Sleeping well directly affects your mental and physical health and the quality of your waking life. Fall short and it can take a serious toll on your daytime energy, productivity, emotional balance, and even your weight. Yet many of us regularly toss and turn at night, struggling to get the sleep we need. There is a solution. Making simple but important changes to your daytime routine and bedtime habits can have a profound impact on how well you sleep, leaving you feeling mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day long.
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.
I couldn’t wait to put the trick to the test, and to my complete disbelief, I woke up the next morning unable to even remember getting to the eighth second of the exhale because it knocked me out that fast. For the next four nights leading up to the big day, even as my stress increased, I was able to fall asleep the minute I tried the 4-7-8 trick. I also used it to relax in the moments leading up to the speech.
STRESS: When you’re stressed, your flight-or-fight response is active during the night, and your sleep quality is going to be shallow. It’s natural: If you have kids, you are programmed to be able to respond to your environment during the night to make sure you’re not getting eaten by a predator. Parents have this issue when their fight-or-flight response system is overly activated by worrying about their kid, and that worry actually makes their sleep quality worse.
Unless certain medical conditions or medications are the cause of your sleeplessness, the most common culprit is anxiety, says Lisa Meltzer, an education scholar for the National Sleep Foundation and associate professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health in Denver. “If you’re anxious and worried, it’s very difficult to relax and fall asleep,” says Meltzer. “When you’re not sleeping well, you’ll be more anxious and you’ll have a harder time regulating emotion. It feeds on itself.”
Memory consolidation: While you sleep, the brain repeatedly replays remembered events from that day; if these phases are interrupted, memories aren’t fully formed, or even not formed at all. This is part of what helps you learn new skills. One study found that mice doing an hour’s training followed by sleep would ‘learn more’ than mice who did three hours of training but were then sleep deprived. This process is the result of connections forming between neurons, which happens more often during sleep.
If your circadian rhythm is off, it negatively impacts your sleep quality. So having that consistent rhythm of going to bed and getting up at the same time will actually make your sleep more regenerative at night. Going for a walk outside and getting that sunlight in the morning is the best thing to do to wake up. Your circadian rhythm isn’t a fixed thing: It’s actually shiftable based on your environmental cues.
According to the European Neurology Journal, calcium levels are at their highest during our deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep periods. What this means is that if you never get to the REM sleep phase or if it’s limited, it could be related to a calcium deficiency. Researchers indicate that the calcium is important because it helps the cells in the brain use the tryptophan to create melatonin — a natural body-producing sleep aid. (4)

Keep precautions in mind. Diphenhydramine and doxylamine aren't recommended for people who have closed-angle glaucoma, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, severe liver disease, digestive system obstruction or urinary retention. In addition, sleep aids pose risks for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, and might pose risks to people over age 75, including an increased risk of strokes and dementia.

Championed by best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil—and various wellness bloggers, the “4-7-8” breathing technique is purported to help you fall asleep in under a minute. The method is said to relax you by increasing the amount of oxygen in your blood stream, slowing your heart rate, and releasing more carbon dioxide from the lungs. According to DrWeil.com, here’s how you do it:
Go the drugstore and you’ll see dozens of so-called “natural” sleep supplements. The FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements for safety, quality, effectiveness, or even truth in labeling, so it’s up to you to do your due diligence. Although the evidence is mixed, the following supplements have the most research backing them up as insomnia treatments.
How much sleep do seniors need? Sometimes you’ll hear that you need less sleep as you get older, but that is incorrect. A 2014 study revealed that seniors actually require similar amounts of sleep as younger adults, as much as 9 hours, although they only get 7.5 hours on average. The issue is that with age, the neurons responsible for regulating our sleep patterns slowly die off. This causes seniors to wake up even if they’re not fully rested, and to suffer from insomnia that makes it difficult to fall asleep in the first place.

Get comfy in bed and try what's known as the "4-7-8" breathing exercise. "This technique is also known as 'The Relaxing Breath' and helps promote better sleep," Tramonte says. To do it, simply breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold it for seven, then breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight. And just like that you'll be asleep.

Trouble sleeping is often a symptom of another disease or condition, such as depression, chronic pain, medications, or stress, which might explain why it’s so common. Longitudinal course and impact of insomnia symptoms in adolescents with and without chronic pain. Palermo TM, Law E, Churchill SS. The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society, 2012, Sep.;13(11):1528-8447.
2. Minimize noise, light, and temperature extremes during sleep with ear plugs, window blinds, or an electric blanket or air conditioner. Even the slightest nighttime noises or luminescent lights can disrupt the quality of your sleep. Try to keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature -- not too hot (above 75 degrees) or too cold (below 54 degrees).

Sleep issues can often be traced back to an underlying issue. When we asked Dr. Breus for his first choice in treating sleep issues, he told us, “It’s never a pill. I would want to know the root cause. There could be an anxiety component where cognitive behavioral therapy could be helpful.” If you face sleeplessness regularly, it’s well worth speaking to your doctor about underlying causes.
People with insomnia struggle to get a good night's rest and wonder how to sleep better They may be plagued by trouble falling asleep, unwelcome awakenings during the night, or fitful sleep — alone or in combination. They may feel drowsy during the day and yet be unable to nap. Insomnia can leave a person feeling anxious and irritable or forgetful and unable to concentrate.
It can be much harder to get yourself off to sleep if you are worried that you are worried that you're going to be tossing and turning just a few short hours from now, so try to stop yourself waking up a lot in the night. One of the main causes of waking in the night is through back pain, so try to minimise this by buying a decent mattress - and make sure you change your mattress every 8-10 years. Also taking an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen before you go to bed can help ease muscle spasms in the night.
The thalamus acts as a relay for information from the senses to the cerebral cortex (the covering of the brain that interprets and processes information from short- to long-term memory).  During most stages of sleep, the thalamus becomes quiet, letting you tune out the external world.  But during REM sleep, the thalamus is active, sending the cortex images, sounds, and other sensations that fill our dreams. 
Abdominal breathing. Most of us don’t breathe as deeply as we should. When we breathe deeply and fully, involving not only the chest, but also the belly, lower back, and ribcage, it can actually help the part of our nervous system that controls relaxation. Close your eyes and try taking deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Make each exhale a little longer than each inhale.
Other potential health benefits: Glycine has been shown to improve both memory and attention in young adults. Scientists are actively investigating the use of glycine in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Higher levels of glycine have been associated with a lower risk of heart attack, and there’s some evidence that glycine may help protect against high blood pressure. It also may help strengthen bones and joints, and guard against arthritis.

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)
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)
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.

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However, if you’re increasing your sleep debt over a longer period of time- say, if you’ve just had a child and aren’t able to get a full eight hours every night- you can’t easily make it up over just a few nights. In cases like these, it may take a few weeks to really fill your sleep debt. Your best bet is to plan a vacation or stay-cation with a light schedule and no obligations, and then turn off your alarm clock and go to bed and wake up when it feels natural. This will “reset” your sleep system so that while you may be sleeping 12 hours a night at the beginning, you’ll eventually settle back in to the amount that is your basal sleep need.
Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40 our sleep patterns change, and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These awakenings not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. The more awakenings we have at night, the more likely we will awaken feeling unrefreshed and unrestored.
Rather than counting sheep, visualize an environment that makes you feel calm and happy. The key to success is thinking of a scene that’s engaging enough to distract you from your thoughts and worries for a while. In an Oxford University study published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy, insomniacs who were instructed to imagine a relaxing scene, such as a beach or a waterfall, fell asleep 20 minutes faster than insomniacs who were told to count sheep or do nothing special at all.
The influence of tryptophan on sleep continues to be studied in major sleep laboratories across the nation. While this amino acid is not available as a natural dietary supplement or sleep remedy, you can easily include tryptophan in your diet through food sources such as turkey, cheese, nuts, beans, eggs, and milk. You can also boost serotonin levels in the brain -- helping you to feel calm and sleepy -- by eating foods rich in carbohydrates.
There are several different types of prescription sleeping pills, classified as sedative hypnotics. In general, these medications act by working on receptors in the brain to slow down the nervous system. Some medications are used more for inducing sleep, while others are used for staying asleep. Some last longer than others in your system (a longer half-life), and some have a higher risk of becoming habit forming.

Safety Warning Do not use in children under 12 years of age. Ask a doctor before use if you have: a breathing problem such as asthma, emphysema or chronic bronchitis; glaucoma; trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland. Ask a doctor or pharmacist before use if you are taking any other drugs. When using this product: avoid alcoholic beverages; take only at bedtime. Stop use and ask a doctor if: sleeplessness persists continuously for more than two weeks. Insomnia may be a symptom of serious underlying medical illness. If pregnant or breast-feeding, ask a health professional before use. Keep out of reach of children. In case of overdose, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away. (1-800-222-1222) Do not use in children under 12 years of age. Ask a doctor before use if you have: a breathing problem such as asthma, emphysema or chronic bronchitis; glaucoma; trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland. Ask a doctor or pharmacist before use if you are taking any other drugs. When using this product: avoid alcoholic beverages; take only at bedtime. Stop use and ask a doctor if sleeplessness persists continuously for more than two weeks. Insomnia may be a symptom of serious underlying medical illness. If pregnant or breast-feeding, ask a health professional before use. Keep out of reach of children. In case of overdose, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away. (1-800-222-1222) — —
To set the record straight about being horizontal, Quartz spoke to one of the world’s most-talked-about sleep scientists. Daniel Gartenberg is currently working on research funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Aging and is also a TED resident. (Watch his talk on deep sleep here.) He’s also an entrepreneur who has launched several cognitive-behavioral-therapy apps, including the Sonic Sleep Coach alarm clock. All that with 8.5 hours of sleep a night.

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.
If you’re American, chances are you aren’t getting enough sleep. A Gallup poll (2005) of Americans past age 50 found only 32% reported getting a good night’s sleep routinely. 56% said they got between 6 and 8 hours a night. The US Dept of Health and Human Services reports that “The odds of being a short sleeper (defined as someone who sleeps less than 6 hours a night) in the United States have increased significantly over the past 30 years.”
Even though sleep is pretty much the opposite of physical exertion, exercise conducted at the right time of day (i.e., not too close to bedtime) is one of the best things you can do to get a good night’s rest. Exercise helps regulate the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which promotes sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, exercise can also improve insomnia by lowering symptoms of anxiety and depression, two conditions linked to sleep disruption. Daily physical activity also helps reduce cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone.
One thing experts say you should never drink right before bed? Alcohol. Not only can it trigger heartburn or indigestion (common sleep deterrents), but too many liquids right before bed can also lead to nighttime trips to the bathroom. "It makes you fall asleep, but the downside is multiple awakenings and arousals during the night that make you feel un-refreshed in the morning," Dr. Dasgupta cautions. That doesn't mean you can't have that glass of Merlot at dinner—just make sure you have a few hours of buffer before hitting the hay.
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).
That doesn’t mean that you should never use medication, but it’s important to weigh the benefits against the risks. In general, sleeping pills and sleep aids are most effective when used sparingly for short-term situations, such as traveling across time zones or recovering from a medical procedure. If you choose to take sleeping pills over the long term, it is best to use them only on an infrequent, “as needed,” basis to avoid dependence and tolerance.
Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40 our sleep patterns change, and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These awakenings not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. The more awakenings we have at night, the more likely we will awaken feeling unrefreshed and unrestored.
You toss and turn, trying to fall asleep, watching the minutes tick toward morning on your bedside clock. Does this scenario sound familiar? Do yourself a favor: Hide the clock. Constantly checking the time only increases your stress, making it harder to turn down the dial on your nervous system and fall asleep. “If you stare at the clock, it increases your stress and worry about not falling asleep,” says Meltzer.
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