March is Insomnia Awareness Month, and studies have shown that 35% of Americans suffer from occasional insomnia, while at least 10% suffer from chronic insomnia (1). If you are fortunate enough to have never suffered from this (often debilitating) condition, it can be difficult to understand the very real and profound impacts it has on your life, and why people with insomnia are so desperate to find a cure, and a cause.
The truth is, insomnia can occur for many reasons and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For some, it might be easily connected to a stressful event or phase, a medical condition, or your kids struggling with their sleep. For others, insomnia comes on just as randomly as it goes, and figuring out the why’s and how’s can make it seem nearly impossible to find a solution.
For these reasons, the pharmaceutical industry makes a pretty penny on sleep-promoting or enhancing drugs every year. Poor sleep has been linked with an increased risk of diseases such as obesity (2), while good sleep can help you lose weight and be healthier (3).
For certain individuals, drugs might be necessary (hopefully for just for the short-term, but possibly in the long-term, as well), but for many, there are several natural steps you can take to improve your sleep. The term sleep hygiene is a form of both prevention and treatment of insomnia that really can work, but it takes commitment and patience.
Without further ado, check out these 7 ways to naturally combat insomnia:
Turn Off Technology
The research is clear: screen time before bed leads to poorer sleep, especially for those with insomnia (4). Melatonin is the hormone that our body naturally produces when darkness sets in, so exposing yourself to artificial light (especially the blue light from screens) in the hour before bed can throw off this delicate hormonal balance, making it physiologically harder to wind down (5).
Supplementing with melatonin for a short time can also help reset your circadian rhythm (especially helpful if you work a night shift or for whatever reason have trouble feeling tired at night). Only a very small dosage is needed for sleep, but check in with your healthcare provider to determine what’s right for you.
Whether you develop the practice of jotting down a gratitude list before bed or writing in a journal about your day and your worries, this can be a very helpful practice to improve your sleep. Especially if you tend to lay in bed ruminating over tomorrow’s to-do list or life’s stressors, journaling is incredibly therapeutic.
Create a Peaceful Sleep Environment
Make your bedroom a sanctuary. Obviously this will look different for each person, but make it into a space that is just reserved for sleep (and time with your partner). Fill it with things that bring you peace, whether that be candles, incense, plants, decorations, etc. Keep it as tidy as possible, because going to bed in a messy room is stressful for most people.
Find a Supplement Regimen that Works for You
There are seemingly thousands of natural sleep remedies on the market, and you could spend a small fortune trying them all out. Which ones are right for you depends on your sleep history and specific issue, and as with any supplement or herb, it is best to consult a qualified practitioner (especially if many haven’t worked).
For example, valerian root has been shown to help you stay asleep and achieve more restful sleep (6). Magnesium is a crucial mineral that is essential for stress management and relaxation, and some people find it extremely helpful with sleep (7). Lavender can have a powerful calming and sedative effect (and the essential oil version is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, which is a plus). (8).
There are many supplement options, so discuss with a practitioner or head to your local health food store that has a natural medicine section, most are staffed with trained professionals (herbalists, naturopaths, etc) to help.
Practice Deep Breathing or Meditation
Studies show that mindfulness meditation and deep relaxation techniques can truly make a big difference in sleep quality and being able to fall asleep and get back to sleep after night wakings. There are many ways to go about this, so explore a technique that works for you (or better yet, sign up at a local meditation center for a group or class, they are often free). Remember, meditation is a practice, so understand it will probably feel difficult and simply stick with it, as the benefits are numerous.
Get Bright Light During the Day
Similarly to how bright light as night is counterproductive for sleep, getting plenty of light during the day is necessary. Your body’s circadian rhythm is the way it naturally keeps time, and it does so by the natural dark and light cycles of a 24 hour day. Studies are clear that getting plenty of bright light during the day helps to keep our circadian rhythm on track, meaning we have more energy during the day and sleep soundly at night (9).
If for reasons of work or if you live in a particularly cold, dark place, you might need to consider artificial bright light devices like special bulbs or a lamp.
Exercise, but Not at Night
Exercise can certainly help you to sleep better at night, but timing is important for those with sleep problems. Studies have shown pretty incredible results with exercise and sleep, finding that average times to fall asleep initially and during the night decrease by over 50% with regular, daytime exercise (10).
However, exercise is stimulating, so most people with sleep problems will find that evening workouts make it harder to fall asleep.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to finding a solution for insomnia, but experimenting with these suggestions and supplements can definitely help. If necessary, consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which has had excellent results in helping with sleep disorders.
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