Tossing and turning through the night can leave you grumpy and on edge the next day. And bouts of insomnia, when you’re wide awake for hours at a time when your body by rights should be sleeping, can take their toll.
Lack of sleep has serious consequences – far more serious than low energy and being short-tempered. Chronic sleep deprivation can set you up for cancer, heart attack, and stroke. That’s because sleep plays a significant role in how our body works and protects us from illness.
The Next Health Epidemic? Sleep Deprivation
When was the last time you had a deep, restful sleep? If you can’t remember, you’re not alone. Sleep deprivation has become something of an epidemic. And it’s no wonder I’m often asked about herbal sleep remedies or other natural remedies for better sleep.
The recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night is just not happening for a lot of us. More than 35 percent of adults in the United States reported getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); 38 percent reported unintentionally falling asleep at least once during the day in the preceding month.
Spread out over a year, this lack of sleep is the equivalent of losing a month-and-a-half of sleep. It gets worse.
About 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders, the CDC estimates. There are 90 different sleep disorders characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, and abnormal events occurring during sleep. Middle-aged people – between the ages of 45 to 64 – suffer insomnia the most, along with people who are morbidly obese.
Natural Sleep Remedies are Safe and Effective
There are all kinds of over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids to get you drowsy and sleeping through the night. But I’m an advocate for natural remedies and lifestyle changes that can be equally as effective – without the addictive properties or harsh side effects of pills. Give these tips for better sleep a try, and see if you can get the sleep your body needs.
Valerian Root Supplement
Valerian itself is a hardy plant whose roots are used in a number of ways as a sedative. Clinical studies have shown that valerian root supplement helps improve the quality of sleep, and acts as a potent sleep aid.
You can buy dried valerian root, put it into a tea ball and brew up a cup of tea, making sure to cover it and let it steep for a good 15 minute. Then uncover, remove your strainer or tea ball, and drink. Add a little milk or honey for flavor. You might find the odor too strong, so it’s also available in capsule form.
Cherry Juice for Better Sleep
Another great natural sedative is cherry juice, the tart, 100 percent juice option – not one with added sweeteners and other fruit concentrates added in. You need the good stuff to get results.
Try a ½ cup of tart cherry juice as a pleasant way to drift off to sleep. The juice works as a natural sleep aid because it contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that coverts to serotonin, which then coverts to melatonin. You’ve likely heard a lot about melatonin and its connection to sleep. It’s also known as the “vampire hormone” – it gets released in darkness, but light can interfere with its production (even artificial light), so you want to make sure your bedroom is nice and dark.
Melatonin causes drowsiness and lowers body temperature, working with the central nervous system to sync our biological clock, giving us the sleep we need.
Stay Cool and Calm
Your body needs to cool down during sleep. As a part of your good sleep hygiene habits, keep your room temperature on the cool side (between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit) and be sure to avoid electric blankets, duvets and even central heating, which can all disrupt your sleep patterns.
Include Physical Activity in Your Daily Routine
Regular physical activity is essential for your overall health and your sleep. If you exercise too close to bedtime, and this tends to be habit for you, you might be too energized to fall asleep. So try working out earlier in the day. Guaranteed, regular walking or other boost-your-heart-rate activity gets your blood flowing and, at the end of the day, helps you fall asleep faster and will deepen your sleep.
Follow a Bedtime Ritual
In order to tell your body it’s time to wind down, do the exact same things every night. This means taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book or listening to relaxing music – all while keeping the lights dimmed. These types of activities promote better sleep simply by making the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness much easier.
Your bedroom is not the place to watch TV at night! Remove all business and educational materials, personal computer devices and televisions from your sleeping environment. Research suggests they significantly disrupt your sleep.
A hormone that the body naturally produces, melatonin signals to the brain that it is time to sleep. Melatonin’s cycle of production and release is influenced by the time of day, rising in the evening and falling in the morning. However, if something disrupts these hormones, it may be releasing at the wrong time. For example, people who are jet-lagged may have trouble sleeping or may sleep at the wrong time of day.
Melatonin not only tells the body when to sleep, but it can also provide overall sleep quality in those with sleep disorders. Because of this, melatonin supplements have become a popular sleep aid.
It is considered generally safe in adults who use it both short or long term. Studies have also shown its effectiveness for individuals whose schedules require them to sleep during the day, such as shift workers.
One of the most important ways to ensure a good night’s sleep is to make the room as dark as possible. Although night lights can help light the way if you need to get up in the dark, they can also interrupt sleep. The latest recommendation by experts is to use a flashlight if you need to get up at night.
Meditation and Relaxation Techniques
Regular meditation can help to promote sleep by reducing stress hormones and slowing breathing by relaxing the body and calming the mind. Early evidence has suggested that meditation can help to improve sleep, and relaxation techniques can be helpful for insomnia.
Similar to meditation, yoga has been found to have a positive effect on sleep quality. It can alleviate stress, which may help to slow the mind and offer a better quality of sleep.
It is advised to choose a style that focuses more on relaxation or breathwork as opposed to difficult movements. Slow controlled movements can improve focus and help you stay present.
Lavender has a soothing fragrance that is believed to enhance sleep. Several studies have shown that simply smelling lavender oil before sleep may be enough to improve sleep quality. This has been found to be particularly useful in those with mild insomnia, especially females and young individuals.
Studies have shown that acupuncture and acupressure may help with insomnia. According to Chinese medicine practitioners, acupuncture helps with sleep disorders by balancing your energy flow from the disruption of the yin and yang energy, day and night, and light and dark.
As mentioned earlier, lavender oil is one of the most soothing essential oils. It has been used for centuries as a fold remedy for people to fall asleep. Other aromatherapy oils believed to help with sleep are patchouli, chamomile, and ylang-ylang. Try adding a few drops to a diffuser to fill the room with the scent of sleep.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine is becoming more popular in the western world as people begin to discover the treatments it has to offer. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that insomnia often stems from kidney energy weakness. This balance of energy can be restored with herbal formulas specifically prescribed for each ailment.
With all these in mind, drifting off should become easier and more enjoyable. You won’t be tossing and turning – and disturbing your partner. You’ll get the restorative rest you need, letting your immune system kick in to repair all the stress and activity of the day’s events, leaving you ready for an energized tomorrow