Insomnia: Natural Remedies (That Work)
Insomnia is the inability to or difficulty of falling or staying asleep. It is most commonly a symptom of depression and other nervous disorders. Insomnia can potentially be extremely debilitating with symptoms that include fatigue, irritability, headache, depression, inattention, and poor performance. It can be acute or chronic: lasting days, to weeks, to months. Usually brought on by anxiety or stress, insomnia can also be brought on by psychiatric conditions. But no matter the cause, here are some at-home remedies to hopefully help you get some sleep.
1) Natural Supplements:
Melatonin supplements are widely recommended for various sleep conditions, but the best evidence is for help with sleep problems caused by shift work or jet lag.(1) Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the brain. According to a study published in Sleep Medicine Review, melatonin may also help you fall asleep faster when taken as a supplement, as it is produced from serotonin when exposure to light decreases at night.(2)
It is used in conditions where sleep is disordered due to low levels of melatonin at night such as aging, affective disorders (e.g. depression), delayed sleep-phase disorder, or jet lag. Melatonin supplements may improve sleep quality and morning alertness in older adults with insomnia.(3)
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.(4)
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.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a herbal home remedy, brewed as a tea or taken as a supplement, that is commonly used to reduce anxiety, improve sleep quality, and act as a sedative. Clinical trials of valerian have had inconsistent results for insomnia.
Studies measuring sleep quality have found no difference between people taking valerian and those taking a placebo. However, a sizable number of people in the studies anecdotally reported that their sleep quality improved with valerian.(15)
Valerian is thought to affect levels of one of the calming neurotransmitters in the body, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It also relieves muscle spasms and is thought to help alleviate menstrual period pain.
OC Pharmacy offers pharmaceutical grade vitamins and supplements to help with sleep - our most popular, Perfect Sleep Formula, contains all the good stuff: magnesium, valerian root, GABA, inositol, L-theanine, 5-HTP, chamomile flower, hops, passion flower, and melatonin!
Perfect Sleep Formula provides an innovative blend of nutrients that promote soothing and restful sleep. The non-habit-forming ingredients were specifically chosen to promote healthy circadian rhythms and help relax tense muscles. While most prescription medications can cause morning sleepiness, Sleep Perfect Formula is designed to provide individuals with restful slumber and a rejuvenated body upon awakening.
Of course we know exercise is good for us, but the time you exercise could help you sleep deeper at night. Sleep expert Shawn Stevenson shared in this podcast episode that even 4 minutes of exercise in the morning can reset the cortisol cycle to its natural levels. In studies, exercising in the morning resulted in a 25% reduction in blood pressure at night and improved melatonin production (the hormone that helps us sleep).
Additionally, if anxiety is keeping you up at night, exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety. For example, Tai chi is a proven sleep-inducing (and stress-reducing!) exercise. A tai chi routine right before bed helped people fall asleep 18 minutes faster and get 48 minutes more nightly sleep, according to a study published in the journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
3) Meditation and Relaxation Techniques
A regular meditation practice may help to promote sleep by slowing breathing and reducing stress hormone levels.(7) 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:
Visualization: Visualization involves actively imagining a relaxing scene.(8) You can try it in bed for 20 minutes before falling asleep. Involve all your senses. If you're imagining yourself on a tropical island, think of the way the warm breeze feels against your skin. Imagine the sweet scent of the flowers, look at the water and listen to the waves. The more vivid the visualization and the more senses you involve, the more effective it will be.
Relaxation response: This is a mind/body response that occurs after following specific instructions patterned closely after Transcendental Meditation.
Mindfulness: This type of meditation essentially involves focusing on your mind on the present.
Early evidence suggests that meditation techniques may improve sleep.(9) The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says relaxation techniques have enough evidence to say they can be helpful for insomnia. But further research is still needed.
4) Deep Breathing ~ in a 4-7-8 Pattern
This is a breathing technique that helps oxygenate the blood and promote relaxation, used by many religions, in some variation, for meditation or prayer. Recent information suggests that it may help the body shift from sympathetic nervous activity (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (relaxation).
Either way, it is a quick and simple technique that seems to really help promote restful sleep and that doesn’t cost a thing!
Light Exposure Therapy
Light therapy is used as part of sleep treatment plans.(5) If you have trouble falling asleep at night or have delayed sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light in the morning.
Light exposure plays a key role in telling the body when to go to sleep (by increasing melatonin production) and when to wake up. A walk outdoors first thing in the morning or light therapy for 30 minutes may help.
Home light therapy units are available and may be recommended by your doctor or sleep specialist to use in conjunction with your sleep therapy.
Turn Off Artificial Lights—Including Screens
For those with insomnia, a calm, relaxing sleep environment is imperative for uninterrupted slumber. Perhaps one of the most effective natural sleep remedies is removing electronics that having glowing screens, such as cell phones, tablets, and laptops, according to a study published in Molecular Vision. They have found that the blue light disrupts your circadian rhythms, making it difficult to fall asleep. Try removing artificial lighting (including screens) two hours before going to bed. Keep in mind, even if you can fall asleep the pings from your cell phone or email can disrupt your sleep cycle. Go even further by making sure your shades are tightly drawn against any outdoor lights. Furthermore, to maximize your comfort, the National Sleep Foundation recommends a room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees.
6) Food and Diet
The secret is out, the importance of gut health has emerged and continues to grow. A healthy gut, is a major contributor to a healthy mind.
Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Caffeine and nicotine can have a pronounced effect on sleep, causing insomnia and restlessness.(11) In addition to coffee, tea, and soft drinks, look for hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate, cough and cold medicine, and other over-the-counter medicine. Alcohol consumption can result in nighttime wakefulness.
Cut back on sugar. Although sugar can give a burst of energy, it's short-lived and can cause uneven blood sugar levels. This can disrupt sleep (12) in the middle of the night as blood sugar levels fall.
Eat foods that help you sleep. Tryptophan is a naturally-occurring amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Eat carbohydrate snacks such as whole-grain crackers before bedtime. Also include foods rich in vitamin B6, found in wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and bananas, which enhances the body's conversion of tryptophan. Note that L-tryptophan supplements are not recommended as they have been linked to eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome.(13)
Eat magnesium-rich foods. The mineral magnesium is a natural sedative, and some research shows that supplements can help with insomnia.(14) Magnesium deficiency can result in difficulty sleeping, constipation, muscle tremors or cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain. Foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer's yeast, and whole grains. In addition to including these whole foods in your diet, you can also try juicing dark leafy green vegetables.
7) Would You Like A Warm Beverage?
Drink herbal tea
Participants reported that one cup of passionflower tea nightly improved sleep quality in a small study from Australia’s Monash University. Herbalists also recommend a cup of chamomile tea before bed; chamomile contains the flavonoid apigenin, which has a calming effect on the brain. Valerian tea, when brewed into tea or taken as a capsule, can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and produce a deep, satisfying rest, according to a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine. Valerian also appeared to lengthen the amount of sleep, reduce nighttime awakenings, and lessen the effect of menopausal symptoms on sleep. While drinking a cup of tea before bed is easy, not everyone is so reasonable when it comes to insomnia—check out the most bizarre insomnia cures people have used throughout history.
Clinical trials have not proven chamomile to be helpful for insomnia.(16) Chamomile is an herb traditionally used to reduce muscle tension, soothe digestion, and reduce anxiety, which may help induce sleep.
Sip a cup of hot chamomile tea after dinner. But don't drink it too close to the bed or you may have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
Hops, passionflower, and kava are other herbs that are often used for insomnia. As with chamomile, they have not proven their effectiveness in studies.(17)
Warm Milk and Honey
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. The secret is in the combination of tryptophan, an amino acid known to induce sleep, and carbohydrates, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Tryptophan 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.
8) Take a hot bath
Turns out, you’re never too old for a bubble bath, especially when it comes to natural sleep aids. Women who took a hot bath before bed fell asleep faster and reported a higher quality of sleep than women who simply went to bed, according to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology. Don’t have time for a full soak? The researchers found that simply doing a warm foot bath before bed had similar sleep-inducing powers.
9) Check your medications!
Many medications can interfere with sleep, including beta-blockers, thyroid medication, decongestants, medications containing caffeine, and certain antidepressants, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your pharmacist or doctor about changing dosages or medications.
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