Everybody knows that a good night's sleep is essential. However, sleep patterns change as we grow older, and the incidence of sleep disorders increases with age. Regardless of age or sex, here are sound tips for a good night of zzz's.
1. Secrets to Sleeping Soundly
There are many reasons why people have a difficult time staying asleep. The good news is that common problems with sleep are often easily addressed without the use of medication - there are no guaranteed natural cures for insomnia, but there are effective steps you can take. Ask yourself these questions (and try the simple sleep aid recommendations) if you find yourself waking frequently in the night:
- Are you physically uncomfortable? A too soft or too firm mattress, an uncomfortable pillow, or an older, worn-out bed can all impede a good night's sleep. Check your mattress for signs of wear at least twice a year, and consider new pillows. You may also want to see an osteopathic physician who specializes in osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT). A session or two of this safe and effective sleep aid treatment can be life-changing.
- Is your bedroom noisy? Consider a "white noise" generator, an inexpensive but effective device for making soothing sounds to mask jangling ones.
- Is your mind overactive? If you can't sleep because of thoughts whirling through your head, try the Relaxing Breath - it can help you put aside the thoughts that are keeping you awake. A few stretches can help with sleep aid, too.
- Are you frequently getting up to urinate and then not able to get back to sleep? Eliminate caffeine and alcohol, especially before bedtime - both can increase nighttime urination and increase sleep disturbances.
If you experiment with all these possibilities and still wake in the early morning hours, try getting up and reading or doing some light stretching - anything other than watching the clock and worrying about the sleep you're losing. Taking your mind off the problem can help to relax you and may help you to fall back asleep.
2. Understanding Insomnia
Insomnia is a relatively common sleeping disorder, affecting about one-third of the adult population worldwide. Insomnia is more common in women, but quality of sleep often decreases equally in both women and men as we age.
There are a variety of factors that can cause insomnia: stress (including anxiety about not being able to sleep), extreme temperature fluctuations, environmental noise or changes, medication side effects, hormones, or disruption to the regular sleep pattern. Depression, chronic pain, a variety of health issues and sleep apnea can also contribute to insomnia. Lifestyle can also affect insomnia - studies have shown that alcohol and caffeine intake and smoking cigarettes before bedtime disrupts sleep, as can excessive napping in the afternoon or evening.
These are not guaranteed natural cures for insomnia, but each may provide relief:
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine. Take a warm bath, go for a relaxing stroll, or practice meditation/relaxation exercises as part of your regular nighttime routine.
- Try to go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time each morning. This includes weekends.
- Get plenty of exercise during the day. Studies have shown people who are physically active sleep better than those who are sedentary. The more energy you expend during the day (preferable earlier in the day) the sleepier you will feel at bedtime.
- Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol, particularly in the evening.
- Avoid large meals late in the evening.
- Learn and use a relaxation technique regularly. Breathing exercises, meditation and yoga are good examples.
- Use "white noise" devices to block out surrounding environmental noise.
- Don't obsess about not sleeping. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that individuals who worry about falling asleep have greater trouble dropping off. It may help to remind yourself that while sleeplessness is troublesome, it isn't life-threatening.
- Short naps are good. Try to get into the habit of napping: ten to twenty minutes in the afternoon, preferably lying down in a darkened room.
- Spend some time outdoors as often as you can to get exposure to bright, natural light. If you are concerned about harmful effects of solar radiation, do it before ten in the morning or after three in the afternoon or use sunscreen.
- Try to give yourself some time (up to an hour)in dim light before you go to sleep at night. Lower the lighting in your house and bedroom and if other members of the household object, wear sunglasses.
- The two best natural sleep aid treatments are valerian and melatonin. Valerian is a sedative herb, used for centuries. You can find standardized extracts in health food stores and pharmacies. Take one to two capsules a half hour before bedtime. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the wake/sleep cycle and other daily biorhythms. Try sublingual tablets (to be placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve); take 2.5 mg at bedtime as an occasional dose, making sure that your bedroom is completely dark. A much lower dose, 0.25 to 0.3 mg, is more effective for regular use.
3. Avoiding Afternoon Slowdowns
Many people find themselves losing steam in the afternoon, due to a variety of reasons. If you experience afternoon slumps, ask yourself the following:
- Do you exercise regularly? Exercising can help keep your energy levels high, especially if you exercise in the morning.
- Are your lunches heavy in carbohydrates? Midday meals with lots of carbs can make you sleepy. Make sure your lunch has a balance of carbs and protein.
- Do your snacks come in the form of a candy bar? Stay away from refined and processed foods, especially products heavy on sugar. While they can cause an initial energy spike, they are usually followed by a decline in energy. Opt for a healthier snack, like fresh fruit, that will better sustain your energy.
- How do you combat boredom? Instead of slumping in your chair, get up and go for a brief walk, to get your blood flowing.
- How much coffee do you drink in the morning? A coffee drinker's energy cycle is usually controlled by coffee - energized early in the day, lethargic and slow in the late afternoon. Ginseng tea is a good coffee substitute, one that is less likely to make you feel sluggish in the afternoon.
4. Coping with Insomnia
Insomnia is a relatively common sleeping disorder, affecting about one-third of the adult population worldwide. Unfortunately, as we age, quality of sleep can decrease. While different types of insomnia have different causes, most people can find relief through natural remedies for insomnia, regardless of the source of their insomnia:
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine, and try to go to bed at the same time every night. Get plenty of exercise during the day. The more energy you expend during the day, the sleepier you will feel at bedtime.
- Reduce or eliminate your intake of caffeine, stimulants and alcohol. Even when consumed early in the day, these can affect sleep.
- Avoid large meals late in the evening.
- Learn and practice a relaxation technique regularly.
- Breathing exercises, meditation and yoga are good examples, although these are not sure-fire natural cures for insomnia.
- Don't obsess about not sleeping. Instead, remind yourself that while sleeplessness is troublesome, it isn't life-threatening.
5. Drowsing in the Afternoon?
Each of us has different patterns of high and low states of energy throughout the day. Some people find that exercise in the morning can go a long way toward keeping their energy level consistent during the afternoon. A secret known to those who have become habitual exercisers is that effort creates energy. Don't wait for energy to come when you are tired; as soon as you begin to feel that afternoon slump, shake it off by moving your body. Try taking a brisk walk after lunch. It may be what you need to keep you awake and alert the rest of the day.
6. Fighting Fatigue With Insomnia Herbs
If you feel worn down or are lacking energy due to improper sleep, a hectic schedule or day-to-day stressors, learn how to fight fatigue naturally with insomnia herbs. Taking a few minutes for yourself and doing simple breathing exercises can be helpful, as can daily moderate exercise and getting adequate rest. Certain nutrients, botanicals and other compounds can also help to ward off or lessen the effects of general fatigue. Experiment with the following insomnia herbs and natural remedies for insomnia:
- Magnesium and calcium. Oral magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve symptoms of fatigue in persons with low magnesium levels.
- Eleuthero or Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Studies show that Eleuthero can help enhance mental activity as well as physical endurance.
- Coenzyme Q10. This vital nutrient is involved in cellular energy production throughout the body.
- Ashwaganda, an Ayurvedic herb prized for its ability to help the body deal with stress.
- Cordyceps, a traditional Chinese medicinal mushroom that may help fight fatigue and boost energy levels.
7. Natural Remedies for Insomnia
Sleep is an important part of reaching your health goals. Shakespeare called sleep "the chief nourisher in life's feast." Adequate sleep is a primary component of a healthy lifestyle. Although often the undesirable result of our busy lives, insufficient sleep may also be indicative of imperfect health, and can itself lead to future health problems.
Here are some suggestions for getting the sleep you need to protect body and mind:
- Eliminate caffeine from your diet, especially in the form of soft drinks and coffee, as well as over-the-counter drugs (check the labels).
- Practice daily breathing exercises, and the relaxing breath when falling asleep.
- Take a warm bath before bedtime.
- Get at least 45 minutes of aerobic activity every day.
8. Sleep for Weight Loss
Want help achieving and maintaining a healthy weight? Aim for eight hours of sleep a night. Research suggests that appetite-regulating hormones are affected by sleep and that sleep depravation could lead to weight gain. In two studies, people who slept five hours or less per night had higher levels of ghrelin - a hormone that stimulates hunger - and lower levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin than those who slept eight hours per night. So make sure getting adequate sleep is near the top of your optimum health checklist!
9. Trouble Counting Sheep?
Insomnia is a relatively common sleep disorder, affecting about one-third of the adult population worldwide. Insomnia can cause severe sleeplessness and is more common in women, but the quality of sleep decreases equally in both women and men as we age.
Typical symptoms of insomnia include problems falling asleep, waking up frequently in the night with difficulty falling back to sleep, waking too early in the morning, and feeling unrefreshed when waking in the morning.
The causes of insomnia are varied. Noise, temperature changes, medication side effects, jet lag, and a change in surroundings can all cause insomnia, as can PMS, menopause, menstruation, or pregnancy.
If you suffer from insomnia, try to stick to a routine at bedtime, and go to bed at the same time every day. Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bedtime, and get plenty of exercise during the day. A dark room free of noise may also help-consider buying a "white noise" device if your bedroom is noisy. If you are having trouble falling asleep, try relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga.
10. Trouble Sleeping? Try Mantram
Mantram is the practice of repeating over and over in the mind certain syllables, words or phrases that help unify consciousness and counteract negative mental states. It is especially helpful for people with restless minds, whose turbulent thoughts keep them from relaxing, concentrating and falling asleep. The repetition of a verbal formula is a way of focusing the thinking mind and counteracting the damage done to both mind and body by thoughts that produce anxiety, agitation and unhappiness.
You can practice mantram anywhere, especially as a sleep aid and a natural remedy for insomnia- it is a totally portable technique, requires no training or equipment, and can be used in any circumstance, so long as you don't practice it while doing something that otherwise requires your undivided attention. Try experimenting with it - choose a word, sound or phrase that is pleasing to you, and repeat it. If your mind wanders, simply focus back on the word. You will be amazed at the results.