Do you have problems initiating sleep or maintaining sleep at night? While others are enjoying hours of rest, insomnia stalks you and you wake up restless, irritable and tired? According to the National Institute of Health, around 60 million Americans experience chronic insomnia. Insomnia is not the occasional sleeplessness; it is a continual problem that needs to be addressed.
While chronic insomnia may be a symptom of another medical condition such as depression, heart disease, obesity, sleep apnea, lung disease, menopause or diabetes; insomnia can also be caused by emotional stress, physical health, lifestyle issues, sleep environment or sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
A 2008 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation reported that 12% of Americans use a sleep aid to help them sleep a few times a week. It is also found that natural remedies have gained popularity in recent years and for obvious reasons-traditional medications have known side-effects like grogginess, dizziness, headache, mild indigestion, even depression.
Here are some natural sleep-inducers:
1. Stress No More
Is stress holding your mind hostage? Has anxiety grown heavy arms of burden that threaten to rob you of sleep? According to Dr. Ralph Downey III, the spokesperson for the American Academy of sleep, “Sleep and stress are competitors. When stress is continually activating a part of your brain that is otherwise used for sleep, then stress wins the tug-of-war.”
Leave stress outside your bedroom. Relax and unwind with a hot drink, preferably a sleep inducer like Chamomile tea. Take a warm bath with your favorite essential oil to relax your body or allow the sedative qualities of aromatherapy to seduce you to sleep. Try Lavender, known to lengthen total sleep time, increase deep sleep, and make people feel refreshed. Other favorites include chamomile and ylang ylang. Some find comfort in little sachets of fragrances tucked in their pillows.
2. Relaxation Techniques
According to sleep experts, relaxation techniques are one of the most effective ways to initiate sleep and increase sleep time. Check these out:
a. Muscle Relaxation
Tense muscles can inhibit sleep. Lie in bed and allow each part of your body to relax. Breathe in and breathe out throughout the process. Let go of tension in your arms/legs/face/body and feel the tension dissolve.
b. Mental Relaxation
A mind crowded with nagging, negative thoughts can thwart any sleep attempt. Let them go-you have tomorrow and all the daylight to think about it but for now, allow them to float away. Fill your mind with thoughts that are pleasing and calming. Visualize a calming scene; employ your senses to feel them. Do you like the beach?-hear the soothing waves splashing against the sun-kissed shoreline, feel the gentle breeze and imagine yourself swaying in a hammock. Get the picture? The idea is to relax your senses and drift into slumber land.
Remember how people were told to count sheep and let the mindless counting put them in a sleeping stupor-how about counting blessings? It will make you feel blessed and happy and at peace.
Another excellent mental relaxation is music. Music has been found to improve sleep quality, decrease nightly waking and lengthen sleep time. Put on some soothing music and allow the music to serenade you to sleep. Gentle, slow music is best.
Right, blame it on the food but food can affect the chemical equilibrium in your body. If you’re sensitive to the effects of caffeine, avoid tea, coffee, soda-the usual suspects and ones you don’t think about-dark chocolates, cough/cold medicine and other prescription drugs. Avoid sugary stuff as too much sugar can boost blood sugar level and raise energy level.
On the other hand, you’re advised to eat foods that induce sleep. Magnesium is a natural sedative and taking magnesium-rich foods such as legumes, seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer’s yeast and whole grains can reduce difficulty sleeping, constipation, muscle tremors, anxiety, irritability and pain.
In particular, scientific evidences show that Tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in carbohydrates and certain foods, is the precursor to serotonin, a necessary neurotransmitter for inducing sleep and tranquility. Foods high in sleep-inducing Tryptophan include dairy products, soy products, seafood, meats (especially Turkey), whole grains and beans. Eat an hour before sleep time for the optimal results.
Yoga combines deep breathing, meditation and stretching to create body and soul harmony. A Harvard study revealed that doing daily yoga for 8 weeks can improve total sleep time, and shorten the time to fall asleep.
While exercise is a good way to tire your body and induce sleep, most strenuous exercises shouldn’t be done prior to sleep-time as your body will be too pumped up to fall asleep.
5. Observing the Circadian cycle
Circadian cycle is like your body’s internal clock that regulates your body’s rhythmic patterns according to exposure to sunlight. Light exposure tells the body when to go to sleep and when to wake up. By observing regular bedtime and wake time to keep it in sync with circadian cycle, you will be able to sleep better.
6. Natural Sleep Aids
This is one of the leading herbal supplements for managing anxiety and insomnia. Some studies show that Valerian may reduce time needed time to fall asleep and improve sleep quality.
Valerian is well-tolerated for up to a month to six weeks. Side effects may include headache and a “hangover” feeling and may impair thinking for a period of time in some people.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland in the center of the brain. The brain makes serotonin which is then converted to sleep-inducing melatonin when light decreases. Melatonin regulates the body’s circadian cycle and has been used successfully for sleep enhancement. Many people who suffer from short term insomnia due to jet lag take melatonin to help them get back to their regular cycles.
Studies show that it is safe to use melatonin for short term purposes (three months or less).
Also known as kava kava, kava is an herbal remedy used for stress and anxiety relief and insomnia. It works by inducing relaxation without hindering memory or motor function.
Controversies surround the use of Kava, as some reports show it can have serious adverse effects on users.
d. Passionflower (also known as maypop)
Another herbal remedy that is widely used to treat insomnia and “nervous” gastrointestinal complaints, it possesses calming action, similar to benzodiazepine.
All natural sleeping aids should only be taken after you have consulted with your health practitioner as some herbal remedies may interfere with medication.