – to simply write a sentence or two about what's worrying you and where you stand with that. "Maybe it's as simple as, 'I thought about this today, but I don't have any real solutions right now,'" Olson says. By systematically documenting these worries during the day, ideally, you'll be less likely to fixate on them at night.

Reconditioning. A few simple steps can help people with insomnia to associate the bedroom with sleep instead of sleeplessness and frustration. For example, use the bed only for sleeping or sex and go to bed only when you're sleepy. If you're unable to sleep, move to another room and do something relaxing. Stay up until you are sleepy, and then return to bed. If sleep does not follow quickly, repeat.


The following steps are organized to provide you guidance and support in your efforts to sleep better. It can be implemented over the course of a month, with different tasks assigned to each of the 30 days. Major changes are spaced out in the schedule to allow prior tasks the time needed to take effect. Most of the first week, for example, focuses on improving your sleep environment after the recommendation to fix your waking time is in place—but some of the groundwork laid through self-reflection this week will provide a foundation later on. Similarly, as is later recommended, creating a relaxing buffer zone and going to bed when you feel sleepy will take some effort, while simultaneously rearranging the use of substances may come easier.

If you’ve tried natural remedy after natural remedy and are still having difficulty sleeping, it’s a good idea to talk about your insomnia with your doctor. Together, you can discuss your symptoms, which could point to underlying health issues that might be making it harder for you to fall asleep. She can also review any prescriptions that you’re taking to see whether they might be interfering with your ability to nod off.


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)
Circadian rhythms direct a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones.  They control your timing of sleep and cause you to be sleepy at night and your tendency to wake in the morning without an alarm.  Your body’s biological clock, which is based on a roughly 24-hour day, controls most circadian rhythms.  Circadian rhythms synchronize with environmental cues (light, temperature) about the actual time of day, but they continue even in the absence of cues. 
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).
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.
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.

Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for sleeping better. If you keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, you’ll feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times, even if you only alter your sleep schedule by an hour or two.

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It might seem like a good idea to doze off to your favorite sitcom, but research now shows it’s quite the opposite. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that young adults who watched multiple consecutive episodes of the same television show were 98% more likely to have poor sleep quality and reported experiencing more insomnia symptoms and next-day fatigue than those who didn’t binge-watch. Turns out, binge-watching actually caused them to be more cognitively aroused—exactly how you don’t want your brain to work right before bed. “Turn off the program after one episode and choose shows that won’t stimulate you,” says Dr. Dasgupta.
5. If sleep doesn’t come, don’t become anxious or annoyed and try to force yourself to sleep. The more aggravated you become, the less likely you are to fall asleep. Instead, try to clear your mind and relax. For example, I find that making myself feel grateful for something soon sends me off to sleep. Alternatively, get up and do something relaxing and enjoyable for about half an hour before giving it another go. Don't worry too much about losing sleep: lying in bed with your eyes closed can provide some of the restorative benefits of sleep.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (or CBT-I) is shown to be incredibly effective for chronic sleep problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. While sleeping pills and other sleep aids may only treat the symptoms of insomnia, CBT-I helps identify the root of the problem, but it takes time and dedication, with regular visits to a clinician who may give you various sleep assignments to try at home and ask you to keep a sleep diary.
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:
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.
The other benefit of speaking with a healthcare professional is that you can discuss the use of sleeping pills. There are two major classes of prescription medications that can help you sleep: benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepines. The list of sleeping pills is long and includes drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, Trazodone, Belsomra, and others. These should not be used longer than a few weeks and if insomnia persists, you may want to seek other treatment. In particular, you can ask for a referral to a psychologist who might be able to teach you cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) techniques.
Coffee and other caffeine-rich stuff. It might go without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway. Coffee can stay in your system for as long as six hours—which means that even a late afternoon cup could have an impact on your sleep. If you’re aiming to get to bed by 11, avoid coffee and other high-caffeine things like black tea, cola, and dark chocolate after 5pm.
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.
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.
When you’re desperate to get some rest, it’s tempting to head for the medicine cabinet for relief. And you may get it in the moment. But if you regularly have trouble sleeping, that’s a red flag that something’s wrong. It could be something as simple as too much caffeine or viewing electronic screens late at night. Or it may be a symptom of an underlying medical or psychological problem. But whatever it is, it won’t be cured with sleeping pills. At best, sleeping pills are a temporary band aid. At worst, they’re an addictive crutch that can make insomnia worse in the long run.
Some sleep researchers believe that it might be normal to be awake some during the night. (The fact that you sleep straight through the night without budging may again be a sign of inadequate time spent sleeping and increased sleep pressure.) This phenomenon of being awake at night is called "quiet wakefulness" and is often observed when the sleep habits of non-Western cultures are studied. When people sleep in a group in close quarters, there is more time spent awake during the night. This makes sleep a more fluid concept. Time may be spent chatting, eating a snack or engaging others around you. In history, fragmented sleep with periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night was ​common, reflected in the midnight adventures seen in the plays of Shakespeare, for example.
Got grandkids? That means you probably have a plastic bottle of bubbles around the house. The benefits of blowing them before bed are two-fold: Bubbles are slightly hypnotic to look at and require a process of deep breathing to blow, said Rachel Marie E. Salas, M.D., a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a recent New York Post article. “It’s like a deep breathing exercise, which helps calm your body and mind,” she says. “And since it’s such a silly activity, it can also take your mind off of any potential sleep-thwarting thoughts.”
It varies. There’s no clear answer. In our studies, we’ll play really loud sounds that people have no conscious awareness of at all: We can play a sound literally at 70 decibels, which is like someone screaming, and that’ll wake them up briefly and then they’ll go right back into the sleep stage that they were in. Other times you can get a full awakening, and you’ll have to go through the process again.
It varies. There’s no clear answer. In our studies, we’ll play really loud sounds that people have no conscious awareness of at all: We can play a sound literally at 70 decibels, which is like someone screaming, and that’ll wake them up briefly and then they’ll go right back into the sleep stage that they were in. Other times you can get a full awakening, and you’ll have to go through the process again.

Spicy foods. Can’t get enough sriracha? Save it for lunchtime. One International Journal of Psychophysiology study found that when people who consumed hot condiments (like Tabasco sauce or mustard) before bed took longer to fall asleep and achieved less restful sleep compared to when they skip the stuff. Researchers aren’t totally sure why spicy foods mess with your sleep, but it could be because they raise your body temperature.

Because tryptophan is present in milk and warm milk helps some people feel drowsy, tryptophan became a much sought-after item for the treatment of insomnia at natural food stores. Yet some people who took tryptophan as a natural supplement developed a syndrome eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). Some people died. Scientists later believed the deaths were the result of taking the amino acid tryptophan. Not everyone who took tryptophan, however, experienced these side effects. In addition, not everyone who took tryptophan received help for insomnia.
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.
Did you know that a lack of exposure to sunlight may be interfering with your sleep quality? Light exposure is crucial to our circadian rhythms (aka our internal clocks), which control vital biological processes including sleep. Scientific research reveals that that a lack of light in the workplace results in poorer overall sleep quality, as well as sleep disturbances, which can then have further negative effects on health.
Fortunately, doing that is easier than you might think. Below, we’ll take a look at the multitude of lifestyle changes—both big and small—that you can make to help you sleep better. We’ll also explore proven herbal remedies that can give you a relaxation boost when you really need it, minus the side effects that tend to come with prescription meds.
The word meditation might make you think of spiritual mumbo jumbo, but brain training techniques can be incredibly powerful for helping you drift off. Calm features a series of guided meditation sessions lasting up to 30 minutes that can help you clear your mind at night before you sleep. Other 'mindfulness' apps to look at include Headspace and Buddhify.

Researchers from Louisiana State University had seven older adults with insomnia drink eight ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks, followed by two weeks of no juice, and then two more weeks of drinking a placebo beverage. Compared to the placebo, drinking the cherry juice resulted in an average of 84 more minutes of sleep time each night.
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