Did you toss and turn in bed last night, robbed of a rejuvenating deep sleep? Counting sheep didn’t help? Here are some natural home remedies for insomnia that will hopefully help you enjoy a more restful sleep.
Though insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, it’s a symptom (usually of some form of stress) rather than a disease. Of all the people who suffer from it — more than 60 million a year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Services — relatively few people with chronic insomnia discuss it with their doctor. For those who do, usually the only treatment suggested is sleeping pills.
Sleeping pills might help you fall asleep in the short term, but their efficacy usually wears off over time. Also, sleeping pills typically don’t induce a natural deep-sleep cycle that helps our body’s multitude of systems get a fresh start for the next day.
More natural treatments for insomnia include:
- Controlling the sleep environment
- Eliminating stimulants
- Maintaining a strict sleep schedule
- Natural herbal supplements
- Winding down at night and meditation
Watching television before bed: A no-no
Although suspenseful cable-TV shows about serial killers can be entertaining, especially after a long, monotonous day at work, watching TV right before bed can release adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) into your bloodstream.
If you have chronic troubles sleeping at night, try not to watch TV of any kind right before bed. You’ll also want to completely power down your computer, smart phone, iPad and all other wireless devices. Although there’s no concrete scientific evidence that WiFi devices can induce insomnia, it’s common sense that these devices won’t help you wind down at night, unless you have an app that mimics the sound of a babbling brook or migratory songs of whales.
Other environmental factors to consider include turning off all lights by 10 p.m., the hour that your cortisol levels should start dipping way down.
That cup of coffee you had at 3 p.m. could be keeping you up
The half-life of caffeine lasts for several hours. That means the effects of that big cup of coffee you had at work — which you gulped down perhaps because you didn’t eat enough throughout the day and now you’re feeling sluggish — lasts well into the night. By 9 p.m., several dozen milligrams of that cup of coffee is still active in your system. Sure, you may be able to fall asleep, but most likely you won’t enjoy a rejuvenating deep sleep.
Alcohol also can disrupt deep-sleep cycles. Although it can help you fall asleep, you’ll most likely wake up wide-eyed in the middle of the night if you have too much to drink.
Ben Franklin had it right
For those who work graveyard shifts, it might be impossible to live the motto: “Early to bed, early to rise,” but even those who have to work in the middle of the night can benefit from maintaining a strict sleep schedule, going to sleep at the same time every day. For those who work normal hours, try to be in bed by 10 p.m. with the lights out.
Try taking a hot shower or bath around 9 p.m. Add some all-natural bubble bath, Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) and light a candle in the bathroom. Lavender, for reasons that are not completely understood, has also proven in some studies to promote more restful sleep. Purchase some lavender and an essential oil diffuser and place near your bed.
Popping pills is OK, but try to take natural ones
Tryptophan is the amino acid found in turkey and is possibly the reason that millions of Americans get a restful catnap after a Thanksgiving holiday meal. Tryptophan is broken down into 5-HTP, which is then converted by the body into serotonin, which in turn is converted into melatonin, commonly known as the sleep hormone.
Melatonin as well as 5-HTP can be purchased at most natural markets that sell supplements. Consider starting with 5-HTP as it is converted into serotonin, the pleasure chemical that many people with depression don’t have enough of. Most of melatonin production occurs in the gut. Have your doctor or someone trained in lab diagnostics to check your melatonin levels. If they are low, it’s possible you may have a chronic gastrointestinal infection that you may not be aware of, which could lead to sleep disruptions because of low melatonin.
Exercise and meditation
Try to get regular exercise most days of the week. You can split up exercise routines into smaller segments during the day. But don’t exercise at a high-intensity late in the day, as you may have trouble winding down. The more stressful your life is, the greater the need for meditation, which ideally should be done every morning and night for at least 10 minutes.
Sleep journaling and CBT
The American College of Physicians suggests a type of counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT-I) as the first treatment to try for chronic insomnia. After releasing recent clinical guidelines, ACP President Wayne J. Riley, M.D. said,"Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is an effective treatment and can be initiated in a primary care setting. Although we have insufficient evidence to directly compare CBT-I and drug treatment, CBT-I is likely to have fewer harms. Sleep medications can be associated with serious adverse effects."
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia includes regular, often weekly, visits to a clinician, who will give you a series of sleep assessments, ask you to complete a sleep diary and work with you in sessions to help you change the way you sleep.
This story was originally written in September 2011 and has been updated with new information.