Insomnia is an incredibly common problem among adults today, especially in the United States. Stress, worry, the hustle and bustle of daily life, and overuse of brightly lit screens are all contributing to a culture of sleepless nights and tired days. Thankfully, in addition to medications, your doctor can prescribe, there are numerous home remedies and lifestyle changes you can make to work towards beating insomnia and getting a nice long, deep night’s sleep.
Simple changes like moving y our exercise routine to the morning, doing basic yoga, and eating more magnesium-rich food can all help impact rest. Read on for thirty practices that can help you sleep better.
Magnesium is not only an essential nutrient for a balanced diet, but it also plays a critical role in sleep. Magnesium plays this role by supporting the development of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps control healthy sleep. Low levels of magnesium can disrupt this process and lead to insomnia.
Foods rich in magnesium include tofu, many leafy greens, bananas, beans, many nuts and especially pistachios, dark chocolate, and avocados. Try adding banana to your breakfast oatmeal, some pistachios to your lunch salad, and avocados as a garnish on your evening meal to eat magnesium throughout the day.
Therapists often recommend yoga for people suffering from anxiety disorders thanks to its ground, meditative, and mindful practice. For those who have insomnia tied to worry and anxiety, yoga can be incredibly beneficial. Preliminary studies have found that yoga has a measurable impact on reducing insomnia.
Look for calming, nighttime-focused yoga videos to begin your practice. Avoid vigorous cardio yoga routines, unless they are part of your early morning exercise. Focus more on breathing and mindfulness than getting the poses precisely right, as it is the meditative aspect that can play a large role in reducing insomnia symptoms.
While sugar is undoubtedly delicious, it is a short-term energy source and leads to rapid changes in levels of blood sugar. If you eat a sugar bomb treat before bed, the resulting sugar rash can interrupt your sleep and lead to bouts of insomnia, especially if those sugar bomb nighttime snacks are a regular occurrence.
Depending on your overall diet and if you have any underlying health issues like diabetes, try either not snacking before bedtime at all or eat a longer-lasting snack like an apple, with its complex carbs and pectin, or nuts with their slow release of protein-based energy.
Melatonin is a vitally important hormone that regulates the sleeping and waking cycles within your brain. It is created from serotonin as your brain responds to decreased light at night. Melatonin is most useful for shift workers or those dealing with jet lag since it is the disruption of typical light and dark cycles that is causing insomnia.
In the European Union, melatonin is used to treat insomnia for those over age 55, as research has shown it to be most effective for older adults. Even though it is available as a supplement over the counter, please consult your doctor before taking melatonin as it can interact with some medications and the timing of the dosage is critical.
A supplement-free alternative for those whose sleep is disrupted by jet lag or shift work is light box therapy. Most commonly used for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, light boxes can be used at specific times to encourage wakefulness and help reset the body’s circadian rhythm.
Lightboxes are available over the counter and are steadily declining in price, with simple models available for under $100. In addition to light therapy, going outside for a short walk on bright, sunny days can naturally create much-needed light exposure. Most experts recommend about 30 minutes of natural or lightbox light therapy first thing in the morning.
Meditation refers to a broad range of mindfulness and visualization exercises that focus on centering the mind, breathing calmly and deeply, and other techniques to relax. Meditation can be something as simple as imagining yourself on a tropical island and thinking about the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings your senses would encounter on the island.
Guided meditation apps are widely available for smartphones, and there are CDs and MP3s and books for guided meditation exercises as well. Whether you do a body-focused meditation, like a routine where you ground your limbs into your bed or focus on your breathing or a more imaginative exercise like the tropical island scenario discussed above, any simple mindfulness exercise can reduce stress and make sleep more likely.
Hypnosis is a controversial subject since there isn’t an abundance of scientific evidence indicating whether or not it truly works or is merely relying on the placebo effect. However, since the placebo effect is most definitely real and powerful, if hypnosis might work for you, even for that reason, it’s worth a shot.
For insomnia, hypnosis is typically used to magnify and enhance the effects of relaxation techniques like meditation and visualization, or even to aid in therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT.) Many licensed therapists and mental health centers offer hypnosis in a safe and controlled environment, so check with your local mental health providers.
Acupuncture is a major component of traditional Chinese medicine that is widely practiced in alternative medicine throughout the west. The practice involves putting long, thin needles into targeted points on the body and leaving them in for fifteen to twenty minutes. Acupuncture is most commonly used for pain relief, but there is limited research indicating it may benefit people living with insomnia.
There is a great deal of scientific disagreement over the efficacy and science behind acupuncture, but as discussed with hypnosis, if you get relief, even though it’s merely from the placebo effect, is that not worth it? Make sure you choose a reputable acupuncture practitioner.
While this may sound like a no-brainer, many people who have insomnia are reluctant to blame their favorite coffee or energy drink for their nights of tossing and turning. Reducing caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening, is a vital first step for anyone having difficulties sleeping.
In addition to the usual suspects of soda, coffee, tea, and energy drinks, also make sure you are keeping an eye on hidden sources of caffeine that may be creeping into your diet. While chocolate is a natural source of caffeine, many gums and candies are now being “infused” with caffeine.
Aromatherapy, especially with lavender, has long been a folk remedy for difficulty sleeping. Lavender is a powerfully relaxing herb, and its warm and spicy scent is ideal for drifting off to sleep. Try a lavender essential oil in a humidifier with an oil diffuser, or put a sachet of dried lavender under your pillow.
While the science of lavender aromatherapy itself is not well studied, scent and memory are strongly connected. If you create a calming power-down bedtime routine that incorporates a specific scent, merely smelling it will help you get into the state of being ready to drift off. Other calming scents are chamomile, patchouli, and ylang-ylang.
In addition to caffeine, alcohol is an often overlooked substance that contributes to insomnia. While alcohol can often make you feel sleepy, it also works to prevent you from reaching the deep, restorative types of sleep our bodies need. If you go to sleep after drinking, you are more likely to wake up throughout the night and have unrestful sleep.
If you choose to drink, do so only in moderation and don’t drink too close to bedtime. Ideally, alcoholic drinks shouldn’t be consumed after early supper time. As an added safety note, never allow a heavily intoxicated person to “sleep it off” unsupervised.
Nicotine is a potent stimulant, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that smoking very likely contributes to insomnia symptoms. After smoking a cigarette (or vaping a nicotine product), your brain releases a shot of epinephrine which your body processes as adrenaline, which is the cause of those unpleasant panicky feelings you get after a near-miss car accident or another scary event.
If you are not ready to quit smoking or vaping nicotine products, try to avoid cigarettes later than supper time. Don’t chew nicotine gum or apply a new nicotine patch right before bed, as both will have a similar stimulant effect to smoking or vaping.
If you are interested in the sleep-regulating effects of melatonin but don’t want to take a supplement, try incorporating more tryptophan-rich foods into your diet. Often cited as the cause of post-Thanksgiving meal tiredness, tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted to serotonin, which then converts to melatonin.
Foods that are good sources of tryptophan include salmon, eggs, seeds like sunflower or pumpkin, poultry, and milk. Please make sure you also include foods rich in vitamin B6 in your diet, like bananas and wheat germ, as they aid in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.
Valerian, known by the scientific name Valerian officinalis, is a perennial wildflower native to Europe and Asia. Extracts from the plant, especially the root, are known to have sedative and anti-anxiety properties. The European Medicines Agency approved Valerian for use on mild anxiety and difficulty sleeping. In the US, it is sold as an unregulated dietary supplement.
Before taking any herbal medicine, please consult with your doctor as they are often as potent as pharmaceuticals and may interact with other health conditions or medications. As a sedative, Valerian should not be combined with antihistamines or other drugs that cause drowsiness.
Lemon Balm, known by the scientific name Melissa officinalis, is a perennial member of the mint family that is native to Europe and Asia but has naturalized and is now commonly found throughout much of the world including North America, where it grows well in most USDA hardiness zones.
A succulent plant, lemon balm has a very light mint flavor with a bright hint of citrus. It is often used in tea, solely for the pleasantness of its taste. In herbal medicine, it is commonly used both through ingestion and in essential oil as a sleep aid. Lemon Balm is lovely and easy to grow, so it’s well worth a try.
Chamomile refers to several different members of the Asteraceae family of flowering perennials native to Europe. The two most commonly used varieties, medicinally, are Matricaria chamomilla, commonly known as German chamomile, and Chamaemelum nobile, widely known as Roman Chamomile.
Chamomile is commonly used in herbal medicine as a gentle sleep aid and taken either as a tea or in capsule form. An important allergy note: many who suffer from ragweed allergies are sensitive to chamomile, so be careful if you deal with hay fever. As with all herbs, consult your doctor before use.
When you go to sleep, your internal body temperature drops as part of the circadian rhythm that controls sleeping and waking. While a somewhat cold room can help this drop in body temperature go smoothly, leading to an easier time falling asleep, a place that is too cold or especially too hot can wreak havoc with this temperature change and keep you awake.
If a room is too hot, you are more likely to keep waking up due to your internal body temperature being kept higher than it should be. A place that is too cold may make it difficult to wake up or leave you feeling drained. Try programming your thermostat to have a slightly lower temperature at night (approximately 18 degrees Celsius; 65 degrees Fahrenheit) that goes back up to the daytime temperature around an hour before waking.
There is something about listening to gentle waterfalls, chirping crickets, or even cars driving at night. A little background noise can go a long way when you are trying to get some shut-eye. If nothing else, turn on the fan. Some people leave it on all year long no matter the temperature!
You should not use your TV or even lyrical music as your white noise. Instead, stick to the instrumental sounds and soft noises so you can drift off into a pleasant rest. The TV will only keep you awake. Listening to the radio will have you dreaming of the song!
A partner who snores is an incredibly common complaint among those who have difficulty falling or staying asleep. If a partner’s snoring is keeping you awake, a simple and cheap yet effective solution may be earplugs. Sold near the eye drops in most drug stores, there are a wide variety of shapes and materials available.
Foam earplugs are cheap and soft but are porous, so they need to be replaced frequently to avoid bacterial build-up. Wax earplugs are more expensive but can be molded to fit your ear perfectly. Soft silicone earplugs are a happy medium between foam and wax but don’t filter noise as well for some people.
A lack of exercise can greatly contribute to poor sleep. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to built-up muscle tension and excess chemical and physical energy within the body. Working out also reduces stress and anxiety, so a lack of exercise can contribute to an inability to calm down at bedtime.
On the flip side, exercise creates a fair bit of adrenaline, which will keep you awake if you hit the gym too late at night or after work. For many reasons, including better sleep, exercise in the morning is the absolute ideal time. Even if it’s just a 20-minute walk around your neighborhood, morning exercise can contribute to an overall healthier body and better sleep.
While it has long been popular to have a television mounted on a bedroom wall for a bit of TV relaxation before bed, more and more research is showing that screen time in the bedroom is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. When you think about it, it mostly boils down to common sense. Watching an action or horror program before trying to go to sleep is really only going to lead to trouble.
If you must do anything in your bedroom before bedtime, try reading with the lights off and just an orange-toned book light to help your body wind down.
Almost all of us now keep our phones on our nightstands or even underneath our pillows. With this proximity, there is a constant temptation to make one more Facebook comment or Tweet or check the notifications from a favorite game. The ability to endlessly check the time during bouts of insomnia is also counterproductive.
If you use your phone as an alarm, keep it slightly out of reach and make sure your phone is on both do-not-disturb and blue light filtering mode, so it is as unintrusive in your sleep as possible. Please don’t sleep with your phone under your pillow for many reasons, including the possibility of it slipping out of bed and breaking!
While many feng shui elements are credited with improving sleep, there are tangible results to keeping your bedroom clean. Given that stress is a large part of insomnia and difficulty falling asleep, walking into your bedroom relaxed and ready to sleep only to find a pile of dirty laundry waiting for you is the antithesis of relaxation and comfort.
Keep your bed made each morning so you can turn down a nicely made, comfortable, clean mattress. Keep the bedroom clutter free and smell fresh. Try adding a low-light houseplant like a pothos or snake plant to help filter the air. An air purifier or humidifier can also help make a comfortable, clean space.
Going to sleep tends to be the end result of a routine inevitably. Your brush your teeth, you let the dog out, you lock the doors, whatever it may be. Wearing pajamas (or not, dealer’s choice) is part of that routine. Try to always consistently wear similar pajamas (or not) to bed, so that just feeling that same fabric (or lack thereof) makes you think of bedtime.
If you wear pajamas, make sure they fit comfortably and do not chafe or rub. Form-fitting garments are less likely to twist or bunch but may be more likely to cause you to overheat. Once you find something comfortable, stick with it!
We’ve all had those nights where we’ve tossed and turned for hours, and it’s apparent sleep just isn’t coming. It’s easy just to lay there and be angry, which will only make sleep more elusive. On nights like these, it’s ok to admit defeat! Sometimes, that admission, along with a change of scenery to a couch or favorite reclining chair, can be the ticket to finally falling asleep.
If you can’t sleep due to snoring, the room being too warm, or some other factor, try sleeping on your couch or a favorite chair. Bring along a book with light and try reading for a few minutes to wind down your mind.
As discussed above in the television item, sleep therapists recommend only using your bedroom for sleeping and sexual activity. Anything else desensitizes you to the relaxing nature of the space and makes sleep less and less of a foregone conclusion.
As much as possible, try to avoid reading, doing makeup, or spending too much time on any other activity in your bedroom. You want the space to be strongly associated with sleep and only sleep, so as soon as you enter the room, it becomes an important part of your power-down routine.
As mentioned earlier, sleeping tends to be the result of a nightly routine full of chores like brushing teeth, taking out contact lenses, and more. Make this routine into a complete power-down ritual by incorporating pleasant, relaxing elements like a cup of chamomile tea or spraying down your sheets with a bit of diluted lavender essential oil.
If you get into an easily recognizable routine that centers on relaxation, sleep should ideally come much easier once you actually settle into bed. Be sure to avoid vigorous physical activity, agitating media, or conflict with others while powering down.
While this should be a no-brainer since we follow this advice with our children, we so often fail to apply it to ourselves as adults. Everyone could benefit from a regular bedtime! Not only does that make it part of a routine, as discussed above in the powering down method, but your body knows when to expect sleep and gets into a steady rhythm.
While it may be possible to go to bed at 9 one night and 3 am the next as a college student, as we get older this is harder and harder on our bodies and instability and unpredictability can wreak havoc on falling asleep and staying asleep.
Ah, if only a weekend sleep-in could make up for the sins of the workweek sleep. Sadly, it is physically impossible to “make up” for a shortage of sleep one night by oversleeping another night. In fact, oversleeping on the weekends can significantly increase the likelihood of insomnia when Monday rolls around, and you overslept on Sunday and can’t fall asleep.
Even though it’s no fun, try to maintain a waking time within an hour of your usual weekday wake-up time. Any more deviation than that and you run the risk of weekday insomnia without gaining any real health benefit from sleeping in later.
St. John’s Wort, known by the scientific name Hypericum perforatum, is a popular herbal remedy widely used for depression, anxiety, and sleeping issues. St. John’s Wort is a flowering perennial that is indigenous to Europe where it is commonly regarded as an invasive weed. It now grows throughout much of the world.
While St. John’s Wort is widely used by herbalists, it can interact with many medicines, including SSRIs. It can also cause allergies, particularly in people with other flower or hay fever-type allergies. As with all herbs, you should talk to your doctor before taking an herbal supplement.