Natural Remedies for Insomnia
Natural Remedies for Insomnia
Insomnia is one of those ambiguous words that we all know, but might not really understand the full weight of its meaning. Some people think of insomnia as that feeling when you’re lying awake in bed, watching the minutes tick by as you wait for sleep to come, and others conjure up a twisted image of Brad Pitt from the 90’s hit film Fight Club. In reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that and lies somewhere inbetween.
There’s a difference between insomnia and having trouble falling asleep, with a whole range of other sleep disorders inbetween. Sleeping poorly is more akin to sleep deprivation, and is generally a response to environmental factors that are externally imposed to restrict your ability to sleep; for example, staying up late to study. Insomnia, on the other hand, is the cause rather than the effect.
It’s an internal medical condition that disables the ability to sleep, even when sleeping conditions are perfectly adequate. It’s been linked to poor job performance, increased risk of accidents and lower physical and mental health.
So how can you tell the difference between the two? What symptoms can you look out for?
Fatigue is the big one; if you feel yourself in a state of heavy fatigue several days a week without reasonable circumstance, it could be a sign of insomnia. Lack of concentration and irritability are others. Having a tendency to wake up too early in the morning and without going back to sleep, struggling to get to sleep in the first place despite being tired, or waking up regularly during the night (often a combination of all three) is another major sign, although it’s important to distinguish that this only indicative of insomnia when it becomes your regular sleeping pattern rather than the exception to the norm. Another sign to watch out for is if you start to build a reliance on alcohol or medication to fall asleep – even if it’s only a glass of wine at night, it could be masking a deeper problem.
Insomnia is one of the less understood sleeping disorders if any of these symptoms are ringing alarm bells and align with your sleeping pattern, be sure to take yourself to a doctor to discuss options.
In the meantime, there are some natural remedies you can try to help ease your insomniac symptoms.
Cut back on caffeine
Seems like a no-brainer, but we all know it’s easier said than done. Caffeine is a stimulant that gets your brain going and prevents you from getting drowsy, so in order to stop it interfering with your sleep cycle, don’t intake any caffeine in the eight hours leading up to the time you ideally want to fall asleep. To keep it safe, try to avoid any caffeine from noon onwards, and just stick to a morning cup (or two). Don’t forget; it’s not just coffee that contains caffeine. Tea, soft drinks and chocolate all contain caffeine too.
So what am I going to drink if I can’t drink coffee, you ask in a moment of panic. The best thing to drink before bed is a decaffeinated herbal tea. Decaf green or lemon tea are great if you don’t likethe taste of chamomile. Drinking a cup of hot tea before bed has a calming effect, and if you add a teaspoon of honey, the small dose of sugar about half an hour before bed has a sedative effect that puts your body in a sleepy state.
No alcohol before bed
What? No alcohol either?! Sorry folks. Even though alcohol is a depressant and slows the bodydown, making you drowsy and helping you drift off to sleep in the first place, it seriously affects the quality of your sleep. It disables you from reaching the deeper stages of the sleep cycle – REM (rapid eye movement). Without reaching these deeper sleep cycles, you wake up much more throughout the night, often with a headache, stomach ache or full bladder (because alcohol is alsoa diuretic). And once you’ve woken up, it’ll be harder to fall back to sleep because the stimulant effects will have worn off. So if you’re serious aback kicking this insomnia thing, you might have to rethink that nightcap.
Sex before bed
Finally, something you can get on board with! And there’s a scientific reason behind this, I swear! Hormonally, sleep and sex are connected. Oxytocin – sometimes known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ -is associated with sleep and released during sex. Women produce more than men do, but upon orgasm men also release prolactin; a hormone which is naturally higher during sleep. Intercourse also decreases cortisol production which causes stress, leaving the body in a relaxed state easier to fall asleep. Women’s oestrogen levels also heighten, enhancing the REM cycle for a deeper sleep. And hey, worth a shot, right?
Use essential oils to soothe your mind into a sleep state. Place a few drops onto a handkerchief, scarf or even just some tissues, press to your nose and inhale deeply and slowly for 10 breaths. Lavender is a good go-to scent, it’s a natural sedative and helps to ease an upset mind. Other scents to try include sage, frankincense and vetiver, which are all shown to help with feelings of anxiety and encourage a heavier sleep.
Seems a bit strange, but a glass of tart-tasting cherry juice twice a day has been found to help you sleep by boosting your melatonin levels. Cherry juice is a natural source of melatonin, a hormonethat helps to regulate your body’s sleep cycles. It’s a great alternative to your nightcap vino, because it has a similar taste and texture but without the alcohol content it can help your sleep pattern rather than harm it.
Valerian is a medicinal herb most commonly used throughout Europe. The whole plant contains chemicals called valepotriates, which relax the muscles and have sedative properties, but its most concentrated in the roots. The benefit of valerian over other substances is that valerian increases the amount of time you’ll spend in the deeper sleep cycle of REM and hence ensuring the quality of your sleep. It can also be taken in the form of a herbal tea.
Research shows that the prime temperature for the body to fall asleep is between 15-20 degrees celsius (60-68 Fahrenheit). Maintaining a cooler temperature helps to reduce metabolic activity in the brain, enabling the habit of a normal sleep cycle. Keep your temperature down with air- conditioning or a fan aimed at the bed, and wear light breathable layers or sleep in the nude!
These are all simple remedies you can easily do yourself to try and gain a better night’s sleep, insomniac or no. They’re all natural alternatives so that you can avoid pumping your body with manufactured sleeping pills, and the extent to which these remedies work will vary for each individual.
The best way to figure out what works best for you is to keep track of the options and combinations that you try, and log your sleeping pattern for each night. If symptoms persist,seeking a medical opinion is recommended. Sleep is vital for your wellbeing and cognitive function,
so give these a go and try to get a few more zzzz’s!