Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT for insomnia aims to change the negative thoughts and beliefs about sleep into positive ones. People with insomnia tend to become preoccupied with sleep and apprehensive about the consequences of poor sleep. This worry makes relaxing and falling asleep nearly impossible. The basic tenets of this therapy include setting realistic goals and learning to let go of inaccurate thoughts that can interfere with sleep.
The amount of sleep that a healthy individual needs is largely determined by two factors: genetics and age. Genetics plays a role in both the amount of sleep a person needs, as well as his or her preference for waking up early (these are the so-called "larks," or morning-type individuals) or staying up late (these are the "owls," or evening-type people). Our internal biological clock, which regulates the cycling of many functions including the sleep/wake cycle, can vary slightly from individual to individual. Although our internal clock is set to approximately 24 hours, if your clock runs faster than 24 hours, you tend to be a "lark" and wake up early; if your clock runs more slowly, you tend to be an "owl" and go to bed later.
After talking with doctors and examining clinical studies, we learned that the research surrounding common remedies for restless nights, like melatonin and valerian, is often contradictory. To find the best sleep aid, it’s important to look for an active ingredient that suits your particular sleep problems — and to pay close attention to your dosage and timing.
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.
For those who have chronic insomnia, the bedroom space may become a trigger for insomnia through conditioning. The sleep environment is meant to be comfortable and facilitate sleep. It should be cool, quiet, and free of distractions. Ideally, you would not allow a television or pets in your bedroom. Bed partners may be disruptive and some people choose to maintain separate sleep spaces for this reason.
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.
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.
A 2016 study published in the journal Explore found that college students who inhaled a lavender-scented patch before bed reported better nighttime sleep and more daytime energy, compared to those who inhaled a placebo patch. Studies in other populations, including middle-age women and heart-disease patients, have also suggested that lavender can improve sleep quality.
You know what happens when you don’t sleep well: You feel sluggish in the daytime, and your concentration suffers. Poor or insufficient sleep has been linked to other problems, too, such as declined immune function and an increased risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. In your struggle to find out how to sleep better at night naturally, you’re willing to try just about anything.
Research published earlier this year in the journal Scientific Reports found that listening to sounds from nature, like a rainforest soundscape or a babbling brook, can trigger a relaxation response in the brain. Soothing background sounds can also cover up manmade sounds like voices or traffic, which were shown in the study to have the opposite effect.
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:
The brain stem, at the base of the brain, communicates with the hypothalamus to control the transitions between wake and sleep. (The brain stem includes structures called the pons, medulla, and midbrain.) Sleep-promoting cells within the hypothalamus and the brain stem produce a brain chemical called GABA, which acts to reduce the activity of arousal centers in the hypothalamus and the brain stem. The brain stem (especially the pons and medulla) also plays a special role in REM sleep; it sends signals to relax muscles essential for body posture and limb movements, so that we don’t act out 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.
Magnesium is crucial to our health for so many reasons, including its sleep-promoting and stress-reducing abilities. It’s not surprising then that a magnesium deficiency can result in poor sleep. Research has shown that supplementing with magnesium even helps insomnia, which can be defined as a persistent problem falling and staying asleep. Taking around 400 milligrams of magnesium before bed is ideal to promote a good night’s rest. You can also add more magnesium-rich foods like spinach, pumpkin seeds, and almonds to your diet.
How long does a cup of coffee keep you awake? Caffeine stimulates the nervous system. People often consume it to stay alert, but how long do effects last, and how does it impact sleep? This depends on many factors, including the amount of caffeine ingested at once and an individual's metabolism. Learn to estimate how long the effects of caffeine last here. Read now
People often ask me about whether, and how, to use cannabis for sleep. (I wrote about some dos and don’ts for using cannabis as a sleep tool—you can check it out here.) One of the easiest, most effective ways to harness the relaxing, sleep promoting effects of cannabis? Try using CBD. You’ve probably heard of CBD. It’s showing up everywhere as a therapy to reduce anxiety and improve mental focus. It’s also a natural sleep booster.
The herb Vitex agnus castus (chaste tree) may help insomnia during menstrual periods or insomnia that is a side effect of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In one study, women with moderate to severe premenstrual syndrome were treated with either a vitex agnus castus extract or a placebo for three menstrual cycles. Participants were asked to document their symptoms with a PMS diary with a daily rating scale of 17 symptoms. They reported fewer symptoms, especially less insomnia and negative affect, but their cramps didn't improve. However, chasteberry should not be used by anyone on birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, or dopamine-related medications, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Sleep also is important for good health. Studies show that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep on a regular basis increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and other medical conditions. In addition, during sleep, your body produces valuable hormones. These hormones help children grow and help adults and children build muscle mass, fight infections, and repair cells. Hormones released during sleep also affect how the body uses energy. Studies find that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, develop diabetes, and prefer eating foods high in calories and carbohydrates.*
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).
Postpone worrying and brainstorming. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive after a good night’s rest.
Whole grain crackers. It’s not just a coincidence that you immediately want to take a nap after chowing down on a carb-heavy meal. Carbs cause your body’s blood sugar levels to spike, which appears to play a role in regulating your body’s sleep-wake clock, suggests a recent Japanese study. Still, you’ll probably get a stomachache and end up tossing and turning all night—by devouring a gigantic bowl of pasta. So pick a lighter option, like a handful whole grain crackers.
Your need for sleep and your sleep patterns change as you age, but this varies significantly across individuals of the same age. There is no magic “number of sleep hours” that works for everybody of the same age. Babies initially sleep as much as 16 to 18 hours per day, which may boost growth and development (especially of the brain). School-age children and teens on average need about 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but after age 60, nighttime sleep tends to be shorter, lighter, and interrupted by multiple awakenings. Elderly people are also more likely to take medications that interfere with sleep.
Judgments (“I should be asleep”), comparisons (“my BF/GF/roommate is sleeping; why can’t I?”), and catastrophic thinking (“If I don’t get eight hours’ sleep tonight, I’ll mess up that presentation tomorrow, lose my job, and die tired and alone”) don’t do us any good. Make the night easier by accepting it for what it is, letting go of judgments, and being gentle with yourself. The silver lining? You just might get to see a glorious sunrise.
Probably the most commonly known characteristic that can help through food is tryptophan — yes, that sleepiness from the Thanksgiving turkey is no joke. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can help the brain get into a relaxed state, similar to serotonin and melatonin. You can obtain tryptophan and serotonin from carbohydrates, particularly 100 percent whole grain oats, brown rice, corn or quinoa.
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.
Tryptophan. Tryptophan is a basic amino acid used in the formation of the chemical messenger serotonin, a substance in the brain that helps tell your body to sleep. L-tryptophan is a common byproduct of tryptophan, which the body can change into serotonin. Some studies have shown that L-tryptophan can help people fall asleep faster. Results, however, have been inconsistent.
Herbal teas like chamomile and valerian act as a mild sedative. They relax the body and make you feel like your eyes are too heavy to keep open. Of all the herbal teas, I recommend the Celestial Extra Sleepy Time Tea. Not to throw a product placement out there, but this stuff works. It contains pretty much everything that contributes to sleep - chamomile, tilia estrella, and valerian. The combination in this is like a slumber guarantee.
Benzodiazepines are the oldest class of sleep medications still commonly in use. Benzodiazepines as a group are thought to have a higher risk of dependence than other insomnia sedative hypnotics and are classified as controlled substances. Primarily used to treat anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines that have been approved to treat insomnia include estazolam (brand name ProSom), flurazepam (Dalmane), quazepam (Doral), temazepam (Restoril), and triazolam (Halcion).
Watch something boring. Just about everything you read about improving sleep advises you to avoid screen time before bed. But the truth is, a lot of people do it anyway. If you’re going to watch TV or your laptop in bed, watch something unexciting. Think a Ken Burns documentary, or an episode of House Hunters. No scary movies, thrillers, or the 11 o’clock news. If it’s likely to get your pulse racing, turn it off. There’s even a website for it — Napflix, which serves up the most snooze-worthy videos on YouTube (think Bonsai tree pruning or tropical fish swimming in an aquarium).