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Last Updated on April 20, 2021

7 Natural Sleep Remedies (Backed by Science)

7 Natural Sleep Remedies (Backed by Science)

Our modern world seems to require and even glorify lifestyle habits that diminish our ability to get enough quality sleep. Everyday stressors, work-life imbalance, lack of physical activity, excessive use of electronics, and exposure to artificial light all play their part in contributing to our restlessness. Maybe you’ve already tried a laundry list of sleep aids, but find that none are working as well as you’d hoped. The natural sleep remedies that offer us the greatest benefit are the options that tend to be the least enticing.

Instead, we opt for common go-to quick fixes—alcohol, medications, binge-watching TV, and scrolling social media—that may fit easily enough into our “go-go-go” culture but actually disrupt our natural circadian rhythms, sabotaging our sleep and making those much-needed sleep more elusive than ever.

An Epidemic of Exhaustion

If you have ever wondered why you feel so exhausted during the day but still struggle to sleep at night, you’re not alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 40.6 million American workers—or 30 percent of the civilian workforce—don’t get enough rest. In fact, lack of quality sleep costs U.S. companies $411 billion in lost productivity per year, nearly triple that of Japan, which comes in second at $138B.[1]

Lack of sleep is just causing us to feel sluggish and perform poorly at work, but it can also lead to damaging effects in our personal relationships and endeavors. These effects include focus and memory problems, depression, anxiety, irritability, and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can result in packing on extra pounds, disrupt emotional management skills, and even increase our risk of dementia.[2]

These seven natural sleep remedies, backed by science, will help you understand your body’s natural rhythms and work with them so you can sleep better at night.

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1. Shut Off Your Brain

Purpose-driven people like us tend to possess a seemingly endless supply of mental chatter. Worries over incomplete tasks or pending deadlines—and even positive mental ramblings ripe with innovative ideas—can keep our brains busy long after we’ve shut down all external stimuli.

One natural sleep remedy that’s sure to help quiet your mind and soothe you into restfulness is sound therapy. If you assume this means being bored to sleep by some bland elevator-style music or monotone meditation app, think again.

A study from 2012 suggests that the best music for lulling us into slumber is not a generic sedative playlist but something that we, as individuals, find both familiar and enjoyable.[3]

Other effective methods of sound therapy to aid in both falling asleep and minimizing sleep disruptions include nature sounds, binaural beats, and white noise from a “sleep sound” machine or even a standard fan.[4][5][6]

2. Dim the Lights

Night owls and those of us who are always trying to “get one last thing done” before bed can find it especially difficult to shut down at the end of the day. In fact, 90 percent of Americans regularly use some type of electronics within an hour of bedtime. However, our brains are best primed to relax into sleepy bliss when we get a break from the blue and bright lights emitted from our TV, laptop, e-reader, and phone screens.[7]

Here are some tips to make this a habit:

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  • Designate a time to set your phone to airplane mode and turn off all other screens accordingly.
  • Set an automatic timer to alert you of your last ten minutes to check emails, wrap up what you’re working on, etc.
  • Declare your bedroom a gadget-free oasis. No late-night work sessions or Netflix binges are allowed.

If it’s still a struggle, try easing into it by shutting down 10 minutes earlier than usual each night for six days. In less than a week, you’ll have established an hour each night which can be used for more sleep-supportive routines.

3. Snacks for Better Sleep

Good nutrition is synonymous with good sleep and, likewise, nutrient deficiencies can cause poor sleep.

One nutrient that many people don’t get enough of is lycopene, a phytonutrient found in plants that plays a major role in getting sufficient sleep. Research has found a connection between low lycopene levels and both trouble falling asleep and short sleep duration (sleeping five or fewer hours each night).[8]

A simple way to remember which foods include lycopene is to look for red fruits and veggies: watermelon, red peppers, papaya, grapefruit, and tomatoes!

4. Calming Self-Care Rituals

Drinking wine while mindlessly scrolling Facebook is a common go-to for effortless stress relief. Unfortunately, this not only disrupts our natural sleep patterns by triggering stress and anxiety, but it also distracts us and keeps us feeling busy, using up time we could instead invest in nurturing ourselves.

Yoga Nidra is a self-loving sleep solution that may sound complicated, especially if you’re new to yoga. However, this form of yoga is simple and gentle enough for people with no yoga experience at all. It is effective at alleviating bedtime anxiety and insomnia and can be easily adopted into your bedtime wind-down routine.[9]

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There are plenty of guided Yoga Nidra resources available online. To get started in the simplest way possible, start with a self-guided session using these steps:

  1. Choose an intention or mantra which you will repeat throughout the practice. For sleep, you might try “I am relaxed” or “I release all stress.”
  2. Lie comfortably on your back, arms and legs stretched out and relaxed. Use a pillow or folded blanket as a bolster to support your body if needed.
  3. Bring your awareness to your breath, noticing any sensory experiences as you gently inhale and exhale.
  4. Repeat your mantra as you continue to relax and breathe for as long as you like.

5. Mindful Mornings

It’s natural to assume that sleep remedies would be best applied at night, so you might be surprised to learn that one of the most potent keys to bedtime bliss actually occurs at the start of our day.

Exposure to bright light in the morning hours helps to recalibrate our melatonin production, which helps to regulate our sleep/wake cycles.[10] Morning exercise can further enhance this effect, but it’s not required to get results. You don’t need to carve out a lot of time for this, either. As little as five minutes is already effective, though 20 to 30 minutes is ideal.[11]

Try spending a few morning moments outside doing any activity you enjoy. Drink your coffee. Sit in silence. Watch the clouds pass in the sky.

6. Inhale Relaxation

Has the smell of chocolate chip cookies being baked ever felt like a warm hug from your grandma? Does the scent of coconut-anything transport you back in time to the carefree summers of your youth, entire days spent sunbathing while a boombox blared your favorite tunes?

Our sense of smell is directly linked to the brain’s limbic system, which is responsible for our emotions, heart rate, memory, and stress response. This makes aromatherapy especially effective as a natural sleep remedy in two distinct yet complementary ways.

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First, some essential oils (used in aromatherapy) contain plant extracts which are shown to specifically activate processes in the brain that relieve anxiety and induce sleep. Lemon balm and lavender are two such compounds.[12][13]

Second, the connection between scent and mental state locks into our memory. With repetition, the slightest whiff of that scent we’ve associated with tranquility immediately stimulates our relaxation response, providing a Pavlovian sedative of sorts.

Simple ways to apply this to your nighttime routine include applying an essential oil spritz to bedding, adding a few drops to your evening bath, or applying to a sachet placed on your nightstand.

7. Expand Self-Awareness

The key to pinpointing which natural sleep remedies can best serve you is understanding which habits or lifestyle elements are contributing to your lack of quality sleep. It’s easy for these nuances to evade us when we’re not paying attention but when we connect the dots, we can be more intentional in ensuring that we engage in more sleep-supportive activities before bedtime.

One no-nonsense method is to keep a sleep journal. In a short amount of time (as little as a week), you can start to see patterns in your sleep/wake cycles, identify concrete evidence of what habits or situations are affecting this, and then choose the remedies best suited to help you sleep better.[14]

Live Better, One Step at a Time

While there are a lot of contributing factors (e.g., artificial light, the use of electronics, and everyday stress) that we’re not likely to get away from in this day and age, it is clear that there are things we can do to improve our quality of sleep. All of these natural sleep remedies work by nurturing our sensory organs, which helps us to tune into ourselves and soothe our nervous systems, thereby pushing pause on the external situations in our lives and relaxing into naturally restorative sleep.

Just one or two of these habits can have a profound impact on your rest and everything that stems from it. Feel happier, live healthier, get more done, and maybe even save yourself a few arguments and frustrations along the way.

More Tips to Help You Sleep Better

Featured photo credit: Kinga Cichewicz via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Rand Corporation: Why Sleep Matters: Quantifying the Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep
[2] Frontiers: High Cortisol and the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Review of the Literature
[3] PubMed.gov: The Interplay of Preference, Familiarity and Psychophysical Properties in Defining Relaxation Music
[4] PubMed.gov: Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds
[5] Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: A Novel Insight of Effects of a 3-Hz Binaural Beat on Sleep Stages During Sleep
[6] Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: Broadband Sound Administration Improves Sleep Onset Latency in Healthy Subjects in a Model of Transient Insomnia
[7] PNAS: Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness
[8] HHS: Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample
[9] BioMed Central: Yoga Nidra: An innovative approach for management of chronic insomnia- A case report
[10] HHS: Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
[11] HHS: Light as Therapy for Sleep Disorders and Depression in Older Adults
[12] NCBI: Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances
[13] California State University San Marcos: Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety of patients
[14] ResearchGate: Routine self-tracking of health: reasons, facilitating factors, and the potential impact on health management practices

More by this author

Leah Borski

Certified NeuroHealth Coach, specializing in Stress Management and Integrative Wellness Lifestyle for Work-Life Balance

7 Natural Sleep Remedies (Backed by Science) 9 Benefits of Napping (Backed by Science) 3 Common Causes Of Stress That Are Depleting Your Energy 5 Stress Management Techniques That Are Proven To Work 21 Simple Pleasures to Enlighten a Gloomy Day

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Last Updated on April 26, 2021

6 Health Benefits Of Probiotics (Backed By Science)

6 Health Benefits Of Probiotics (Backed By Science)

Probiotics are often touted as an important component of our daily health regime—and for good reason. There are hundreds of probiotic brands on the market, and many more websites and blogs dedicated to the benefits of probiotics on the internet. But how much do you really know about probiotics and their benefits?

Scientific studies have provided evidence for many of the benefits of probiotics that you have probably already read about. The important thing to know is which benefits are real and which are not! It’s also important to understand that there are many different strains of probiotics, and each strain performs different roles within the body.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live within your intestines. They play a huge variety of important roles in many bodily processes. They help with digesting food, absorbing nutrients, reducing inflammation, producing hormones, and much more.[1] They’re also important for energy production, immune function, healthy detoxification, and proper digestion.

You can get your probiotic bacteria from supplements or food. Popular probiotic foods include sauerkraut, probiotic yogurt, and kefir, but there are many more.[2]

Let’s look at the six most popular health benefits of probiotics and the evidence for each.

1. Give You Energy

Yes! The billions of microbes residing in your gut play a vital role in breaking down the food you eat and absorbing the nutrients within.

Probiotics break down the food you eat into energy-boosting B vitamins. These B vitamins play important roles in releasing energy from carbohydrates and fat, as well as breaking down amino acids and transporting oxygen and energy-containing nutrients around the body.[3]

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Each B vitamin plays an important role in producing energy.

  • Vitamin B1 is involved with the cellular production of energy as part of glucose metabolism. It also helps convert carbohydrates to fat, which can be stored until needed.
  • Vitamin B2 is a building block for two coenzymes that help carry hydrogen, which is used to create ATP when carbohydrates and fats are metabolized.
  • Vitamin B3 is involved with two coenzymes that play a key role in glycolysis in which energy is created from carbohydrates and sugar.
  • Vitamin B5 is also part of the cellular metabolism of carbohydrates and fats to create energy.
  • Vitamin B6 aids the release of glycogen from the liver and muscles so your body can use it for energy.

The strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium assist with the absorption of minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, and manganese, which are crucial for energy production.

Research has also shown that some Lactobacillus strains help to produce vitamin K, which is important for producing prothrombin, a protein that plays a crucial role in blood clotting, bone metabolism, and heart health. Vitamin K also assists with energy production within the mitochondria.[4]

2. Help With Constipation

Yes! Although the exact mechanisms of probiotics are not fully understood, there are several ways in which probiotics are thought to help prevent and alleviate constipation.

First of all, it’s important to know that intestinal bacteria not only affect the motility of the gut but are also involved in the function of the enteric nervous system (ENS). A slow bowel transit time often occurs due to poor gut motility, particularly in the large intestine, which is also linked to abnormalities of the enteric nerves.

Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) can also help with constipation. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli assist in the production of SCFAs by fermenting carbohydrates in the gut.[5] These SCFAs can improve the motility of the digestive tract by stimulating neural receptors in the gut wall smooth muscle, stimulating peristalsis. Probiotics have also been suggested to increase levels of serotonin, an excitatory neurotransmitter that also improves peristalsis.

Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli also help to increase the breakdown of bile salts in the gut, which are important for fat digestion, peristalsis, and intestinal motility.

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Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that Bifidobacteria were especially effective in increasing the number of weekly bowel movements and helping to soften stools, which makes them easier to pass.[6] Other research suggests that using a supplement containing multiple strains of probiotics is also effective in treating constipation.[7]

3. Help You Lose Weight

Although there is no such thing as a “magic pill” that makes you lose weight, it’s now well-established that gut health plays a major role in healthy weight management.

Scientists now know that the composition of your gut microbiota can influence the way your body breaks down carbohydrates in your food, as well as how it uses and stores energy. Moreover, slim people tend to have different species of bacteria in their gut compared to people who are overweight or obese.

Research has also shown that when obese people lose weight, the diversity of their gut microbiome changes and becomes more like that of slim people.[8] These findings have led scientists to believe that gut bacteria not only affect the way you store fat but also the balance of glucose in your blood and how you respond to hormones that make you feel hungry or satisfied. An imbalance of these microbes can help set the stage for obesity and diabetes throughout life.

Two specific strains have been linked to lower body weight: Akkermansia muciniphila and Christensenella minuta. These strains are often present in slimmer people.

It’s believed that these microbes also produce acetate, a short-chain fatty acid that helps regulate body fat stores and appetite. Studies in mice have shown that higher levels of the Akkermansia muciniphila species are associated with lower body weight and that it may also reverse fat mass gain, improve insulin resistance, and reduce adipose tissue inflammation.[9]

4. Help With Gas

Yes! In fact, the composition of your gut flora is crucial to the production of intestinal gas.

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An imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut can lead to a range of unpleasant symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. That can seriously impact the way that you live your life.[10] Some beneficial bacterial strains such as Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridia are known for their gas-producing properties. Fortunately, probiotics can help.

The microbiota in your colon is required to ferment food that you cannot fully digest and isn’t absorbed by the gut. This is why the amount of fiber you eat and the composition of your gut microbiota have a lot to do with how much gas you produce each day, as well as how often you go to the bathroom.

Specific strains of probiotics such as Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus acidophilus have been shown to reduce the gas produced in the intestines.[11] It’s also been found that taking a multi-strain probiotic supplement can help to keep excessive gas at bay.

5. Help With Bloating

Yes! Bloating occurs when gas builds up in your gut, creating a feeling of fullness. This can be quite uncomfortable, painful, and also somewhat embarrassing.

Often, bloating symptoms can be linked to a specific food you have eaten—particularly onions, dried fruit, or gluten. However, some people may find they bloat up after every meal, which suggests all is not well in their gut.[12]

Probiotics can help to restore the balance of bacteria in the gut by supplying the “friendly” bacteria that counteract the bad. These bacteria modify the composition of gut flora, which may help to reduce the production of intestinal gas.

One particular strain associated with reducing gas and bloating is LGG, which proved to be more effective than placebo in reducing the severity of IBS symptoms. Another study showed that patients treated with L. Plantarum experienced significant reductions in their flatulence compared with a placebo group.[13]

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Remember that your diet is probably a cause of your bloating too. For example, it might be worth reducing the carbs in your diet in addition to taking probiotics.[14]

6. Help With Yeast Infections

Yes! Probiotics help to restore the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut, which often leads to the development of a yeast infection. These infections occur when yeasts, such as Candida albicans, grow out of control and spread throughout the intestines. However, probiotics may help to “crowd out” these harmful strains and restore the natural balance of your gut flora.

Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast—but a beneficial one. In fact, it has the power to fight Candida by inhibiting its ability to establish itself in the gut. It’s also been shown that S. boulardii may help to reduce the likelihood of Candida yeasts ending up in the digestive tract. This may be because S. boulardii produces caprylic acid, an antifungal substance with powerful anti-Candida properties.[15]

Don’t discount the possibility that your diet may be leading to those yeast infections. A low-sugar diet like the Candida diet can help to suppress intestinal yeast overgrowth and reduce the number of yeast infections that you experience.[16]

Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most-researched strains and has also been shown to promote the production of antibodies that fight C. Albicans. Most importantly, L. acidophilus can inhibit Candida albicans from forming a biofilm, which is the protective sticky covering that protects the yeast from other treatments.

Bottom Line

The health benefits of probiotics are undeniable, and they can be found in many supplements and foods. Their significant health benefits and accessibility make them an ideal part of your regular diet.

You should try out the best probiotic supplements in the market, and choose one that you think best suits you.

More About Probiotics

Featured photo credit: Daily Nouri via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] BalanceOne: 16 SCIENCE-BASED HEALTH BENEFITS OF PROBIOTICS
[2] The Candida Diet: 12 Probiotic Foods For Improved Gut Health
[3] Frontiers: Metabolism of Dietary and Microbial Vitamin B Family in the Regulation of Host Immunity
[4] NCBI: Vitamin K: the effect on health beyond coagulation – an overview
[5] NCBI: The Effect of Probiotics on the Production of Short-Chain Fatty Acids by Human Intestinal Microbiome
[6] NCBI: Intestinal microbiota and chronic constipation
[7] HealthLine: Should You Use Probiotics for Constipation?
[8] NCBI: The Gut Microbiome and Its Role in Obesity
[9] NCBI: Function of Akkermansia muciniphila in Obesity: Interactions With Lipid Metabolism, Immune Response and Gut Systems
[10] Millenial Magazine: Is Poor Gut Health Ruining Your Social Life?
[11] NCBI: Clinical trial: Probiotic Bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07 Versus Placebo for the Symptoms of Bloating in Patients with Functional Bowel Disorders – a Double-Blind Study
[12] AskMen: How to Get Rid of Bloat in a Hurry, According to Experts
[13] Wiley Online Library: Meta‐analysis: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG for abdominal pain‐related functional gastrointestinal disorders in childhood
[14] Eat This, Not That!: The Biggest Danger Sign You’re Eating Too Many Carbs, Say Dietitians
[15] Oxford Academic: Saccharomyces boulardii and Candida albicans experimental colonization of the murine gut
[16] US News: Does the Candida Diet Work – and Is It Safe?

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