Do you spend restless nights tossing and turning in bed unable to get to sleep? Insomnia can leave you feeling fatigued and sleepy during the day as well as cause irritation, impaired concentration, and even depression. But if bouts of sleeplessness are getting you down, there are plenty of natural and alternative remedies you can try.
Sleep, like many other bodily functions, ebbs and flows cyclically in accordance with the 24-hour circadian rhythm. That is, your sleep-wake cycle is regulated by your internal clock which, in turn, is influenced by the natural cycle of darkness and light. And melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep is produced by your brain during night time. Psychological conditions like stress, anxiety or depression, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, or medical conditions like asthma, gastroesophageal reflux, or conditions that cause chronic pain etc. may lead to insomnia. While it is important to identify and treat any condition that lies at the root of your insomnia, some natural remedies and healthy habits can also help you.
If you often have trouble getting a restful night’s sleep, you might need to make changes to your bedtime habits. Following healthy sleep habits consistently can help you sleep better regularly. Here are a few ideas that you should incorporate into your nightly routine.
One of the reasons that many of us have trouble falling asleep is that worry and stress crowd our mind just when we go to bed. Relaxation exercises can in many cases help manage stress and promote restful sleep. Here are a few techniques that you can try:
If you have insomnia, you might think that spending more time in bed may be helpful. However, though counter intuitive, the opposite is true. In fact, a technique known as sleep restriction, which is often used to tackle insomnia, restricts the amount of time you spend in bed. Here’s what you do.
You limit the amount of time that you spend in bed to time that you actually sleep. But don’t get up earlier, instead stay up later. So if you get up at 6 in the morning and you plan on spending 6 hours in bed, make sure you stay up till 12 in the night. Once you start sleeping soundly for those 6 hours, you can spend 15–30 minutes more in bed and maintain your new bedtime for about a week, and so on. Carry on this way, till you get a refreshing amount of sleep a night. It’s generally recommended that you don’t restrict the time you spend in bed to below 5 hours.
Light therapy, which essentially involves exposure to light, can also be helpful in some cases of insomnia. As we’ve already seen, your biological clock which controls your sleep patterns is influenced by the cycle of darkness and light.
For people who have trouble getting to sleep early and waking up early (delayed sleep phase disorder), morning bright light therapy can help shift the circadian rhythm. Get exposure to sunlight between 6–9 am in the morning for around 30 minutes to an hour. If you don’t have access to naturally bright sunlight in the morning, you can place a commercial fluorescent lamp at arm’s length. Keep to dim light in the evenings and stick to relaxing activities such as listening to calming music or reading a book. You should see an improvement in 2–4 days though you’ll need to continue your new pattern for about a month for it to get established. And remember to stick to your regular bedtime schedule on weekends. Sleeping in can rob you of exposure to morning light and cause your body clock to shift.
If, on the other hand, you can fall asleep early in the evening without trouble but wake up too early in the morning (advanced sleep phase disorder), evening bright light therapy may help. Here you get exposure to bright light in the late afternoon, early evening, and even late evening. Take a walk and spend time outdoors in the early evening. Use artificial light if natural light isn’t available in the evening, such as during winter. Continue to keep the lights on as you watch TV or go about activities in the evening. Avoid bright light in the mornings and wear sunglasses if you go out. Light exercise in the early evening can also be helpful. In a week or two, you should feel less sleepy in the evenings, be able to sleep for longer early morning, and get more sleep overall.
Another popular remedy for sleepless nights, nutmeg has also been found to have sedative powers in scientific studies. It also helps ease anxiety that is often at the root of insomnia. Stir 1/8th a teaspoon of nutmeg into a glass of warm milk and take this an hour or two before going to bed.
Chamomile tea has traditionally been used for promoting sleep. And research shows that it does help you get to sleep faster. It contains a flavonoid known as apigenin which binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain and induces sleep. Treat yourself to a calming cup of chamomile tea an hour before bedtime so that you can fall asleep effortlessly.10 To prepare a cup of chamomile tea, steep 2–3 teaspoons of dried chamomile for around 10 to 15 minutes in boiling water.
Studies show that like valerian, the scent of vetiver too can have a sedative effect. Add vetiver essential oil to a diffuser to inhale its sleep-promoting fragrance. You can also make a signature sleep fragrance blend by adding the essential oils of vetiver, valerian, lavender, and clary sage. This blend can even be diluted in a carrier oil and added to your bath water for a soothing bath that lets you drift off easily. Aromatherapists suggest that applying a tiny amount to your abdomen may be helpful too.
Another well-known remedy for insomnia is valerian tea. Research indicates that this sleep aid binds to GABA-A receptors in your brain to exert a sedative action. To prepare valerian tea, steep a teaspoon of chopped roots in about 8 ounces of cold water for a night. Experts recommend not using hot water for preparing valerian tea as the heat may diminish its beneficial properties. Drink up about 30–45 minutes before you go to bed for a sound night’s sleep.
The ancient technique of acupressure can also help you tackle insomnia. Studies show that applying pressure to certain points in your body known as acupoints can not only help you fall asleep quicker, it can also improve the duration and quality of sleep. Stimulating the following acupoints has been found to help promote sleep:
Here’s another sleep-inducing fragrance. Research indicates that compounds present in lavender such as terpineol and linalool have a relaxing effect. A few drops of lavender oil added to your diffuser should do the trick. Interestingly, studies show that aromatherapy with lavender works better as a treatment for insomnia in women than in men though it’s not yet clear why this is so.