No one would argue that exercise isn’t good for you. It keeps muscles and bones strong and maintains good cardiovascular health. Many of my sleep patients who lead sedentary lives and don’t exercise regularly are missing out on an excellent sleep remedy. Data suggest not only that exercising during the day will help you fall asleep more quickly and plunge you into deeper sleep for a longer period of time, but also that exercising causes your body to produce growth hormones, which help it to repair and revitalize itself. Many of my patients report that they sleep better with regular exercise and that they feel more alert and rejuvenated the following day.
Whether you’re scrambling to meet the demands of a busy schedule or just finding it hard to sleep at night, getting by on less sleep may seem like the only answer. But even minimal sleep loss can take a substantial toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. And over the long-term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. By understanding your nightly sleep needs and how to bounce back from sleep loss, you can finally get on a healthy sleep schedule and improve the quality of your waking life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) usually focuses on discovering and changing the thoughts or feelings that trigger depression and stress but it can be a natural insomnia cure, too. Research has found that CBT can retrain your body and mind for faster, deeper sleep. In a Harvard University study of 63 insomniacs, CBT was more effective than prescription sleeping pills; it cut the time it took for participants to fall asleep in half and improved sleep quality by 17 percent. You can practice CBT at home, too. The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping a sleep diary of when you go to bed and wake up, as well as banishing daytime naps. Instead, adopt a regular sleep schedule; that means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
Your need for sleep and your sleep patterns change as you age, but this varies significantly across individuals of the same age. There is no magic “number of sleep hours” that works for everybody of the same age. Babies initially sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours per day, which may boost growth and development (especially of the brain). School-age children and teens on average need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings. Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with 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.
How CBD helps sleep: Research shows CBD can significantly reduce insomnia symptoms. It also can increase overall sleep amounts, according to studies. In particular, CBD has been shown to reduce insomnia in people who suffer from chronic pain. In smaller doses, CBD stimulates alertness and reduces daytime sleepiness, which is important for daytime performance and for the strength and consistency of the sleep-wake cycle. One thing I really like about CBD? New research shows it relieves anxiety without causing changes to healthy sleep-wake cycles.
This third one is what I study. The “synaptic homeostasis hypothesis” is this idea that during the day, we make all these connections with the world around us. It used to be like, “Don’t go over there—the lions live there now.” Now it’s like, “What did Barbara say to me in the office?” These excitatory connections we make during the day result in the neurons in our brains getting overall higher activation. Then during the nighttime when we sleep, we have a downregulating process where the things that didn’t really matter to your survival sink to the bottom, and the things that are most relevant to your survival rise to the top. What deep sleep does is all the neural processing, and what REM sleep [rapid-eye-movement sleep] and light sleep do is basically integrate that into your long-term personality and understanding of the world.
Why is working out seemingly so beneficial? The mechanisms aren’t entirely known, but National Sleep Foundation experts say that it could have to do with exercise’s ability promote feelings of relaxation and reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Staying active might also help to keep your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle in sync—particularly if you do it outside (more on that below).
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.
If anxiety is keeping you up at night, try these natural sleep remedies: yoga, meditating, or writing in a journal before bed. Tai chi is another powerful sleep-inducing (and stress-reducing!) exercise; in a 2004 Oregon Research Institute study, a tai chi routine right before bed helped people fall asleep 18 minutes faster and get 48 minutes more nightly sleep. In addition to adopting sleep-inducing habits, avoid these 11 “harmless” habits that are causing your insomnia.
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.
Everyone benefits from a good night's sleep. If you continue to have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. In addition to lifestyle changes, he or she might recommend behavior therapy to help you learn new sleep habits and ways to make your sleeping environment more conducive to sleep. In some cases, short-term use of prescription sleep aids might be recommended as well.
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.
Everyone dreams. You spend about 2 hours each night dreaming but may not remember most of your dreams. Its exact purpose isn’t known, but dreaming may help you process your emotions. Events from the day often invade your thoughts during sleep, and people suffering from stress or anxiety are more likely to have frightening dreams. Dreams can be experienced in all stages of sleep but usually are most vivid in REM sleep. Some people dream in color, while others only recall dreams in black and white.
SOUND: We focus on sound a lot. Quiet environments are going to improve your sleep quality. Your brain has these micro arousals throughout the night without you being consciously aware of it—even an air-conditioning unit turning on wakes up your brain. So blocking out noises is a low-hanging fruit to improve your sleep quality. Bose just released an earbud that you can sleep with, for example.
Similarly, if you’re having sleep troubles, limit your cell phone use around bedtime. One study found that people who spent more time on smartphones, especially close to bedtime, were more likely to have shorter sleep duration, poorer sleep quality and take longer to fall asleep (PLoS One, Nov. 9, 2016). So, turn off your cell phone, computer and television at least an hour before bedtime. (See the chart for other behavioral changes you can make to improve your sleep.)
When it comes to sleeping well, every minute counts. If you don't have one sleepless minute to waste, SleepTabs are the perfect over-the-counter sleep-aid. Just one Unisom SleepTab can help you fall asleep an average of 23 minutes faster. SleepTabs contain the active ingredient doxylamine succinate (25 mg), which is non-narcotic and clinically test to ensure safety, effectiveness and quality. So stop watching the minutes tick by. Fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer with Unisom SleepTabs.
Medicate with caution. Whether prescription or over-the-counter, Walia and Olson do not recommend drugs as a first choice for relieving sleeplessness. Ideally, the tips above and improved sleep hygiene should do the trick. But, should you choose a sleep aid, Olson reminds people that, of course, they make you sleepy. This grogginess is great at 11 p.m., but not at 7 a.m. – when you have to drive a car.
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.”
We swear, we’re not pulling your leg. Try and remember what you physically feel like when you’re tired: Do your arms go limp? Do your eyes roll back into your head? Now, mimic those physical signs: While lying in bed, think of a weight pressing evenly across your entire body. Okay, that sounds a little scary, but concentrating on the weight will stop other thoughts (e.g. the school lunches you still have to pack for tomorrow) from distracting you. Next thing you know, you’ll find yourself waking up the next day, wondering how the heck you fell asleep so fast.
People often ask me about whether, and how, to use cannabis for sleep. (I wrote about some dos and don’ts for using cannabis as a sleep tool—you can check it out here.) One of the easiest, most effective ways to harness the relaxing, sleep promoting effects of cannabis? Try using CBD. You’ve probably heard of CBD. It’s showing up everywhere as a therapy to reduce anxiety and improve mental focus. It’s also a natural sleep booster.
The promise is in the name, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. I’ve tried every app like this one that I could find on the App Store, and this is by far “the best bank for its buck” I’m sure you could find one that has more features, but for a monthly subscription. It does what it promises and wakes me up when I’m already close to waking, and it’s gotten me to work on time every day that I’ve used it. I feel significantly better on mornings when I use Sleep Better than on mornings when I don’t. Great app. The only thing I wish they’d change is more comprehensive sleep statistics and information. I don’t know what some of their charts mean. For instance, how do they calculate my sleep efficiency? To me, 96% sleep efficiency should mean that I wake up feeling peppy and walking on sunshine. While I have woken up feeling much better most nights, there have been one or two mornings when I woke up feeling groggy because I’d only allowed myself five hours of sleep (not the app’s fault) and it still said I had 96-98% sleep efficiency. That doesn’t make sense to me unless they just mean out of the little sleep I happened to get that night. Overall, a great app, and I highly recommend it.
The key here is to keep dinners simple and moderate in portion, so you won’t be bothered with indigestion later. Eating carbs four hours before sleep was more effective than one hour prior in the study, meaning planning your evening meals could prove helpful. Spicy foods can also affect your ability to fall asleep quickly, so keep that in mind, too.