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Valerian. Valerian is a sedating herb that has been used since the second century A.D. to treat insomnia and anxiety. It is believed to work by increasing brain levels of the calming chemical GABA. Although the use of valerian for insomnia hasn’t been extensively studied, the research shows promise and it is generally considered to be safe and non-habit forming. It works best when taken daily for two or more weeks.
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.
Many herbal tonics support adrenal health and help balance energy levels, which allow us to work, exercise, and digest during the day, then drop into an alpha state during the night. My favorite herb for insomnia is ashwagandha, which helps to relax the body. Try 500–1,000 mg at bedtime for 6–12 months until you re-establish a healthy sleep pattern. Other effective bedtime herbs include valerian (especially if pain is part of your disturbed sleep quality), passionflower, lemon balm, and California poppy.
In my article about passion flower, you can see the numerous benefits, including calming and anti-anxiety effects. When we have anxiety, it can greatly affect how we sleep because you just cannot seem to turn the brain off — especially while you’re trying to rest. Passion flower can provide the calming effect needed to help stop that vicious circle of thought.
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.
What to do: I drink a tablespoon of tart cherry juice at night to help with sleep quality, especially on days with intense workouts since it also seems to help with muscle recovery and stiffness. Cherry juice can even be added to chamomile tea or other relaxing herbal teas (with the honey salt remedy above) to help improve the taste. I definitely recommend organic cherry juice if you can find it since it is concentrated and cherries are typically on the Dirty Dozen list.
These changes in the body's circadian rhythm coincide with a busy time in life. For most teens, the pressure to do well in school is more intense than when they were kids, and it's harder to get by without studying hard. And teens also have other time demands — everything from sports and other extracurricular activities to working a part-time job to save money for college.
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.
Carefully read the package insert that comes with your medication. Pay careful attention to the potential side effects and drug interactions. Many common medications, including antidepressants and antibiotics, can cause dangerous interactions with both prescription and over-the-counter sleeping pills. For many sleeping pills, certain foods such as grapefruit and grapefruit juice must also be avoided.
Probably the most common wearable to measuring sleep right now is the Fitbit. I’ve studied these devices in depth in a well-controlled laboratory experiment where we’re monitoring brainwaves. I can say the Fitbit is pretty accurate in measuring when you’re asleep and when you’re wake, but when it comes to measuring sleep stages, basically any device that measures heart rate, like the Apple Watch, is totally inaccurate. That’s because they don’t sample at the frequency necessary to get a good read on your sleep stages.
There is usually no particular biological or health reason to worry about sleeping less or more than other people. Your spouse might get mad at you if you sleep too much and you might get into hot water if you nap on the job, but most people have no reason to worry about going outside the norms when it comes to sleep duration. You might think sleeping too much is a problem, that excessive sleep is a waste of time, and indeed hypersomnia is recognized as a clinical condition. But not all long sleepers can be classified as hypersomniac and in any cases, there is nothing doctors can do for hypersomnia except prescribe stimulants. So it may not be worth worrying about.
Throughout history, soldiers have faced serious sleep deprivation and have had to make do with squeezing rest in between firefights and in trenches, tents, and moving troop carriers. By necessity, they have to learn to sleep whenever and wherever they get the chance. Exhaustion certainly helps the eyes close, but it turns out the U.S. Army actively teaches this skill too.
Watch something boring. Just about everything you read about improving sleep advises you to avoid screen time before bed. But the truth is, a lot of people do it anyway. If you’re going to watch TV or your laptop in bed, watch something unexciting. Think a Ken Burns documentary, or an episode of House Hunters. No scary movies, thrillers, or the 11 o’clock news. If it’s likely to get your pulse racing, turn it off. There’s even a website for it — Napflix, which serves up the most snooze-worthy videos on YouTube (think Bonsai tree pruning or tropical fish swimming in an aquarium).