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.
4. Sleep in a familiar, dark, and quiet room that is adequately ventilated and neither too hot nor too cold. If possible, try to use this room for sleeping only, so that you come to associate it with sleep. In time, your room could become another sleeping cue. If your sleeping environment is sub-optimal, try to use aids such as earplugs or a sleeping mask.
Valerian. Valerian is a sedating herb that has been used since the second century A.D. to treat insomnia and anxiety. It is believed to work by increasing brain levels of the calming chemical GABA. Although the use of valerian for insomnia hasn’t been extensively studied, the research shows promise and it is generally considered to be safe and non-habit forming. It works best when taken daily for two or more weeks.
Researchers from Louisiana State University had seven older adults with insomnia drink eight ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks, followed by two weeks of no juice, and then two more weeks of drinking a placebo beverage. Compared to the placebo, drinking the cherry juice resulted in an average of 84 more minutes of sleep time each night.
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.
If your brain is racing with stressful thoughts, fill it up with up with something a little nicer. "Tell yourself a gentle story — could be a favorite childhood book or movie — and use the same one night after night," says Catherine Darley, ND, of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, Inc. "This is helpful for those people who have an active mind and their thoughts interfere with sleep."
The influence of tryptophan on sleep continues to be studied in major sleep laboratories across the nation. While this amino acid is not available as a natural dietary supplement or sleep remedy, you can easily include tryptophan in your diet through food sources such as turkey, cheese, nuts, beans, eggs, and milk. You can also boost serotonin levels in the brain -- helping you to feel calm and sleepy -- by eating foods rich in carbohydrates.
There are two hormones in your body that regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin sends signals to the brain when you are full. However, when you don’t get the sleep you need, your ghrelin levels go up, stimulating your appetite so you want more food than normal, and your leptin levels go down, meaning you don’t feel satisfied and want to keep eating. So, the more sleep you lose, the more food your body will crave.
Adjustable beds also allow you to change the angle of your upper body and legs. This can be particularly helpful for people who experience conditions like lower back pain or swelling, since these adjustments can reduce back tension and promote circulation to improve comfort. Acid reflux keeps many people up as well, and elevating the upper body can make a significant difference.
How melatonin works: It often surprises people to hear it, but melatonin does not work as a sedative. Melatonin production is triggered by exposure to darkness, and is a powerful bio time regulator. It improves sleep by helping to strengthen the body’s sleep-wake cycles. Stronger sleep-wake cycles translate into a more consistent sleep routine. When your bio clock is in sync, it can help improve your mood, daytime performance, energy levels and your overall health, including immune function, and regulation of metabolism, digestion, and appetite.
Another method for determining your sleep need is to take a "sleep vacation." During a two-week period, when you have a flexible schedule or perhaps are on vacation, pick a consistent bedtime and do not use an alarm clock to wake up. Chances are that for the first few days or week you will sleep longer because you'll be paying off your "sleep debt"—the amount of sleep deprivation that you've accumulated over a period of time. If you continue going to bed at the same time and allowing your body to wake up naturally, you will eventually establish a pattern of sleeping essentially the same amount of time each night, probably in the range of 7 to 9 hours. Congratulations! You've identified the amount of sleep that you need.
Exercise has long been associated with higher quality sleep. While the research has mainly been done on those who don’t have insomnia, studies are suggesting that staying committed to a regular exercise routine can indeed improve the quality and duration of your sleep if you do. A study published in October 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research showed that after six months of exercising 150 minutes a week, participants reported significantly reduced insomnia symptoms. They also had significantly reduced depression and anxiety scores.
Unless you’re in pain, your sleep aid doesn’t need to include painkillers. Products like Advil PM, which combine antihistamines with painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, have name recognition. But Dr. Gary Zammit, the executive director of the Sleep Disorders Institute, suggested following this rule when it comes to medications: Treat the problem that you have.
It’s a well-known fact that having a heavy meal just before bed can cause you to have a poor night of rest, but did you know that there are some foods that could help you sleep better? That doesn’t mean you need to add calories necessarily or eat a huge meal right before bed, but it could mean that you can incorporate some of these foods into your dinner or as a small after-dinner snack.
Memory consolidation: While you sleep, the brain repeatedly replays remembered events from that day; if these phases are interrupted, memories aren’t fully formed, or even not formed at all. This is part of what helps you learn new skills. One study found that mice doing an hour’s training followed by sleep would ‘learn more’ than mice who did three hours of training but were then sleep deprived. This process is the result of connections forming between neurons, which happens more often during sleep.
Sleep is not just a block of time when you are not awake. Thanks to sleep studies done over the past several decades, it is now known that sleep has distinctive stages that cycle throughout the night. Your brain stays active throughout sleep, but different things happen during each stage. For example, certain stages are needed to help you feel rested and energetic the next day, and other stages help you learn and make memories. A number of vital tasks carried out during sleep help maintain good health and enable people to function at their best. On the other hand, not getting enough sleep can be dangerous for both your mental and physical health.*
For years sleep researchers have known that alcohol is the number one sleep aid in the world. If you look back at the results of the 2005 Sleep in America poll, you will find that 11 percent of those polled used alcohol as a sleep aid at least a few nights a week. Another study conducted in the Detroit area showed that 13 percent of those polled had used alcohol as a sleep aid in the past year. However, the reality is alcohol is not the answer to getting better sleep. While alcohol can make you sleepy, it also does the following to detract from sound sleep:
Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for sleeping better. If you keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, you’ll feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times, even if you only alter your sleep schedule by an hour or two.
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.
Some sleep researchers believe that it might be normal to be awake some during the night. (The fact that you sleep straight through the night without budging may again be a sign of inadequate time spent sleeping and increased sleep pressure.) This phenomenon of being awake at night is called "quiet wakefulness" and is often observed when the sleep habits of non-Western cultures are studied. When people sleep in a group in close quarters, there is more time spent awake during the night. This makes sleep a more fluid concept. Time may be spent chatting, eating a snack or engaging others around you. In history, fragmented sleep with periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night was common, reflected in the midnight adventures seen in the plays of Shakespeare, for example.
There are diagnostic tests that can be helpful for assessing your sleep problems, with special tests for insomnia. It may be helpful to keep a sleep log or use an actigraph (like a fitness tracker) to track your sleep patterns. Further testing with an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram can also be helpful to identify sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome as potential contributors to insomnia.
See a Doctor. While lifestyle changes are the first line of treatment for sleeplessness, if you’re still not getting enough rest after improving your bedtime routine and trying a variety of relaxation strategies, a physician may be able to help determine if your sleeplessness is merely a symptom of another health concern, and prescribe appropriate treatment.