It’s the middle of the night, and you’re staring at the ceiling, thinking about work, or bills, or the kids. Sleep just won’t come, so you reach for a sleeping pill. But did you know that sleep medications are rarely meant for more than short-term use? They can cause dependence and tolerance, and the benefits don’t always outweigh the risks. Learn what you need to know about the side effects and safety concerns of common sleep medications—as well as effective insomnia treatments that don’t come in pill form.
“Sleep is not an on-and-off switch,” says the sleep expert and clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, the author of The Power of When. “Your body needs time to unwind and ready itself for shut-eye.” That’s why Dr. Breus recommends practicing a three-part routine called the “Power-Down Hour.” During the first 20 minutes, complete any tasks that absolutely must get done before bedtime. Wash your face, brush your teeth, and get dressed for bed during the next 20 minutes. For the last 20 minutes, lie in bed quietly and meditate. Focus on the rhythm of your breathing and shoo away any negative thoughts during this time.
Other potential health benefits: Melatonin may help to guard against cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative disease. It’s also being investigated as a therapy for some cancers. Supplemental melatonin may be effective at improving sleep quality and sleep quantity in people with ASD, and also may help improve daytime behavior. Melatonin has shown promise as a natural treatment for a range of conditions, including fibromyalgia, menopause, and irritable bowel syndrome.
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).
A sleep deficit affects everything from someone's ability to pay attention in class to his or her mood. According to a National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America poll, more than 25% of high school students fall asleep in class, and experts have tied lost sleep to poorer grades. Lack of sleep also damages teens' ability to do their best in athletics.
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.
To start, we collected a list of 200 products widely available at drugstores and supplement shops, from Walgreens and CVS to Vitacost and Amazon. We limited the list to products marketed for adults and available without a prescription. We also made sure to include both natural and synthetic options — the common active ingredients in each work a little differently.
What happens if you sleep with your eyes open? People sometimes sleep with their eyes open, which is known medically as nocturnal lagophthalmos. Symptoms caused by this condition include redness and blurry vision. Treatment options include eye drops, moisture goggles, or even surgery. It does not usually have serious complications. Learn more about it here. Read now
“This is number one—most of us have this reflex where our cellphone has to be within arm's length, even when we go to bed," says Raj Dasgupta, MD, sleep expert and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. "We need to break that habit.” Studies have shown that the blue light generated by electronic devices can delay the onset of sleep. (Here's how spending just one extra minute on your phone before bed can rob you of 60 minutes of sleep.) Turn your phone on silent and keep it on a dresser or far end of the bedside table so you’re not tempted to text, check one last email, or get lost in social media.
We tend to think of sleep as a time when the mind and body shut down. But this is not the case; sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs. Exactly how this happens and why our bodies are programmed for such a long period of slumber is still somewhat of a mystery. But scientists do understand some of sleep's critical functions, and the reasons we need it for optimal health and wellbeing.
REM sleep are particularly important. You can ensure you get more deep sleep by avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and being woken during the night by noise or light. While improving your overall sleep will increase REM sleep, you can also try sleeping an extra 30 minutes to an hour in the morning, when REM sleep stages are longer. See The Biology of Sleep to learn more.
Now that you know how much sleep you need—and if you've allowed your body to pay back your sleep debt and "find" its natural sleep patterns and duration—you are probably also feeling a lot better, sharper, happier, and healthier. This is how it feels to be well rested. The next step is to make sure that you continue to make sleep a priority and find ways to protect your sleep time.
When it comes to sleep, the less blue light you expose yourself to in the hours before bedtime, the better. Light of any kind can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, but blue light waves do so more powerfully, thereby shifting sleep-friendly circadian rhythms, says Harvard Health Publications. Besides electronic devices like tablets and smartphones, the biggest blue-light offenders in your home are likely fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights, which many people use because of their energy efficiency and powerful light. Give yourself a romantic break from all the blue and eat dinner by candlelight.
Eighteen leading scientists and researchers came together to form the National Sleep Foundation’s expert panel tasked with updating the official recommendations. The panelists included six sleep specialists and representatives from leading organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Anatomists, American College of Chest Physicians, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Geriatrics Society, American Neurological Association, American Physiological Society, American Psychiatric Association, American Thoracic Society, Gerontological Society of America, Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, and Society for Research in Human Development. The panelists participated in a rigorous scientific process that included reviewing over 300 current scientific publications and voting on how much sleep is appropriate throughout the lifespan.
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.”
Forget the glass of wine—winding down the day with a warm mug of milk and honey is one of the better natural sleep remedies. Milk contains the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan, which increases the amount of serotonin, a hormone that works as a natural sedative, in the brain. Carbs, like honey, help transmit that hormone to your brain faster. If you’re hungry for a snack, a turkey sandwich will deliver that power-combo of tryptophan and carbohydrates; or try a banana with milk to get some vitamin B6, which helps convert tryptophan to serotonin. Looking for more delicious insomnia cures? Snack on these 16 foods that can help you sleep better.
But then something changed starting at around the ninth night. And honestly, I can’t be sure if it was due to the technique itself or the sheer boredom caused by trying to calm my body into a lump-like state. I relaxed my muscles and visualized swinging in a velvety hammock. And the next thing I knew, it was around 3 a.m., and I woke up, awkwardly splayed over my bed, with my feet still touching the floor and the bedside light still on. I was deeply tired and only woke enough to swing my legs into bed and turn off the lamp.
Now to the more technical details: People who are stressed or anxious are actually chronically under-breathing because stressed people breathe shortly and shallowly, and often even unconsciously hold their breath. By extending your inhale to a count of four, you are forcing yourself to take in more oxygen, allowing the oxygen to affect your bloodstream by holding your breath for seven seconds, and then emitting carbon dioxide from your lungs by exhaling steadily for eight seconds. The technique will effectively slow your heart rate and increase oxygen in your bloodstream, and may even make you feel slightly lightheaded which contributes to the mild sedative-like effect. It will instantly relax your heart, mind, and overall central nervous system because you are controlling the breath versus continuing to breathe short, shallow gasps of air.
If you're a smartphone user, you'll have seen countless devices and apps that promise to measure sleep cycles. But Anna is dubious. 'Equipment like Fitbits aim to record levels of activity, measuring each time you move the device. The way they measure 'sleep' is by noting a period of motionless – predicting that's when we're sleeping. But there are issues with this – people often wake but don't move, for example. Just because we're still doesn't mean we're necessarily asleep.'
For years sleep researchers have known that alcohol is the number one sleep aid in the world. If you look back at the results of the 2005 Sleep in America poll, you will find that 11 percent of those polled used alcohol as a sleep aid at least a few nights a week. Another study conducted in the Detroit area showed that 13 percent of those polled had used alcohol as a sleep aid in the past year. However, the reality is alcohol is not the answer to getting better sleep. While alcohol can make you sleepy, it also does the following to detract from sound sleep:
During deep sleep, you get these long-burst brainwaves that are called delta waves, but during REM, your brainwaves are actually functioning very similarly to waking life. Your body is also paralyzed during REM—it’s a very noticeable physiological difference. You also lose thermo-regulation, meaning if it’s hot in your environment, your body gets hot, kind of like you’re a chameleon.
You've finally reached your breaking point. After another night spent tossing and turning, a morning where you struggle to get out of bed, and a day fighting sleepiness and fatigue, you are committed to trying to sleep better and fixing your insomnia. This can be a significant and life-changing goal, and it can also be a little intimidating without a plan. Where should you even begin? Fortunately, there are a series of specific changes you can make that will help you to sleep better. Set aside the next 30 days to focus on how to begin to implement this advice You'll discover that you can enjoy the sleep of your dreams.
When we can't sleep, we become more focused on it. Panicked by our lack of shut-eye, we make constant changes to improve the situation - whether that's going to bed earlier, having longer lie-ins, or watching TV in bed. Consequently, we spend less time actually sleeping in the bedroom. The result? The connection between bed and sleep becomes weak, and we effectively un-learn how to sleep.
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.
Visualization: Involves actively imagining a relaxing scene. You can try it in bed for 20 minutes before falling asleep. Involve all your senses. If you're imagining yourself on a tropical island, think of the way the warm breeze feels against your skin. Imagine the sweet scent of the flowers, look at the water and listen to the waves. The more vivid the visualization and the more senses you involve, the more effective it will be.
As an insomniac, I get it. Good nights of natural sleep are few and far between. You take any amount of shut eye you can get, whether its restful sleep or not. Unfortunately, for those of us who can't fall asleep or stay asleep with a disjointed sleep pattern, the effects turn into a real nightmare. Sleep deprivation not only leaves you feeling out of sorts the next day, but it can lead to a host of unhealthy side effects. The last thing you need to worry about when you can't sleep is how your lack of sleep is effecting your health. That's where natural sleep aids come in.
“Usually products that you put under your tongue are absorbed quicker because that area of your mouth is very viscous,” explained Dr. Breus, “as opposed to pill that you swallow that has to be broken down in your stomach, where you stomach acid will eat up half of it.” This gives it an edge over chewable tablets or gummies, which both have to be chewed and swallowed.
During the late '60s and early '70s, sleep studies suggested that the neurotransmitter serotonin may play a role in sleep induction. Later on, research in animals showed that destruction of parts of the brain that housed nerve cells containing serotonin could produce total insomnia. Partial damage to these areas of the brain caused variable decreases in sleep. The percentage of destruction of these particular nerve cells correlated with the amount of slow-wave sleep.
This amino acid comes from green tea and not only helps maintain a calm alertness during the day but also a deeper sleep at night. However, green tea doesn't contain enough L-theanine to significantly boost your REM cycles. Besides, you might then wake up to go to the bathroom. Instead, buy a brand called Suntheanine, which is pure L-theanine. (Other brands have inactive forms of theanine that block the effectiveness.) Take 50 to 200 milligrams at bedtime.
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.
Gallup has reported that over the past 50 years, we’re sleeping a whole hour less per night than we did in the 1950s. That’s a lot. A lot of that has to do with having TV on all the time, and mobile phones are taking it to the next level. But I think the biggest issue right now is the lack of work/life balance. I mean, I’m an entrepreneur, so I feel like I’m basically always “on”. A lot of people have jobs where they’re getting emails all hours the night, and there’s no longer a nine-to-five schedule.
Your bedroom environment plays a big part in how well you fall and stay asleep. Too many people forget to optimize their sleep environment, and it has a real detrimental effect on their rest, says Cralle. Things to keep in mind: "How old is your mattress, what's the temperature like in your room, and is it really dark at night? We really need that darkness to get the melatonin going," Cralle says.
A very helpful tool to track your sleep time and patterns is a sleep diary. Used in sleep research and clinical settings, a sleep diary is a handy reference to help people become familiar with their own natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness. The information that you will record in the sleep diary is simple and straightforward. It includes the time you go to bed, the time you wake up, your total hours of sleep, and whether you had any nighttime awakenings (and if so, how long you were awake) and any daytime naps. In addition, noting how you feel upon awakening (refreshed or tired), and how you feel at different times of the day will enable you to become more aware of your patterns, and help you determine if you are getting adequate sleep. Just keeping track of your sleep in this way may help improve your situation. If you need more help to improve your sleep, refer to Adopt Good Sleep Habits and Address Your Sleep Issues.
Use a blue light filter on your device. The blue light emitted by smartphones and tablets can be a powerful sleep disruptor. It suppresses your body’s production of melatonin and throws your circadian rhythm off, making it harder to fall and stay asleep. Luckily, many smartphones these days have a “night shift” feature that adjusts the screen from cool (blue) to warm (yellow) light, which is less likely to keep you up past your bedtime. Likewise, there are apps you can run on your laptop or tablet that reduce blue light. Some popular ones are f.lux and Twilight.