How to Sleep Better the Natural Way
A Good Night's Sleep Without Medication
Sleep is vital to our well-being, but if you are not getting enough of it you probably already know this. Lack of sleep can cause mental and physical impairment, mood swings and a weakened immune system. Long periods (days) without sleep will lead to hallucinations, increased blood pressure and other health problems.
There are many reasons why people have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and just as many methods and medications to help them. In fact, with all the medications on the market, getting a good night's rest should be easy, right? Just pop a pill, tuck yourself in and drift away to dream land.
Unfortunately, most, if not all commercial sleep medications (and some natural ones,) have side effects and can be habit-forming. These prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids are temporary solutions to the problem. The only way to ensure you get to sleep and stay asleep for a reasonable amount of time is to use natural methods, and occasionally, natural sleep aids.
Good Habits for a Good Night's Sleep
Good life habits are also good sleep habits. Try these tips for sleeping well without medication:
- Eat a healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables and clean proteins
- Exercise every day, but take care to exercise within your limits. Overtraining can lead to insomnia
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Although an alcohol induced slumber may feel like the sleep of the dead, it is hard on the body and not a long term solution. Research also shows that a 'drunk' sleep is not as restorative as it feels. Then there are all those empty calories night after night...
- Avoid the computer, television or other media devices the hour before going to sleep. The light from these devices can trick the brain into thinking the day is winding up instead of down.
A Regular Sleep Routine
Regular sleep routines are important for regular, deep sleep. When we are babies, if our parents were smart, they taught us to sleep on a regular schedule. We were fed, the lights were dimmed or turned off, then came some soft music or a lullaby, maybe even the gentle sound of the ocean waves gliding into shore.
Well these same cues can work for us as adults if we use them. We also have the opportunity to be much more creative with our routines as adults. Try these sleep routine tips for a better nights rest:
- Go to bed around the same time every night. If you miss a couple of nights try to refill your sleep 'bank' by going to bed early a couple of nights.
- Play mellow music in the time before bed.
- When it is time to go to sleep, make the room quiet. Close the doors and windows if necessary, or use earplugs.
- Dim the lights, darken the room. Wear a mask over your eyes if there are light sources that cannot be turned off (e.g. street lights)
- Read (and then dim the lights)
- Take a relaxing bath. Add some 'slumber-friendly' scents like lavender, jasmine or cinnamon. Stay awake until you get out of the tub, please.
- Do a hard resistance training (weights, etc.) workout in the evening. 2-3 hours before bed should help you sleep and not keep you awake. Avoid long cardio sessions too close to bedtime.
- Have sex!
- Make sure you are comfortable. Replace uncomfortable pillows, elevate your head if necessary and so on.
- If you are hungry, have a small snack. Keep in mind that overeating may keep you awake.
Prescription Sleep Medications
Prescription sleep medications are one solution for chronic insomnia, but there are good reasons to avoid these strong prescription sleep aids. At the very least, they should be a last resort and used on a temporary basis. Just as insomnia can cause serious health problems, some prescription medications have severe side effects.
Ambien/zolpidem: A strong sedative/hypnotic known to cause sleepwalking, hallucinations and retrograde amnesia in some users. Ambien may cause allergic reactions and can be habit-forming. It is intended for short term (7-10 days) use only.
Restoril (tamazepam:) A benzodiazepene for short term use only. Like Ambien, this drug can cause short term amnesia, and users have been known to exhibit odd behavior when taking this sleep medication. These include waking up and driving, cooking, engaging in sexual conduct, aggressive or unusually outgoing behavior and more. Restoril may worsen existing depression symptoms and has a long list of contraindications.
Lunesta (eszcopiclone:) Like Restoril and Ambien, Lunesta is an oral prescription sleep medication intended for temporary use. Like the others, it can be habit-forming, especially if not taken as directed or when taken for too long. Even when taken as directed, patients may experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, cramps, shakes or cold sweats.
All three of these popular prescription sleep medications are sedative/hypnotics that may be habit forming, can cause potentially dangerous behavior while under their influence and may cause short term amnesia. In other words, you won't remember the crazy things you did the next morning.
Avoid These Habits for a Better Night's Sleep
There are certain activities and actions more likely to keep people awake than others. To ensure a good night's rest, keep these tips in mind:
- Avoid anything with too much sugar or caffeine close to bedtime. This means no coffee, tea, chocolate and of course energy drinks.
- If you are used to watching television, take it out of the bedroom. Over time you are sending a signal to your brain that being in the bedroom means getting ready to sleep, not watch TV.
- Eat smaller meals. Big meals take time to digest and can cause gastric distress. The bottom line? It is hard to get to sleep when your body is working hard on the 2000 calorie meal you just ate.
- Avoid having a regular alcoholic 'nightcap' and focus instead on teaching the body to go to sleep without artificial aids.
Natural Sleep Aids
Learning to sleep better without medication is important and empowering first step in conquering insomnia. However, sometimes we need something to put us over the edge into sleepland. We just want to avoid prescriptions with strange side effects or other unhealthy methods of falling asleep. Fortunately, there are several natural sleep aids to help people fall asleep without medication.
If a regular sleep routine including exercise, healthy eating, and a calming pre-sleep ritual are not enough, try one of these natural sleep supplements:
Valerian: Valerian root is used to make herbal valerian supplements, which have a sedative/anxiolytic effect on the brain. While the effects are not as powerful or immediate as prescription sleeping pills, regular use may help induce regular, longer sleep. As with any sedative, valerian should not be combined with other herbal or prescription sleep aids, alcohol or drugs.
California Poppy: The California poppy is a plant used for insomnia, anxiety, depression and other disorders. It is considered a mild sedative that slows down the nervous system to induce sleepiness and relaxation.
Melatonin: The hormone melatonin is produced by the brain's pineal gland and participates in regulating our circadian rhythms, or 'sleep clocks.' Production of the hormone increases when it gets dark and decreases as it gets brighter. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant.
As we age, we produce less of it, which can lead to insomnia. Night shift workers may also have trouble producing sufficient melatonin because they work at night and sleep during the day. Melatonin suppements can alleviate this problem and are available in pills, creams and lozenges. The average recommended melatonin dose is 1-3 mg, although some people use more and some less. Too much may cause a 'sleep hangover' the next morning.
Chamomile: Chamomile is a flowering plant used for centuries to induce sleepiness and relieve anxiety. Though some people may experience an allergic reaction to this plant, for those who can it is an easy to take, mild sedative. Chamomile tea is how this natural sleep aid is normally ingested.
Sleep Better Tonight
The best time to start a regular sleep routine and good sleep habits is today. The sooner the body begins learning the new routine, the sooner you will be getting to sleep faster and staying asleep longer.
Remember, good sleep helps maintain a strong immune system, optimum psychological health and mental awareness, as well as optimal physical condition. Teach your body the natural way to get to sleep and if you need help punching out for the night, reach for a natural herbal supplement.