Adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night to facilitate their best health and well-being. Anything less than that is technically called ‘short sleep duration,’ and its continuous appearance results in insomnia. Insomnia is defined as persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation, or quality. About one-third of Americans experience insomnia symptoms. Further, nearly 40 million U.S. citizens suffer from chronic insomnia. And those numbers continue to grow. However, there are plenty of natural remedies for insomnia that can be tried and practiced at home.
What you eat and what you don’t eat can play a major role in your sleep capabilities, especially as we age. Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can have a major impact on sleep, causing restlessness that results in disturbed sleep. Sugar can also be responsible for disrupting the sleep-wake cycle, causing blood sugar levels to spike and drop throughout the night. Basically, the foods and drinks that disrupt equilibrium will disturb sleep.
Add foods that help you sleep to your diet in efforts to treat insomnia naturally. There is mixed evidence on the effectiveness of L-tryptophan, a naturally-occurring amino acid that is a natural precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is the reason we need naps after turkey dinners. Other foods rich in L-tryptophan include chicken, eggs, tofu, fish, beans, milk, nuts, oatmeal and seeds. Further, foods rich in vitamin B6, such as wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and bananas enhance the body’s conversion of tryptophan.
You can also add magnesium-rich foods to your dinner for a natural sedative. Magnesium deficiencies can result in muscle tremors, cramps, anxiety, irritability, pain, and trouble sleeping. Foods rich in magnesium include legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, almonds, cashews, brewer’s yeast, and whole grains.
Cardio, strength training, and yoga may serve as natural remedies for sleeplessness. Cardio activities that increase your heart rate, such as running, walking, cycling, and swimming, have been shown to improve sleep. Doctors recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Muscle building exercises are also known to improve sleep quality.
Yoga aids a variety of issues that result in insomnia. Through relaxing poses and stretches, calming breathing, and mindfulness practice, yoga is known to help individuals fall asleep faster and increase time spent asleep. Yoga nidra is a highly recommended practice for inducing relaxation and sleep.
Just as yoga helps establish mindfulness, meditation’s benefits include relaxation of mind and body. Meditation reduces stress hormone levels, allowing the body to find homeostasis and long, calm sleep. Types of meditation to try include guided meditation, vipassana meditation, and body scan. Popular apps to help people discover and stick with meditation include Headspace and Breathe+.
Natural light exposure plays a key role in telling the body when to wake and sleep. Try turning down the lights in the evening to trigger the body’s melatonin production. Or, try to walk outside first thing in the morning to help your body wake up. Syncing your body with the day/night cycle helps regulate your body’s natural circadian rhythm, thus prompting you to fall asleep at an appropriate time and wake up easier.
It may sound counterintuitive to get out of bed when you’re trying to fall asleep, but the change in routine/cessation of struggle may help you recalibrate your body for sleep. Rather than continue to toss and turn in bed, increasing your anxiety and diminishing your chances for rest, try getting out of bed. Whether you make a cup of tea or stretch for 10 minutes, it may be the reset you need to get you back to calm ready for sleep.
Valerian is a herb often used to treat insomnia naturally, brewed as a tea or taken as an over the counter supplement. The root is believed to affect levels of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter in the body. Common recommendations for valerian include taking the supplement an hour before bed.
Chamomile is traditionally used to reduce muscle tension, ease digestion, and reduce anxiety. Its properties make it a popular sleep aid. Other herbs often used for insomnia include hops, passionflower, and kava.
Many store-bought teas and herbal supplements combine these herbs, though they can be sourced and taken separately. Further, while the herbs themselves may assist with relaxing the body, the routine of a nightly cup of tea may help your body ready itself for sleep.
Combining some of these tools for treating insomnia naturally may help establish a strong routine that prepares your mind and body for sleep as well. If stress is a main contributor to your insomnia, try to incorporate stress relieving activities into your routine. As with all conditions and treatments, it is important to talk to your doctor before embarking on a new regime.