When you first start, you’ll be desperate to just take in another breath, or you’ll want to speed up your counting, but if you stick to the numbers (or at least try to), and don’t take any breaks (in other words, consecutively repeat the 4-7-8 without resuming regular breathing), you can literally feel your heart rate slow down, your mind get quieter, and your whole body physically relax. It washes over you like a calming, relaxing drug. I can never remember getting past the first set of 4-7-8.
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.
A study published in Sports Medicine out of France was conducted to help better understand ways to improve the sleep of elite soccer players given their chaotic schedules, late-night games and need for recovery through a good night of sleep. The study found that by consuming carbohydrates — such as honey and whole grain bread — and some forms of protein, especially those that contain serotonin-producing tryptophan like turkey, nuts and seeds, it helped promote restorative sleep. Even tryptophan-filled tart cherry juice, which also contains healing properties like antioxidants, could be a great option. (3)
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.
If your bedroom is not a comforting and relaxing place, you’re not going to want to spend a lot of time there. Make adjustments to your bedroom so that it is dark, quiet, cool and cozy. A key factor in the comfort level of your bedroom is the bed itself, so make sure your mattress is big enough so you can move freely, new enough so it doesn’t cause aches and pains, and comfortable enough to support a good night’s sleep.
One must develop some kind of pre-sleep ritual to break the connection between all the stress and bedtime. This is perhaps even more important for children. These rituals can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. Some find relief in making a list of all the stressors of the day, along with a plan to deal with them, as it serves to end the day. Combining this with a period of relaxation, perhaps by reading something light, meditating, or taking a hot bath can also help you get better sleep. And don't look at that clock! That tick-tock will tick you off.
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.