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Last Updated on December 18, 2020

9 Natural Remedies for Insomnia to Help You Achieve Quality Sleep

9 Natural Remedies for Insomnia to Help You Achieve Quality Sleep

I’m sure you would agree that whenever you can take the natural root for something, you should go for it. The more you can keep things natural in your life, the better your overall health and wellness will be for it.

Insomnia is a condition that affects 60 million people[1] and probably yourself hence why you’re here checking this article out. You’re probably also interested in natural remedies for insomnia and we’re here to help you out!

What Exactly Insomnia Is

Insomnia essentially is the inability to fall, and stay, asleep. But it goes a bit deeper than that. Researchers are starting to recognize insomnia as as a problem of your brain unable to stop being awake.[2]

There are also a bunch of factors that may be involved in your inability to sleep including:

  • Psychiatric and medical conditions
  • Specific substances
  • Biological factors
  • Food (alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, heavy meals late at night etc)
  • Depression and anxiety

Why Is Sleep so Important?

Sleep is when it all goes down. This is when your body repairs and rejuvenates itself. It’s also the time where your mind basically files everything that’s been happening in the day creating your memories.

Even though you’re asleep, your body springs into action when a ton of different processes that are critical to keeping you alive and healthy. But there’s a big problem when you don’t get enough sleep.

When you deprive yourself of sleep, you can elevate your stress hormones, primarily cortisol. Stress hormones are really important, they are involved in your fight of flight system. For our ancestors, that was needed for out running a saber tooth tiger. For us today, it helps us jump out of the way of a speeding car or plowing through the crowds at a Black Friday sale…

The Problem With Cortisol

So a little stress hormone is actually needed but when something like cortisol is constantly elevated over the long term, this is when you’re looking at trouble. Cortisol is raised by lack of sleep because your body thinks it must be facing some sort of trauma, or else why wouldn’t you be sleeping?

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Your body doesn’t know if you’re facing famine, environmental disaster or you’re just up all night watching a House Hunters marathon. All it knows is there must be some significant issue keeping you from sleeping and in turn it releases all this cortisol. Over time, this elevated stress hormone which is higher in insomniacs level, can lead to a lot of nasty problems such as:[3]

  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • IBS
  • Weight gain & obesity
  • Immune system dysfunction

13 Natural Remedies for Insomnia

Trust me, this is just scratching the surface. But hopefully you can see why you don’t want to deprive yourself of sleep. So now you’re understanding this, how do you deal with that dreaded insomnia? Let’s look at a few way:

1. Start Going to Bed Earlier

Seems pretty straight forward and simple, but you really need to make it a point to get going to bed at least an hour before you normally do.

You might feel that you may as well stay up late due to your insomnia but you have to give your body a fighting chance and that means starting to turn in earlier.

2. Create a Wind down Routine and Stick with It

Sleep experts say this is the most important thing for helping your body get to sleep. Your body craves routine and structure and the main thing with a routine at night is your body recognizes that sleep is about to happen.

So it may be a warm bath, then reading or writing in a journal and listening to some relaxing music. The main thing is with whatever routine you have stick with it and begin it at the same time each night.

3. Cut out the Electronics Later in the Evening

This may be at the root of a lot of people’s sleep problems including yours. Your electronics: phone, tablet and T.V etc give off a blue light that is really disruptive in the brain. Blue light throws off your circadian rhythm and prevents your brain from releasing melatonin which is really important with sleep.

When you use electronics and bright lights late at night, it’s like standing outside at noon on a bright sunny day according to your brain. Start to eliminate or reduce screen use 1 to 2 hours before you’re wanting to go to bed.

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4. Exercise

This is one of the best insomnia cures and it’s free, the best price anything can be!

People who exercise regularly report better sleep. It also doesn’t have to be that much even just 30 minutes 3 to 4 times a week can help to combat insomnia and improve sleep.

Exercising earlier in the morning also seems to help. When you exercise early, it helps to naturally engage your circadian rhythm and that in turn means your body will more naturally wind down later in the day helping you sleep.

5. Get Sunlight Earlier in the Day

This has the same effect as early morning exercise. The sun forces you to wake up and makes your body realize what time of day it is. It pumps out wake up hormones and allows your body clock to be engaged properly leading to better melatonin release later at night when you need it.

Basically daylight tells your body when to feel awake and when to feel tired.

6. Keep Your Room as Dark as Possible

These last few tips are all interconnected. Remember when I mentioned about your house springing to life with all the electronic light late at night? You want to combat this by keeping things as dark as possible.

Ideally, you’ve cut out light from screens an hour or so before bed; and now you want your bedroom as dark as possible. Since most people don’t go to bed when it gets dark out, keeping your room dark tells your body the day is done. Darkness also helps to secrete melatonin which it can’t do if there’s always blaring light coming through your eyes.

6. Watch out for the Caffeine

You’re aware of the effects of caffeine I’m sure, but you might not know it can last in the body a lot longer than you realize. The noticeable effects of caffeine kick in within 10 to 20 minutes and can last 2 to 3 hours.

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Caffeine has what’s called a ‘half-life’ which can extend its effects on your blood stream. There can still be an impact 6 or more hours later. So if you’re having a coffee at 4-5 pm, this may be why you can’t fall asleep at 11 pm that night.

You might have to play around with when you cut off caffeine, but ideally you wouldn’t have any past 2-3 pm.

7. Drink herbal tea

Chamomile Tea

While we’re talking about beverages, here are a few that can help combat insomnia. Chamomile tea has been used for relaxation for quite a long time now. It can help calm the nerves, combat anxiety and also works like a mild sedative.

Valerian Root

Similar to the chamomile, valerian has been used for a long time. It’s seen to help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep. It might be something to discuss with your doctor as it may not be best to use in the long term even though it’s natural.

St. Johns Wort

You’ve probably seen this too as it’s in most health food shops and even grocery stores. St. Johns wort, even though it sounds like a great name for a band, is a flowering plant that can help with depression, anxiety, and insomnia — three things that tend to be connected a lot of the time.

You can find capsule forms but also fresh to make tea out of.

Passion Flower

Another natural sedative that’s technically a tropical flower. You can steep a teaspoon of it in boiling water for ten minutes to help with sleep.

California Poppy

This one you might not have heard of but it’s not the name of an exotic dancer.

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The bright orange leaves from California poppy can be steeped in hot water for about ten minutes and will help to combat anxiety along with making you feel relaxed.

8. Try a Warm Shower

Again, it’s about giving your body the signals that it’s time to sleep. A warm shower naturally helps to slow down and relax your nervous system and encourages you to feel sleepy.

You know how a warm shower in the morning can make you feel drowsy when you need to be waking up? You might want to forgo it then and start showering before bed.

9. Keep Your Room Cool

Your body temperature drops when you sleep and keeping a cool environment can encourage your body to get to sleep, and stay asleep, quicker.

You want your room between 60 to 72 degrees so you may have to play around with thermostat (that I’m still not allowed to touch) or keeping your windows open.

Basically, your sheets should feel cool to the touch when you lie down.

The Bottom Line

If you’re suffering from insomnia, realize that you are definitely not alone. It’s frustrating but can be managed. There are a lot of great natural remedies for insomnia to help get your body to sleep and stay asleep.

More Resources to Help You Sleep Better

Featured photo credit: Victor Hughes via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] National Public Radio: Can’t Sleep? Neither Can 60 Million Other Americans
[2] National Sleep Foundation: What Causes Insomnia?
[3] Sleep Med Clin.: Chronic Insomnia and Stress System

More by this author

Jamie Logie

Jamie is a personal trainer and health coach with a degree in Kinesiology and Food and Nutrition.

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Published on July 15, 2021

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

Your Job

1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

Sleep Attitudes and Environment

5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

Personal Habits and Choices

7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

12. Don’t Smoke

Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

14. Get Regular Exercise

According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

Mental and Emotional

15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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Reference

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