It doesn’t take a doctor or health expert to figure out that proper sleep is one of the most important steps a person can take towards optimum energy, an active mind, glowing skin and a longer, healthier life.
Good Sleep Vital to Health
On a physical level a decent night’s shut-eye promotes cellular rejuvenation and boosts the immune system while on a mental level it helps us to process thoughts and experiences. Without sleep our bodies quite literally shut down.
Insomnia is a condition characterized by an inability to sleep. It has an array of causes, including medical and psychiatric. Insomnia can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term) and, as such, the causes vary. The most common cause of acute insomnia is life circumstances that may lead to anxiety, apprehension, or stress. For example, after receiving bad news. This kind of insomnia will often resolve on its own.
Chronic insomnia is most often caused by poor sleep habits, untreated or uncontrolled medical conditions, and medications. These occur when the sleep-wake cycle is disrupted on a regular basis which then results in incomplete REM cycles or difficulty falling asleep altogether.
Scientists say that between six to eight hours a night is enough sleep for most of us. This turns out to be the basic amount of sleep we need to function comfortably in our daily life. Beyond that, sleep is an enjoyable time filler but is not essential. Just like food and sex, most of us would like to have more sleep than we need simply for enjoyment. However, sleep needs vary according to each person. The key is finding out what works for you.
At some point or another, most of us will experience a short, unpleasant bout of insomnia. Often, it’s the result of stress or a change in routine (like a new work schedule or having a baby), or medications that mess with sleep like antidepressants, blood pressure meds, allergy meds, and corticosteroids. The good news is that usually, once you find a way to deal with the situation, your sleep pattern will get back to normal.
Aside from the obvious grogginess and irritability associated with insomnia, poor sleep can have negative effects on your health.
In the short term, poor sleep can contribute to slowed reflexes and cognitive abilities. This can increase the risk of accidents. In fact, moderate sleep deprivation has been shown to cause motor and cognitive impairments similar to that of alcohol intoxication. For longer-term cases of insomnia, you may also be dealing with an increased susceptibility to many conditions including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, anxiety, and depression.
Natural Insomnia Remedies
Though insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, it’s a symptom (usually of some form of stress) rather than a disease. Of all the people who suffer from it — more than 30% of adults, or 60 million people, according to the National Sleep Foundation — relatively few people with chronic insomnia discuss it with their doctor. For those who do, usually the only treatment suggested is sleeping pills.
Sleeping pills might help you fall asleep in the short term, but their efficacy usually wears off over time. Also, sleeping pills typically don’t induce a natural deep-sleep cycle that helps our body’s multitude of systems get a fresh start for the next day.
If you’re suffering from the symptoms of insomnia at night and feeling sleep-deprived during the day, you’re not alone. Get a better night’s rest using one or more of these sleep-inducing foods, supplements and tips and techniques.
Lavender is probably one of the most popular natural sleep remedies as it’s known for its calming effect in aromatherapy. Studies suggest that lavender can help you relax, and even induce drowsiness. Placing some in your bedroom, or making a sleep sachet, may well help you nod off at night.
Mindfulness meditation consists of slow, steady breathing while sitting quietly. You observe your breath, body, thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they rise and pass. Mindfulness meditation has numerous health benefits that go hand-in-hand with a healthy lifestyle promoting good sleep. It’s said to reduce stress, improve concentration, and boost immunity.
A regular meditation practice may help to promote sleep by slowing breathing and reducing stress hormone levels. Meditation is a technique that involves consciously directing one’s attention to an object of focus (such as breathing or a sound or word) in order to increase awareness, relax the body, and calm the mind.
Melatonin supplements are widely recommended for various sleep conditions, but the best evidence is for help with sleep problems caused by shift work or jet lag. Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the brain. It is produced from serotonin when exposure to light decreases at night. It is used in conditions where sleep is disordered due to low levels of melatonin at night such as aging, affective disorders (e.g. depression), delayed sleep-phase disorder, or jet lag.
Yoga has been found to have a positive effect on sleep quality. Yoga may also alleviate stress, improve physical functioning, and boost mental focus.
Choose a style that focuses more on moving meditation or breath work as opposed to difficult physical movements. Slow, controlled movements allow you to stay present and focused. Yin and restorative yoga are great options. Strive to do a few longer sessions each week, and at least 20 minutes of daily self-practice. Performing the postures before bed can help you to relax and unwind.
Exercise has long been associated with higher quality sleep. While the research has mainly been done on those who don’t have insomnia, studies are suggesting that staying committed to a regular exercise routine can indeed improve the quality and duration of your sleep if you do. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research showed that after six months of exercising 120 minutes a week, participants reported significantly reduced insomnia symptoms. They also had significantly reduced depression and anxiety scores.
Valerian is a flowering plant native in many parts of the world including Europe, Asia and the Americas. You can use its root as a form of sedative, making it a popular sleep remedy. The root is the useful part of the plant, and is actually approved in Germany by their herb regulatory agency and readily available in supplements.
Like chamomile tea, folk practitioners have turned to the root of this flowering plant to easy anxiety and promote relaxation. And it works: According to a review of sixteen studies, valerian root is shown to help people doze off faster and sleep more soundly. It might not be ideal for long-term use, though, so talk with your doctor before starting a valerian regimen.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, listening to calming, soft music as you doze off could be a solution. A report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that listening to music before going to bed may help improve sleep quality. Just make sure you’re picking something soothing, and that you set it to turn off after a while, preferably when you’re already deep in dreamland.