It goes without saying that sleep is important. Sleep is how your body recuperates energy and leads to a better immune system, mood, digestion, and a longer and fuller life overall. Unfortunately, sleep is not always easy to get. About 40% of adults experience insomnia—they have difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Insomnia can either be acute or chronic (at least three times a week for over a month) or come from a number of physiological or psychological sources. Everything from stress, illness, hormones, and diet can play a role in how well you do or do not sleep.
Fortunately, there are various insomnia home remedies available that you can try to get a good night’s sleep.
Natural Remedies to Beat Insomnia
1. Keep the Sleep Schedule Steady
The human body likes consistency. Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same period each morning can help you fall asleep more effectively. This is because of the circadian rhythm, a biological clock that governs the hormones for sleep and wakefulness. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule helps the rhythm stay constant.
It is important to maintain a sleep schedule even when you might feel you can be lenient with it (i.e. on vacation or over the weekend). Short-term disruptions are manageable, but only when they are infrequent. Naps should be avoided both because they disrupt this schedule and because they make it harder to fully go to sleep later.
About half an hour of cardio or aerobic exercise can improve the quality of your sleep. This does come with a few caveats, however. It is important to remember not to exercise within four hours before bedtime. This is because exercise, generally speaking, kicks your body into a more active state.
The improved circulation, higher body temperature, and other effects exercise can cause may be good during the day, but they can keep you up at night. However, as these effects fade and your body cools down, it releases melatonin and makes you drowsy.
3. Wind Down
Just as you need time to wake up in the morning, you need time to wind down at night before going to bed. Taking an hour or so beforehand to brush your teeth, read a book, or engage in some other low-energy activity can help your body move away from being active and into a more sleep-friendly state.
One other possibility to help you wind down is to use an audiobook. It is harder to sleep when your mind is active, and focusing on following along with a story helps provide a distraction and clear your head. Calming music can work as well, of course.
4. Eat a Light Snack
Warm milk is a longstanding remedy for managing insomnia, but it doesn’t work exactly the way you think. Yes, warm milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, the same thing found in turkey that makes you sleepy. But it has small amounts and tryptophan can’t work unless it passes the blood-brain barrier—not an easy task. It doesn’t help that a protein-rich beverage like milk can actually weaken the ability of tryptophan to get through this barrier.
The solution is to give the tryptophan something it can piggyback on to get into the brain. A light snack of whole grain toast with some cheese, banana slices, a teaspoon of peanut butter, some fruit, or whole grain cereal will do the trick nicely. Remember to eat your snack about one hour before you plan on going to bed.
Related Reading: Why You Should Start Eating Cereal Before Bed
5. Make Associations
Your body can, to a certain extent, be trained to feel sleepy in the presence of certain stimuli. Something as simple as having a teddy bear that you only hold when sleeping can help trigger feelings of drowsiness. This is one of the reasons pre-bed rituals are important. Another step to take is to avoid your bed unless you are planning to sleep.
This can be trickier in, say, a dorm room or a small apartment, but it can be useful to train your body to associate the bed space with sleep and sleep alone.
6. Keep Cool
Your body produces melatonin when your temperature is lower, so finding ways to stay cooler in the night can help you sleep. There are a number of different ways you can try to lower your temperature in bed. Changing your sheets or blankets to something lighter can help during the summer, as can opening a window or turning on a fan. Another approach is to take a shower or bath prior to turning in, since the same effect will be achieved as your warmed body returns to its normal temperature.
By trying these methods alone or in combination, you should be able to find an effective remedy for your insomnia. While sleep disorders can arise on their own, it is also possible for them to have an underlying cause. Anxiety, illness, or medications are common sources for instance.
If there is a source of recurrent stress in your life, try taking steps to minimize it if possible in order to ease the mental burden. If you feel ill or think that your sleep troubles are a side effect of your medication, consult your doctor on what options are available. It is best to avoid using over-the-counter drugs to treat sleep disorders, as these tend to lose effectiveness over time and also form dependencies.
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Sources for Today’s Article:
Breus, M., “Warm Milk, True or False?” WebMD web site, January 23, 2008; http://blogs.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/2008/01/warm-milk-true-or-false.html.
Dumain, T., “20 Ways To Sleep Better Every Night,” Prevention website, April 7, 2014; http://www.prevention.com/health/sleep-energy/20-ways-sleep-better-every-night.
“Insomnia (Chronic and Acute Insomnia) Causes and Symptoms,” WebMD web site, http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/insomnia-symptoms-and-causes?page=2#1, last accessed October 29, 2015.
“Sleep Drive and Your Body Clock,” SleepFoundation.org, https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/sleep-drive-and-your-body-clock, last accessed October 29, 2015.