Getting consistent quality sleep is crucial to your health, and when you have difficulty sleeping at night, it can adversely impact how you function during the daytime. Sleep affects the balance of body and mind, and lack of it can disrupt moods, memory, concentration, and stamina.
For those who are affected by insomnia, getting enough sleep can be a major daily challenge. Acute, short-term, or chronic insomnia is the inability to fall or stay asleep, along with constant wakefulness throughout the night and waking up too early.
Prescription medications for sleep are known to be effective, but there are often concerns about the side effects of sleeping pills, such as day-after grogginess, risk potential of dependence and abuse, and interactions with other medications.
While pharmacological treatments may be a recommended course of action, there also are more natural alternatives to dealing with insomnia and getting better quality of sleep at night. Natural approaches may be more effective, sustainable, and lower risk for long-term relief from insomnia symptoms. There are a variety of techniques, remedies, and lifestyle changes you can try to improve your quality of sleep naturally.
Natural herbal remedies have played a role in civilization for thousands of years, and there is a reason why they are still in use today for addressing sleep disorders and disturbances. Herbal supplements are sold by natural grocers, pharmacies, and online retailers and are available for a variety of purposes, including sleep improvement.
Melatonin supplements are available in different dosages to help with sleep regulation and are considered a safe alternative to prescription sleep aids. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body that helps balance the sleep-wake cycle. If your body does not produce enough of it, taking a supplement can help regulate your melatonin production and improve your ability to fall and stay asleep.
Other herbal and natural supplements that promote better sleep include:
- valerian root
- lemon balm
- kava kava
When taking herbal supplements, it is important to check the dosages and make sure you take the appropriate amount. Taking too much melatonin, for example, can cause your body to stop producing its own melatonin altogether, and can have the opposite of intended effects on your sleep cycle.
Light Exposure Therapy
For people who have a disrupted circadian rhythm or other sleep disorder that affects their ability to go to sleep at night, light therapy or phototherapy can be beneficial for regulating sleep patterns.
The basis of this therapeutic approach is to get controlled exposure to the UV rays of natural sunlight, which can come from an artificial source such as a light box or visor. Repeated exposure to artificial sunlight can regulate your circadian rhythm and help you start sleeping on a consistent nightly schedule.
Light exposure therapy can also treat certain conditions such as:
- Seasonal affective disorder
- Jet lag
- Effects of overnight work schedules
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
Meditation and Relaxation Techniques
Meditation and relaxation are proven natural ways of decreasing stress and tension, and improving quality of sleep. Stress impacts hormonal balance, which is directly correlated with healthy sleep.
By incorporating meditation and other strategies to promote calmness in your body and mind, you can increase your physical and mental self-awareness. This can improve your breathing and reduce stress hormones.
Fitting physical exercise into your daily schedule is another simple lifestyle change you can make to improve your ability to wind down at night. Exercising for better sleep is considered one of the most effective and sustainable solutions for combating insomnia.
The biological reasoning for why exercise is so beneficial to sleep quality is that aerobic exercise, such as running and swimming, causes the body to produce endorphins. Natural increases in endorphin levels that occur during the day help the body and mind to get into a consistent rhythm of wakefulness and somnolence.
Exercise also increases your heart rate and body temperature. People tend to sleep better when their core temperature decreases. The body naturally cools down as it prepares for sleep, and warms up when it awakens.
Exercise can help you control your internal thermostat so it adapts to normal temperature fluctuations for going to sleep and waking up.
Herbal remedies are also used for aromatherapy to stimulate natural somnolence at bedtime. Herbs such as lavender are known for their therapeutic effects on olfactory senses and may induce relaxation and calmness.
Aromatherapy techniques can be as simple as lighting a lavender-scented candle or drinking lavender-infused tea at night. There are also lavender essential oils that can be added to anything from laundry detergent to a scent spritzer for your pillows.
Other popular herbs used for sleep-inducing aromatherapy include chamomile, patchouli, spruce, frankincense, and ylang-ylang, which can indulge your senses and sooth any tension you feel at the end of a long day.
Changes in Diet
Changing what you eat and drink during the day has a significant impact on your ability to fall asleep at night. Studies have demonstrated that certain food ingredients can help or prevent you from getting good sleep.
Caffeine and alcohol are known to aggravate sleep, especially when consumed later in the day and at nighttime. If you are having trouble getting to sleep and you drink either caffeine or alcohol or both, temporarily removing them from your diet can make quite a difference.
Foods that are high in sugar can also be disruptive to sleep. Replacing sugar with healthy and natural alternatives such as fruit can help give you more energy during the day and allow your energy levels to subside at night when you’re ready to go to sleep.
There are also certain foods that can help you sleep, including ones that are rich in magnesium and tryptophan, which are natural sedatives. Magnesium deficiency is a known cause of insomnia, as well as anxiety, irritability, pain, and constipation.
Foods that are high in magnesium include legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and dark leafy greens. Tryptophan can be found in certain nuts and seeds, turkey, fish, and dairy products. Consuming more of these foods can sustain a balanced diet and improve your sleep in the long term.