A professor I collaborate with at Penn State named Orfeu Buxton says that 8.5 hours of sleep is the new eight hours. In order to get a healthy eight hours of sleep, which is the amount that many people need, you need to be in bed for 8.5 hours. The standard in the literature is that healthy sleepers spend more than 90% of the time in bed asleep, so if you’re in bed for eight hours, a healthy sleeper might actually sleep for only about 7.2 hours.
Abdominal breathing. Most of us don’t breathe as deeply as we should. When we breathe deeply and fully, involving not only the chest, but also the belly, lower back, and ribcage, it can actually help the part of our nervous system that controls relaxation. Close your eyes and try taking deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Make each exhale a little longer than each inhale.

Like all drugs, natural sleep remedies can have side effects and risks. Pre-market evaluation and approval by the FDA are not required for OTC aids, dietary supplements, or herbal products. The particular brand you buy may have inappropriate dosing. You may get less or more of the herb than intended, which could make it dangerous to use in treatments, especially for children or the elderly,
Trouble sleeping is often a symptom of another disease or condition, such as depression, chronic pain, medications, or stress, which might explain why it’s so common. Longitudinal course and impact of insomnia symptoms in adolescents with and without chronic pain. Palermo TM, Law E, Churchill SS. The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society, 2012, Sep.;13(11):1528-8447.
Keep precautions in mind. Diphenhydramine and doxylamine aren't recommended for people who have closed-angle glaucoma, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, severe liver disease, digestive system obstruction or urinary retention. In addition, sleep aids pose risks for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, and might pose risks to people over age 75, including an increased risk of strokes and dementia.
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.
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.

1. I go to bed later than I had intended. 2. I go to bed early if I have to get up early in the morning. (R) 3. If it is time to turn off the lights at night I do it immediately. (R) 4. Often I am still doing other things when it is time to go to bed. 5. I easily get distracted by things when I actually would like to go to bed. 6. I do not go to bed on time. 7. I have a regular bedtime which I keep to. (R) 8. I want to go to bed on time but I just don't. 9. I can easily stop with my activities when it is time to go to bed.
On the other hand, if you find you're waking up too early in the morning or have advanced sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light late afternoon and could try taking a walk outdoors or light therapy for two to three hours in the evening. Home light therapy units are available and may be recommended by your doctor or sleep specialist to use in conjunction with your sleep therapy.
But other times, insomnia can become a long-term thing. Sometimes, that can happen as the result of a more serious health condition, like depression, anxiety, or sleep apnea. Other times, insomnia can stem from crappy sleep habits, like eating too many heavy snacks before bed, sleeping in an uncomfortable environment, or staying glued to your smartphone or tablet all night long.
Progressive muscle relaxation. Because relaxing your physical body can be just as effective as relaxing your mind. Try repeatedly tensing and releasing your toes to the count of 10, recommend experts at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Sleep Disorders Center. It’s crazy simple, but it can actually help relieve pent up energy and help you feel more relaxed.
Cherries. They’re the only edible source of the sleep hormone melatonin, so consider having a bowlful for dessert. If they’re not in season, opt for thawed frozen cherries or a glass of tart cherry juice. Drinking two glasses daily helped people with insomnia sleep for 90 more minutes, found one study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
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.
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.
Goel, N., Kim, H., & Lao, R. P. (2016, October 27). An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women. Chronobiology International, 22(5), 889–904. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Namni_Goel/publication/7469424_An_Olfactory_Stimulus_Modifies_Nighttime_Sleep_in_Young_Men_and_Women/links/5811f6b408ae9b32b0a34d4b.pdf
Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine used to relieve symptoms of allergy, hay fever, and the common cold. These symptoms include rash, itching, watery eyes, itchy eyes/nose/throat, cough, runny nose, and sneezing. It is also used to prevent and treat nausea, vomiting and dizziness caused by motion sickness. Diphenhydramine can also be used to help you relax and fall asleep.
Melatonin supplements may improve sleep quality and morning alertness in older adults with insomnia. Timed-release melatonin is used to treat primary insomnia in people over age 55 in the European Union and elsewhere. In most studies on melatonin for insomnia in older adults, melatonin was taken up to two hours before bedtime for up to 13 weeks. The timing is important—when melatonin is taken in the morning, it delays circadian rhythms but advances them when taken in the afternoon or early evening.
Go the drugstore and you’ll see dozens of so-called “natural” sleep supplements. The FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements for safety, quality, effectiveness, or even truth in labeling, so it’s up to you to do your due diligence. Although the evidence is mixed, the following supplements have the most research backing them up as insomnia treatments.
Alcohol's effects are different. 'Alcohol depresses the brain and central nervous system, so while it might make you feel sleepy (and find it easier to drop off) you won't enjoy good quality sleep. When we experience hangovers, most of that is caused by dehydration – that's what wakes us up in the night, and disrupts sleep. You'll find yourself experiencing sleep fragmentation, feeling totally exhausted when you wake.'
Try “belly breathing.” Controlled, deep breathing is simply a way to direct your mind away from thoughts that might keep you awake. If you find your mind racing as you lie down to go to sleep, place a hand on your belly and breathe in deeply through your nose — so deeply that can feel the air filling your abdomen. Hold it for a couple of seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth. Breathe mindfully like this for a few minutes, just trying to focus your attention on the rising and falling of your belly as you inhale and exhale. If your mind starts to wander, just bring it back to your breathing. The more often you practice this relaxation technique, the easier and more effective it will be.
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