Clinical trials have not proven chamomile to be helpful for insomnia. Chamomile is an herb traditionally used to reduce muscle tension, soothe digestion, and reduce anxiety, which may help induce sleep. Sip a cup of hot chamomile tea after dinner, but don't drink it too close to the bed or you may have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Hops, passionflower, and ashwagandha are other herbs that are often used for insomnia. As with chamomile, they have not proven their effectiveness in studies.
You may be familiar with the sleep hormone melatonin. Every night when we go to bed, this hormone, triggered by darkness, tells the brain it's sleepy time. Unfortunately, not everyone's body produces enough of the common sleep aid to get to sleep and this can cause insomnia. Bananas, however, can give your body a boost of melatonin that you might be lacking.
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.
NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.
REM sleep occurs after the fourth stage of NREM sleep, with the first stage occurring about 90 minutes after you first fall asleep. The first period of REM lasts around ten minutes, and each stage lengthens until the final stage, which may last as long as an hour. Your brain activity is heightened during REM sleep, and you experience intense dreaming plus periods of muscle paralysis. As you age, you spend less time in REM sleep; adults spend about 20% of their sleep in REM, while infants spend about 50% of sleep in REM.
Another study found that the mineral helps decrease cortisol, the “stress hormone” that can keep you up at night. Dr. Lipman says he recommends magnesium to insomnia patients because it calms down the nervous system. But because the evidence around magnesium as a sleep aid is sparse, you might consider incorporating more magnesium into your diet rather than spending money on a supplement. It's found in quinoa, almonds, spinach, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, black beans, and brown rice.
One of the more paradoxical CBT-I methods used to help insomniacs sleep is to restrict their time spent in bed, perhaps even to just six hours of sleep or less to begin with. By keeping patients awake for longer, we build up a strong sleep pressure—a greater abundance of adenosine. Under this heavier weight of sleep pressure, patients fall asleep faster, and achieve a more stable, solid form of sleep across the night. In this way, a patient can regain their psychological confidence in being able to self-generate and sustain healthy, rapid, and sound sleep, night after night: something that has eluded them for months if not years. Upon reestablishing a patient’s confidence in this regard, time in bed is gradually increased.
No one would argue that exercise isn’t good for you. It keeps muscles and bones strong and maintains good cardiovascular health. Many of my sleep patients who lead sedentary lives and don’t exercise regularly are missing out on an excellent sleep remedy. Data suggest not only that exercising during the day will help you fall asleep more quickly and plunge you into deeper sleep for a longer period of time, but also that exercising causes your body to produce growth hormones, which help it to repair and revitalize itself. Many of my patients report that they sleep better with regular exercise and that they feel more alert and rejuvenated the following day.
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.
It seems like sleep should come naturally. But when it doesn't, you might quickly find yourself pleading, "Help me sleep!" It can be a frustrating, unnerving experience to have insomnia, characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. You might lie awake for hours in bed at night. When you awaken without feeling refreshed, this problem quickly becomes a drag on the rest of your life and health.
You’ve likely been told over and over again that a good night’s rest equals eight hours of sleep. But research shows it’s not the number of hours you sleep that matters the most – it’s the quality of the hours you are getting. The largest sleep study ever conducted on 1.1 million people shows that it’s quality, not quantity, that matters most. The researchers found that participants who slept only six and a half hours a night lived longer than those who slept eight hours. It’s easy to conclude that you’ll live longer if you sleep for six and a half hours a night, but the reality is more complicated. It’s possible that the healthiest people simply need less sleep. And when you’re getting good-quality sleep, you likely need less of it.
An ultra short episode of sleep is sufficient to promote declarative memory performance. Lahl O, Wispel C, Willigens B. Journal of sleep research, 2008, Apr.;17(1):1365-2869. But try to avoid napping after 3:00 or 4:00pm, as this can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime. Effects of afternoon "siesta" naps on sleep, alertness, performance, and circadian rhythms in the elderly. Monk TH, Buysse DJ, Carrier J. Sleep, 2002, Feb.;24(6):0161-8105.
Avoid electronics in and before bed: Don’t watch television, play on your phone, or use your laptop in bed; even reading in bed should be discouraged. The blue light from your screens emit short-wavelength light that stops the production of melatonin and makes you feel more alert- which is great for the morning, but not so ideal when you’re trying to fall asleep. Also, the more time you spend awake in bed, the harder it is for your body to associate your bed with sleep.
Melatonin supplements are widely recommended for various sleep conditions, but the best evidence is for help with sleep problems caused by shift work or jet lag. Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the brain. It is produced from serotonin when exposure to light decreases at night. It is used in conditions where sleep is disordered due to low levels of melatonin at night such as aging, affective disorders (e.g. depression), delayed sleep-phase disorder, or jet lag.
If any of this resonates with you, you might be interested in a new book by Henry Nicholls called Sleepyhead: The Neuroscience of a Good Night’s Rest. Nicholls, a science journalist in England, chose the topic of sleep in part because of his personal experience with narcolepsy, a rare neurological disorder that impacts the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles. So he decided to write a book about how to sleep better.
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)
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This third one is what I study. The “synaptic homeostasis hypothesis” is this idea that during the day, we make all these connections with the world around us. It used to be like, “Don’t go over there—the lions live there now.” Now it’s like, “What did Barbara say to me in the office?” These excitatory connections we make during the day result in the neurons in our brains getting overall higher activation. Then during the nighttime when we sleep, we have a downregulating process where the things that didn’t really matter to your survival sink to the bottom, and the things that are most relevant to your survival rise to the top. What deep sleep does is all the neural processing, and what REM sleep [rapid-eye-movement sleep] and light sleep do is basically integrate that into your long-term personality and understanding of the world.
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.
It may sound hippy dippy, but if you focus on it effectively, daydreaming about relaxing scenes can really help ease your mind. During visualization, know that it’s OK if your mind wanders but keep returning your focus to the scene. Try out different methods and audio tracks to see what works best for you. Visualization can also be a helpful mid-day stress reliever to keep in mind.