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.
People should be able to sleep like they’re able to get healthcare. This also means making our work environments more conducive to sleep. For optimum productivity, we need around eight hours of sleep, right? But that doesn’t have to be in one go. Maybe I’ll get a little less than that during the night, and then I’ll take a 20-to-30-minute power nap at midday. There’s a siesta for a reason! New Yorkers oftentimes try to pound through with coffee and whatever, but giving in to your natural circadian rhythm during that afternoon lull might be a good thing. We weren’t made to produce for eight hours straight.
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:
Italiano: Addormentarsi, Español: quedarse dormido, Deutsch: Einschlaf‐Hilfen, Português: Dormir, Nederlands: In slaap vallen, Français: s'endormir, Русский: быстрее засыпать, 中文: 睡得更快、更香, Čeština: Jak usnout, Bahasa Indonesia: Lekas Terlelap, العربية: الاستغراق في النوم بسهولة, Tiếng Việt: Đi vào giấc ngủ, ไทย: ทำให้ตนเองหลับง่ายขึ้น, 한국어: 잠드는 방법, 日本語: 眠りにつく, हिन्दी: नींद लायें, Türkçe: Uykuya Nasıl Dalınır
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.
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).
It actually may be normal to wake up at night. When we find ourselves waking in the night, no matter the cause, we may conclude that something is wrong. If there are no consequences in daytime function, however, this may not be the case. It is normal to wake to roll over, adjust the covers, respond to noise, and maybe even to get up to urinate. (Waking to go to the bathroom is so common as we get older that you would be hard-pressed to call it "abnormal.") Many people get back to sleep easily and are unaffected. The problem begins when our poor sleep compromises our lives. If difficulty falling or staying asleep at night begins to have consequences, there is a motivation to seek the cause.
The National Sleep Foundation reports that insomnia is common among those who are depressed and notes that people with insomnia have a much higher risk of becoming depressed. (11) Research from the Department of Psychology at the University of North Texas shows that depression may affect many aspects of sleep, from getting to sleep to staying asleep. By treating depression using St. John’s wort, you may be able to find that restful sleep your body and mind longs for. (12)
Getting a good night’s sleep may seem like an impossible goal when you’re wide awake at 3 a.m., but you have much more control over the quality of your sleep than you probably realize. Just as the way you feel during your waking hours often hinges on how well you sleep at night, so the cure for sleep difficulties can often be found in your daily routine.
A recent team of leading medical doctors and researchers examined all published studies to date on newer forms of sedative sleeping pills that most people take. They considered sixty-five separate drug-placebo studies, encompassing almost 4,500 individuals. Overall, participants subjectively felt they fell asleep faster and slept more soundly with fewer awakenings, relative to the placebo. But that’s not what the actual sleep recordings showed. There was no difference in how soundly the individuals slept. Both the placebo and the sleeping pills reduced the time it took people to fall asleep (between ten and thirty minutes), but the change was not statistically different between the two. In other words, there was no objective benefit of these sleeping pills beyond that which a placebo offered.
The other benefit of speaking with a healthcare professional is that you can discuss the use of sleeping pills. There are two major classes of prescription medications that can help you sleep: benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepines. The list of sleeping pills is long and includes drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, Trazodone, Belsomra, and others. These should not be used longer than a few weeks and if insomnia persists, you may want to seek other treatment. In particular, you can ask for a referral to a psychologist who might be able to teach you cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) techniques.
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.
“By far the most common thing I recommend to patients is to take melatonin,” says Barone. The hormone, which is produced by the brain in preparation for sleep, is also available in pill and liquid form, which you can get at any health food store or pharmacy—good news because some modern behaviors can interfere with its natural production. “When we’re exposed to TVs, computers and phones with backlit displays, that tricks the brain into thinking it’s light out and it doesn’t make as much melatonin as it should.”
Some newer medications don’t have the same chemical structure as a benzodiazepine, but act on the same area in the brain. They are thought to have fewer side effects, and less risk of dependency, but are still considered controlled substances. They include zalepon (Sonata), zolpidem (Ambien), and eszopiclone (Lunesta), which have been tested for longer-term use, up to six months.
Factors that influence your sleep-wake needs include medical conditions, medications, stress, sleep environment, and what you eat and drink. Perhaps the greatest influence is the exposure to light. Specialized cells in the retinas of your eyes process light and tell the brain whether it is day or night and can advance or delay our sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to light can make it difficult to fall asleep and return to sleep when awakened.
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.
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.