A Good Night’s Sleep Naturally
It goes without saying that we need adequate sleep for optimal energy, and for most this means getting seven to eight hours a night. In today’s world many are not getting enough sleep. Long work days, stress, health issues, and too much TV or computer time can all contribute to a reduction in restful sleep.
Sleep is vital to learning, memory, and performance. While you sleep the brain processes information gathered throughout the day and organizes it. According to Andrea Herman, the Director of the Better Sleep Council, "Getting a good night's sleep in a restful sleep environment is one of the most productive things anyone can do for themselves to improve their personal and professional quality of life."
Keep bed time and wake time consistent, even on the weekend. This helps strengthen the circadian rhythm, a biological clock in our brain that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
A relaxing routine before bed time can help you to unwind. Taking a bath, sipping on a cup of herbal tea, or light reading are all calming pre-bed activities. Try to avoid stressful or stimulating activities before bed such as work or video games and make the bedroom off limits for these activities. Exercise can help you sleep better if you do it earlier in the day, not right before bed time.
Avoid Alcohol, Limit Caffeine
Although alcohol may help you relax and fall asleep more quickly it won’t give you restful sleep. It will actually have you waking up more throughout the night as it wears off. With continued use as a sleep aid before bed, its ability to induce sleep actually wears off while negative effects on restful sleep increase. It can also increase snoring, thus also reducing your partners ability to sleep! If you are sensitive to caffeine, stop drinking it before noon. For some, a caffeinated drink later in the day can wreak havoc on being able to fall asleep at night.
Dark, Cool, and Comfy
The place where you lay your head at night is vital to sleep quality. Invest in a quality bed and pillow. If annoying light creeps in through the drawn shades, use an eye mask to keep things dark. A fan or other white noise device can drown out other noises than can interrupt sleep. If that doesn’t work, give ear plugs a try to get a peaceful nights rest. The optimal temperature for sleep is quite cool and generally ranges from 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, a cold shower just before bed may help improve sleep. Lowering your core body temperature helps induce sleepiness. (Presse Med. 1994 Mar 12;23(10):485-9.) If you prefer a warm bath to relax, enjoy it about 90 minutes before bed. After a warm bath body temperature should drop quickly, possibly helping to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
Chamomile tea is a popular herbal beverage that has been used for centuries as a natural sleep aid as it has very mild sedative effects. A recent 2011 pilot study found the greatest benefit to be improved daytime functioning with mixed results for improving sleep in those with insomnia. (BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 Sep 22;11:78.)
Valerian has been used since the 1600s for its calming effects. A review of available studies published in 2006 in the American Journal of Medicine suggests that valerian can improve sleep quality. Research also shows that it can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and it may be especially helpful for those with sleeplessness due to anxiety or nervousness. Continued use for several weeks may be necessary for full benefit.
Melatonin controls the body’s circadian rhythm, our internal daily clock. Darkness causes a release of melatonin while light inhibits its release. Research suggests that supplemental melatonin may be of most benefit to elderly who are deficient in natural melatonin. Jet lag sufferers and people who work the night shift may also benefit from melatonin due to circadian rhythm disruption. Melatonin has FDA drug status to treat rare circadian rhythm sleep disorders in blind adults and children.
Lavender has been used for centuries for its calming properties. Recent studies support this traditional use and have found that lavender aromatherapy can reduce central nervous system activity, promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. A study published in 2010 compared cardiac ICU patients receiving lavender aromatherapy with patients who did not receive aromatherapy. They found the patients receiving the aromatherapy had a much higher quality of sleep. Massage with lavender infused massage oils may also help ease anxiety levels. Germany’s Commission E has approved lavender flowers consumed as a tea for insomnia and restlessness.
A “power nap” may be just what you need to recharge your batteries during a mid-afternoon slump. A 20-30 minute nap can help improve alertness and performance without making you groggy. It may also help protect you from heart disease. According to a study published in 2007 in The Archives of Internal Medicine, regular nappers (3 times per week) had a 37% decrease in deaths from heart disease.
National Sleep Foundation
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Natural Medicine’s Comprehensive Database, 2012
University of Maryland Medical Center
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