At some point or another, most of us will experience a short, unpleasant bout of insomnia. Often, it’s the result of stress or a change in routine (like a new work schedule or having a baby), or medications that mess with sleep like antidepressants, blood pressure meds, allergy meds, and corticosteroids. The good news is that usually, once you find a way to deal with the situation, your sleep pattern will get back to normal.
Melatonin is the hormone that controls sleep, so it's no wonder that it naturally induces sleep. Although some experts recommend taking higher doses, studies show that lower doses are more effective. Plus, there's concern that too-high doses could cause toxicity as well as raise the risk of depression or infertility. Take 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams before bed.
There are many reasons why people have a difficult time staying asleep. The good news is that common problems with sleep are often easily addressed without the use of medication or pharmaceutical sleep aids. There are no guaranteed natural cures for insomnia, but there are effective steps you can take, including natural sleep aids. Ask yourself these questions (and try the simple sleep aid recommendations) if you find yourself waking frequently in the night:
Valerian. Like chamomile tea, folk practitioners have turned to the root of this flowering plant to easy anxiety and promote relaxation. And it works: According to a review of sixteen studies, valerian root is shown to help people doze off faster and sleep more soundly. It might not be ideal for long-term use, though, so talk with your doctor before starting a valerian regimen.
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.
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.
One of the key strategies that sleep specialists employ to help patients overcome behaviors that contribute to chronic insomnia is stimulus control therapy. This approach includes tactics such as removing yourself from the bedroom if you can’t fall asleep and not watching television or surfing the internet while you’re in bed. Instead of staring at the clock, get up and do a boring. Only return to bed when you’re sleepy.
If melatonin doesn’t work or patients don’t want to take it, Barone suggests trying valerian root. A 2015 review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine concluded that “a few high-quality studies report modest benefits of valerian for insomnia patients,” adding that while the overall evidence remains mixed, the safety of valerian is well-established.
Keep your room cool, clean, dark, and quiet. Do your best to keep the temperature in your bedroom just below 70 °F (21 °C). Sleeping in a hot and uncomfortable area is not a good or relaxing way to sleep, so do your best to get air regulation throughout the room. Clean up regularly, and change your sheets every 1 to 2 weeks, or whenever they’re dirty. A cluttered space can increase stress, and it can be tough to relax if your sheets are smelly.
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Sleep gives your body a rest and allows it to prepare for the next day. It's like giving your body a mini-vacation. Sleep also gives your brain a chance to sort things out. Scientists aren't exactly sure what kinds of organizing your brain does while you sleep, but they think that sleep might be the time when the brain sorts and stores information, replaces chemicals, and solves problems.
When figuring out how much sleep you need, it’s important to know your sleep debt as well as your basal sleep need. Many people assume that if they lose an hour of sleep, they just need to get an extra hour of sleep the next night; however, you also have to make up for the extra hour that you were awake and your increased activity during this time. Using your basal sleep need as a foundation, you can determine your sleep debt and adjust it based on how tired you feel or how much extra sleep you think you need.
It might not work for everybody, but focusing on one thing can help the brain settle down, making sleep more possible. Not a fan of our wooly friends? Focusing on your breath (in, out, in, out) is also an effective way to chill out. Or bust out some of those relaxation techniques you practiced earlier in the evening—they're just as good of a resource in the wee hours.
Sleeping with Fido isn’t so bad, according to a new Mayo Clinic study that found people who had a dog in the bedroom slept better than those who didn’t. But don’t let your pooch crawl under the covers: Participants who snuggled with their pets had poorer sleep quality than those who didn’t. If pet "co-sleeping" sounds like the insomnia cure for you, be sure your furry friend sleeps on the floor or in a pet bed of their own nearby so you both get an undisturbed, restful sleep. (Here are 5 ways to lose weight with your pet—so you can both live longer.)
If you’re anxious or distressed at bedtime, the best medicine may be a face full of ice-cold water. When you’re in a full-on state, your nervous system desperately needs to be reset to help you calm down. Submerging your face in a bowl of cold water triggers an involuntary phenomenon called the Mammalian Dive Reflex, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. Then it’s off to bed with a soothed system.
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.
Everyone needs sleep, but its biological purpose remains a mystery. Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, increases the risk of disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
Liquid products, chewable tablets, or dissolving tablets/strips may contain sugar and/or aspartame. Liquid products may also contain alcohol. Caution is advised if you have diabetes, liver disease, phenylketonuria (PKU), or any other condition that requires you to limit/avoid these substances in your diet. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about using this product safely.
Melatonin, like all natural dietary supplements, is unregulated and untested for long-term use in humans. Some people find that melatonin causes grogginess and depression. Others report falling asleep quickly with melatonin only to awaken in the middle of the night. Still, studies show that melatonin appears to be safe with short-term use (three months or less).
Imagine yourself drifting in a blissful slumber while practicing deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Treating insomnia with a self-administered muscle relaxation training program: a follow-up. Gustafson R. Psychological reports, 1992, May.;70(1):0033-2941. Starting at one end of the body and working up or down, clench and then release each section of muscles for instant all-over relaxation.
How magnesium works: Magnesium plays a widespread role in the human body, helping regulate and many essential functions. One of magnesium’s most important roles is to enable healthy enzyme function. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 different enzyme-related reactions in the body’s cells. This mineral helps regulate blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, and helps to control the body’s stress response. Getting sufficient magnesium helps the body maintain healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep, as well as elevating and stabilizing mood.
Unfortunately, some sleep medications can actually make the problem worse. Sleep aids frequently disrupt sleep cycles, causing less restorative sleep. Even if they help you sleep through the night, the sleep is not necessarily deep or restful. People can become dependent on these meds, requiring them to sleep, and many develop a tolerance to sleep meds over time, requiring more medication to get the same effect. These meds can also cause rebound insomnia, meaning it becomes even harder to fall asleep without the medication. So before you pop that pill for your sleep problems, try these methods instead:
Even a hint of dim light—8 to 10 lux—has been shown to delay the release of nighttime melatonin in humans. The feeblest of bedside lamps pumps out twice as much: anywhere from 20 to 80 lux. A subtly lit living room, where most people reside in the hours before bed, will hum at around 200 lux. Despite being just 1 to 2 percent of the strength of daylight, this ambient level of incandescent home lighting can have 50 percent of the melatonin-suppressing influence within the brain.
If you know me, you’re well aware that I always suggest a natural remedy over a synthetic option, and the reason is pretty clear. In the case of sleeping pills, they typically slow your breathing and may cause you to breath much more shallow than normal. This could be problematic, and even dangerous, for someone with asthma or other lung-related problems like COPD, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that makes it hard to breathe. Sleeping pills also commonly have numerous side effects, such as: (17)
One reviewer says that the Stress-Relax Tranquil Sleep Chewable Tablets have helped calm him down and stopped his mind from spinning when lying in bed. Someone else says that the tablets even help him get better sleep when having panic attacks. Try the Stress-Relax chewables for your own anxiety, but remember to see a professional if you feel that your stress is too much to manage.
Get out of bed. When you lie awake in bed, you send yourself the wrong message. "You're basically training your body not to sleep in bed, but to lie there and not sleep," Walia says. "And your mind can get conditioned to that." Olson puts it another way: "The longer we lie there and get frustrated in that environment, the more we come to anticipate it next time we're there," he says. "We come to associate the bedroom with not sleeping well."
Valerian is thought to affect levels of one of the calming neurotransmitters in the body, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It also relieves muscle spasms and is thought to help alleviate menstrual period pain. Valerian is typically taken an hour before bed. A standard dose is 450 mg. If taken during the day, valerian may result in drowsiness—it is often taken in two to three 300 mg doses with meals.
“Most sleep problems are related to stress, and dealing with stress is really important," says Frank Lipman, MD. "I usually recommend some type of meditation practice or breathing technique." Spend 20 minutes doing something you enjoy (non-stimulating, of course), take 20 minutes for your hygiene routine, and use the last 20 minutes to employ a relaxation technique that works for you, such as meditation or yoga. (New to meditation? Try these 3 quick meditations absolutely anyone can do.)
Each of us has different patterns of high and low states of energy throughout the day. Some people find that exercise in the morning can go a long way toward keeping their energy level consistent during the afternoon. A secret known to those who have become habitual exercisers is that effort creates energy. Don’t wait for energy to come when you are tired; as soon as you begin to feel that afternoon slump, shake it off by moving your body. Try taking a brisk walk after lunch. It may be what you need to keep you awake and alert the rest of the day.
There are other non-medication options that might be helpful. Some people find benefit with the use of aromatherapy, although research studies may not support its use. Various relaxation techniques, including the use of biofeedback and breathing techniques, may also establish a connection between your mind and body. This can be incorporated into your bedtime rituals and make it easier to relax and transition into sleep.
The more overstimulated your brain becomes during the day, the harder it can be slow down and unwind at night. During the day, many of us overstress our brains by constantly interrupting tasks to check our phones, emails, or social media. Try to set aside specific times for these things, and focus on one task at a time. When it comes to getting to sleep at night, your brain won’t be accustomed to seeking fresh stimulation and you’ll be better able to unwind.
IT'S 4 A.M. THE CLOCK ticks, the moon glows, the dog snores and you just stare. Perhaps you stare into the blackish red of the inside of your eyelids as you lie still and fetal, thinking if you pretend to be sleeping, the real thing will surely come. Or maybe you stare at the paint chips in the ceiling, then the laundry on the floor, then the glowing 4:01 a.m. time, as you turn and shift and stare some more. And you know you shouldn't be staring – you should be sleeping! You should be logging those crucial seven-plus hours of quality sleep each night, and the frustration that you cannot will yourself to achieve that makes this 4:02 a.m. stare session all the more infuriating. And it's hard to fall asleep when you're infuriated.
Finally, you may find yourself turning to over-the-counter medications to help your sleep. One of the most common is a naturally occurring hormone called melatonin. It is sold in many pharmacies and herbal supplement stores. It can be highly effective if you have insomnia related to a poorly timed circadian rhythm. As it has a low risk of major side effects (the most frequent is sleepiness), it might be an option to consider. Other herbal supplements (such as valerian root) do not have a lot of research supporting their efficacy.
The key here is to keep dinners simple and moderate in portion, so you won’t be bothered with indigestion later. Eating carbs four hours before sleep was more effective than one hour prior in the study, meaning planning your evening meals could prove helpful. Spicy foods can also affect your ability to fall asleep quickly, so keep that in mind, too.