Although it's common to have the occasional sleepless night, insomnia is the inability to sleep or excessive wakening in the night that impairs daily functioning. Of natural remedies, three have been shown to be useful, and others have some preliminary but inconclusive evidence. Since chronic lack of sleep may be linked to a number of health problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression), it's important to consult your physician and avoid self-treating with alternative medicine. Here are 14 natural remedies to consider:
Sleep is an important part of your daily routine—you spend about one-third of your time doing it. Quality sleep – and getting enough of it at the right times -- is as essential to survival as food and water. Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.
Did you know your internal body temperature is integral to regulating your biological body clock? When you’re falling asleep, your body temperature drops slightly, which some experts believe actually helps the process along, according to the Harvard Medical School. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a bedroom temperature of 60 to 67 degrees F for the most sleep-friendly conditions.
If your bedroom is boiling hot — or even slightly warm — do what you can to cool it down. "Warmness may make you feel sleepy, but is not conducive to deep sleep," Logie says. "Our body starts to naturally cool later in the day and keeping your room cooler can help speed up this process that's involved with you falling asleep quickly and getting that deeper sleep."
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.
Even without considering genetics and age, the National Sleep Foundation's 2008 Sleep in America poll found that many adults are apparently not meeting their sleep needs, sleeping an average of only 6 hours and 40 minutes during the week, and about 7.5 hours on the weekends.2 How can you tell if your sleep is adequate and meets your needs? Sleep scientists and physicians have a variety of methods to help determine if you are getting enough sleep.
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.
You turn the light off at a reasonable hour, nestle into your pillow, and… your thoughts start going a mile-a-minute. Did you reply to that email from your boss? What should you pack the kids for lunch tomorrow? Are you living up to your potential? And why haven’t you started writing that novel/taken that trip/bought that house yet? If this sounds familiar, your stress and anxiety is getting in the way of you and some quality shut-eye. That’s where meditation comes in.
So I can confidently say this decades-old technique worked for me. Mind you, it didn’t work every night. Some nights during that second week I didn’t get that “release” after my visualization. But as the weeks went on, the trick seemed to work more often than not. And it seemed to work more effectively when I visualized myself in a velvety hammock instead of in a canoe, so it helps to switch up visualizations to see what works best.
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.
“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.
Night shift workers often have trouble falling asleep when they go to bed, and also have trouble staying awake at work because their natural circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle is disrupted. In the case of jet lag, circadian rhythms become out of sync with the time of day when people fly to a different time zone, creating a mismatch between their internal clock and the actual clock.
Before using this medication, tell your doctor or pharmacist your medical history, especially of: breathing problems (such as asthma, emphysema), high pressure in the eye (glaucoma), heart problems, high blood pressure, liver disease, seizures, stomach/intestine problems (such as ulcers, blockage), overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), difficulty urinating (for example, due to enlarged prostate).
Melatonin has been used successfully for sleep enhancement in healthy individuals, as well as to reduce feelings of jet lag during global travels. This natural hormone is also being tested as a sleep aid with the elderly and other populations. In addition, studies are focusing on whether or not melatonin can help improve sleep patterns in individuals with depression.
Warming your body up with a hot shower an hour before bed and then stepping into cooler air will cause your body temperature to drop more precipitously. Studies show that this rapid temperature decrease slows your metabolism faster and prepares your body for sleep. “Showers can also be very relaxing, so that helps, too,” says Meltzer. If you shower every night around the same time, making it part of a consistent bedtime routine, you’ll see the most sleep value from it, she adds. “Then your body has an expectation of what’s coming next.”
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)
Some researchers, parents, and teachers have suggested that middle- and high-school classes begin later in the morning to accommodate teens' need for more sleep. Some schools have implemented later start times. You and your friends, parents, and teachers can lobby for later start times at your school, but in the meantime you'll have to make your own adjustments.
A regular meditation practice may help to promote sleep by slowing breathing and reducing stress hormone levels. Meditation is a technique that involves consciously directing one's attention to an object of focus (such as breathing or a sound or word) in order to increase awareness, relax the body, and calm the mind. Some types of meditation include guided meditation, vipassana meditation, yoga nidra, or body scan. Also try:
It varies. There’s no clear answer. In our studies, we’ll play really loud sounds that people have no conscious awareness of at all: We can play a sound literally at 70 decibels, which is like someone screaming, and that’ll wake them up briefly and then they’ll go right back into the sleep stage that they were in. Other times you can get a full awakening, and you’ll have to go through the process again.