There's nothing better than waking up after a good nights rest, but millions suffer from insomnia and have trouble falling or staying asleep. Our bodies need sleep to recharge and repair on a cellular level from the day's activities and without sleep, it's even possible to go insane. For your physical and mental health, you have to sleep!
The problem is that many people don't want to be dependent on medications, that and sometimes you can't risk oversleeping – something these medications often cause. Whether it's the side effects, the oversleeping, or simply the cost there are plenty of reasons to go natural when trying to find sleep aids.
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What makes you sleepy?
Tiredness is the result of several chemicals working together in the body to signal they are low and need time to recharge. The most important are melatonin,serotonin, 5-HTP, and tryptophan.
They all work in harmony to get you to relax and nod off. Tryptophan is the most important, it's an amino acid and it only comes from foods. Tryptophan actually breaks down into 5-HTP which is then converted into serotonin and subsequently melatonin. This chemical process is in effect your internal body clock.
Your body produces the most melatonin at the end of the day to make you sleepy, but if you don't have enough Tryptophan to start with this process can't happen.
Why Natural Sleep Aids?
The biggest worry with synthetic supplements is that you just don't know what's in them. While the chemical compounds may be similar there're lots of reasons your body won't treat them the same while natural products ONLY have natural ingredients.
These are easier for the body to absorb and you know your body can process them right. The word “natural” is deceiving, though, you want to choose organic or therapeutic grade as often as possible because “natural” is an unregulated term meaning it can be slapped on anything.
As well as the ingredients being better for your body they're also better all round. Natural supplements also contain the antioxidants and enzymes found in the product itself to boost the effect on your body. Your body is also less likely to become reliant on these ingredients which make them perfect for short term problems too.
Supplements for a Better Nights Sleep
Also known as a calming herb the supplement increases GABA in your body and does act as a mild sedative. If you're struggling to switch off and relax this might be exactly what you need.
It's also a good natural anxiety supplement since it's a lower dose (and natural) version of what prescription anti-anxiety medicines do. It can be a little pungent but you can get it in capsules or make a tea from it. If you decide to make a tea you'll want at least 1 teaspoon of the dried root and drink it right before bed.
Linden Leaf Tea
Another calming tea remedy is Linden leaves. It's a non-narcotic that is commonly used to treat blood pressure and is full of antioxidants. The active ingredient is farnesol which relaxes the cardiovascular muscles so that you feel less stressed and more relaxed.
It lowers your blood pressure by acting as a calcium channel blocker, something that your body should be doing naturally as you go to sleep.
Linden is something to only be used sporadically because it can have a strong effect on the heart and should be taken before bedtime.
If you've ever taken it accidentally as a morning tea you'll find out that the entire day is spent trying not to nod off! Linden can interact with some medications and you should consult a doctor before using it.
You can skip the Tryptophan break down entirely and simply take melatonin itself. This is available as capsules or liquids but it's also found in many foods. Melatonin can also be used to treat cluster headaches and as a mild mood boost for people with SAD. Ironically the side effect of melatonin supplements is that it makes you sleepy!
You shouldn't use melatonin for long periods because it will affect your body's own ability to produce it and your body will also become accustomed to it, meaning that you won't be able to get the same effect.
The right dose is from 0.2mg to 20.mg a day and you should start on as low a dose as possible to make sure you don't experience oversleeping.
Lavender can be taken as a tea or diffused as an essential oil to get the benefits. It's a type of mint and is known for its relaxing and calming effect. You can also buy dried lavender and have it made into small pillows or sachets or use a hydrosol to mist your bed so that you can inhale the scent.
Studies have shown that people who fall asleep in a room smelling of lavender sleep 20% better since it increases slow-wave brain patterns found in deep sleep. This promotes relaxation and also improves memory during the day.
You probably know that poppies contain opioids which can be converted into drugs that cause total body relaxation and pain relief. These are a cousin of the opioid poppy and have been used to remedy sleep issues by the Native Americans for centuries. The poppy contains sedative alkaloids to relax you to sleep by calming the mind.
It's also been studied to produce better quality sleep by causing you to get into REM faster. It can be taken as a powder, tincture, or diffused as an oil. It's one of the most popular because unlike melatonin you are unlikely to wake up feeling tired.
A long known remedy for relaxation chamomile has a substance called apigenin which blocks GABA receptors and allows your body to calm. It has a mild sedative effect and it's got a very pleasant taste which is what makes it popular as a bedtime tea. ¼ cup of fresh chamomile flowers or 2 heaped tablespoons of dry flowers are enough to make 1 cup of tea but you can usually find it in bags at the store as well.
There are tons of other supplements that cause a mild amount of drowsiness such as St Johns Wort, Lemon Balm, Hops, Honey, Catnip, Turmeric, the list goes on. While these may work their effects have not been as pronounced in studies.
There's no reason you can't try them but they're simply not as strong.
Tart Cherry Juice
If there's one thing guaranteed to make you sleepy it's this. You only need 4-8oz but it's full of Tryptophan. This means your body will have plenty to turn into melatonin and you'll get drowsy quickly.
This will improve your entire schedule and you'll wake up feeling more energized too. In addition to its sleep benefits tart,cherry juice is also good for lowering the risk for heart disease and for helping to reduce pain from inflammation.
Studies by various scientific institutions have researched it and found that as little as 2oz a day can improve sleep duration.
Participants had increased levels of melatonin, spent more time in bed actually asleep, and were less likely to nap during the day. To make it more palatable mix 1oz of tart cherry juice to 12oz of water.
A traditional Chinese practice that has been used for thousands of years to correct many different medical issues. It works on the principal that Q or life energy flows through the body constantly, but sometimes the paths that it flows through can become blocked or misdirected. To rebalance this energy, acupuncturists stimulate the energy lines in the body using thin needles to open up these paths.
It's been shown to increase your body's natural production of Tryptophan and melatonin which will help your brain and body clock to be more efficient.
Eat Foods that increase Melatonin
Cherries are an obvious choice because they're packed with Tryptophan. Other fruits that are high in tryptophan include bananas, pineapple, oranges, oats, rice, tomatoes, barley and sweet corn. Pineapples and bananas are almost as effective as cherries since they raise melatonin levels between 180-266%!
Oranges can increase melatonin levels by around 47%. Tropical fruits are thought to be the best choice if cherries are not in season to boost your levels.
These foods are also high in magnesium which works as a neurotransmitter to improve GABA reception and calm your nervous system. Try changing your diet first before taking any supplements as this may be enough.
While you don't want to exercise immediately before bed (specifically because it will cause you to feel more awake) exercising in the afternoon increases your body temperature. Your body temperature naturally falls before you fall asleep and when your temperature begins to come down again after exercise you will often feel sleepy.
Exercise has been shown to affect your natural circadian rhythm by making a clearer differentiation in your body's sleep and awake time. This can also be done by exercising outside in sunlight where your melatonin levels will be affected. It may also work simply by tiring your body out.
Have a Bath
Hot baths are an ideal way to get your muscles to relax all over. A hot shower will work but a bath is better. Add some Epsom salts and lavender to ease any aches.
Hot baths increase your body temperature much on the same principal as exercise, so that when you get out and begin to cool off the drop in temperature will make you automatically feel sleepy. The steeper the drop in temperature the quicker you will fall into deep sleep and the faster you will fall asleep.
Create a Sleep Routine
Whether we like it or not most of us are creatures of habit. Having a routine helps teach your body that certain times are for certain activities. For example, we know that when we go to bed we should probably use the bathroom first to avoid getting up at night.
Giving your body a proper sleep routine such as putting on pajamas, having a cup of warm tea, brushing your teeth and climbing into bed (for example) are an ideal way to signal that it's time to sleep long before it is. By doing these actions repeatedly you can teach your body to relax via a routine.
Your sleep routine should promote winding down so you want to avoid television and noise and opt for calmer things like meditation or soft music
What to Avoid Before Bedtime
It should go without saying that drinking anything caffeinated before bed will keep you awake. But coffee isn't the only thing with caffeine in it and many mistakes other drinks as safe without realizing that they are adversely affecting their sleep. Cola products and many teas also contain caffeine in them.
Caffeine acts as a nerve stimulant so that you feel more awake which is ideal in the morning but very unhelpful when you should be winding down. If you really can't go without these drinks in the evening switch to a version that is caffeine free. You should not drink any additional caffeine after 3-5pm depending on your intended bedtime.
Looking at a screen has been proven to disrupt sleep. Avoid looking at your phone in bed or using a tablet or computer. If you have to install a blue light filter app on the screen.
Blue light comes from modern screens and it's towards the ultraviolet end of the spectrum, similar to that which comes from the sun. This can trick the brain into thinking it's seeing sunlight and it won't produce as much melatonin.
Some Final Thoughts
Insomnia and interrupted sleep have a great way of disrupting our lives and if you don't want to take traditional medications there are so many other choices out there.
Natural sleep aids that work, meaning supplements are a much healthier and safer choice and can be used for short term or long term without as much risk of side effects. Hopefully, after trying a few of these suggestions you'll be able to sleep better, longer and faster than before.