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Last Updated on April 20, 2021

7 Natural Sleep Remedies (Backed by Science)

7 Natural Sleep Remedies (Backed by Science)
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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.

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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

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Last Updated on July 22, 2021

How to Quit Drinking for a Healthier Body and Mind

How to Quit Drinking for a Healthier Body and Mind
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Has anyone ever suggested that you should cut down on your drinking or, for that matter, quit drinking alcohol out of your life completely? Have you ever felt that way on your own, especially after waking up super late for work with a pounding headache and blurred vision the day after a long night out on the town or getting down in the club?

Let me start by saying that I am not trying to demonize the consumption of adult alcoholic beverages. I’m the last person to judge you or anyone else for making a conscious decision to drink alcohol responsibly. Instead, as a licensed mental health counselor and certified master addiction professional, I have a professional responsibility to help my clients take greater control over their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors by gaining insight into the underlying issues that have negatively impacted their lives.

Is Drinking Alcohol a Problem for You?

First things first. Is drinking alcohol a problem for you? Since alcohol has been known to impair your judgment, you may not even realize that it is.

According to the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or more commonly referred to as the DSM-5, the universal reference guide used by mental health and addiction professionals to diagnose all substance abuse and mental health disorders, alcohol use disorder is defined as a “problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”

It is manifested by experiencing at least two of the following symptoms within a 12-month period:[1]

  1. Alcohol consumed in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  2. Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control the use of alcohol
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain, use, or recover from the effects of alcohol.
  4. Craving or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol
  5. Recurrent alcohol use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, and home.
  6. Continued alcohol use despite persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused by or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced.
  8. Recurrent alcohol use in physically hazardous situations
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite the knowledge of having persistent or hazardous physical or psychological problems likely caused by alcohol.
  10. Tolerance is present in which there is a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication.
  11. Withdrawal, as evidenced by experiencing any combination of both physical and psychological discomfort following cessation after a period of heavy or prolonged alcohol use.

Nevertheless, just because you may not meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, does not mean that you should not quit drinking alcohol. Although you may appear to be able to handle your alcohol on the outside, excessive alcohol use has been shown to negatively impact your overall health. Just like nicotine, alcohol is a habit-forming drug.

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However, unlike the stimulant properties found within nicotine, alcohol is classified as a depressant. It essentially slows down your central nervous system’s ability to effectively process feelings, emotions, and information.

With your defenses down, alcohol can make you feel more emotionally sensitive, sad, vulnerable, and depressed—for example, with regard to bringing back feelings associated with past traumas that you may have worked hard to overcome, or perhaps those in which you may have never had the time to properly address at all.

A study published by the National Institute for Health showed that alcoholics were somewhere between 60 and 120 times more likely to complete suicide than those free from psychiatric illness.[2]  Additionally, although having a couple of cocktails may make it easier for you to talk to a stranger as it lowers your inhibitions, it can also negatively impact your judgment—for example, by drinking and driving.

Additionally, alcohol has been known to make people more argumentative and belligerent, especially when they are confronted about the issue. A study published by the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 55% of domestic violence perpetrators were drinking alcohol prior to the assault and that women who were abused were 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol.[3]

When it comes to your physical health, there is an overabundance of ways in which excessive drinking is bad for your body. Since alcohol provides little or no nutritional value and is often combined with high-calorie mixers, it can lead to obesity.

People who drink alcohol in excess are generally less physically active, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.[4] Additionally, excessive drinking inflames the pancreas, making it more difficult for it to secrete insulin, thereby contributing to diabetes.

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Furthermore, excessive alcohol use can lead to liver damage, such as cirrhosis, in which the body is unable to properly remove waste products from the blood leaving the stomach and intestines. As a result, people with cirrhosis of the liver may appear jaundiced, swollen, and confused. A recent study published by Forbes indicated that even moderate drinking tracked with decreases in both grey and white brain matter, essentially interfering with brain functioning as it alters the brain’s chemistry and composition.[5]

With all of that being said, if you feel that alcohol use may be getting in the way of being able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I recommend that you take a moment to consider these six simple ways to quit drinking alcohol to achieve a healthier mind, body, and soul.

1. Stay Away From the Bottle

If you happen to be a recreational drinker—someone who has a couple of drinks here and there, every so often or once in a blue moon—and you want to quit drinking alcohol altogether, the easiest way to quit drinking alcohol is just to stay as far away from it as possible. I mean it’s really that simple, isn’t it? Not so fast! Alcohol is everywhere, from the supermarket to the soccer field.

Even with all of the potential risks, people continue to drink alcohol at any number of social gatherings, business meetings, and even religious ceremonies, activities that are in many cases almost impossible to avoid completely. Sporting events, for example, all seem to be sponsored by sleek, sexy, and, at the same time, remarkably socially conscious breweries.

Nevertheless, although alcohol is everywhere, the next time you go out with your friends to your favorite hotspot, try ordering tonic water with lime, or perhaps even the virgin version of your favorite cocktail instead—like a pina colada or strawberry daiquiri—so you can keep the umbrella and just get rid of the rum.

2. Set Expectations With Others

Unless you are prepared to cut ties with all of your friends and family members who like to drink alcohol, be prepared to set certain expectations with them when it comes to drinking when you are around them.

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First, let them know that you are not judging them but rather, making a personal choice not to drink alcohol. Then, set clear boundaries with them by letting them know whether or not you are comfortable being around them when they choose to drink. Remember, you are the most powerful gatekeeper of everyone and everything that surrounds you.

3. Own Your Issues!

The first step to quitting alcohol—or quitting the use of any habit-forming mood-altering substance for that matter—is to first admit that you have a problem with it, whatever the problem may be. I suggest that you first start by identifying how alcohol has either already affected your life, or how it could do so in the future if you continue to drink.

Take a personal inventory of everything important to you, such as your relationship with your family and your faith, as well as the condition of your health and your personal finances. Then, carefully consider how alcohol could be negatively impacting each item. Set aside some personal quality time to journal all of your thoughts in black and white to help you see the situation from a more objective point of view. Take it from me, it’s not easy to admit that you have a problem, but once you do, it can be a very liberating feeling.

4. Ask for Help

Once you have admitted to yourself that you have a problem with alcohol, you can then admit it to someone else, preferably someone who can help you process your feelings and concerns in a safe, constructive, and non-judgmental way.

Although family and friends may be very supportive, you may want to work with a therapist who can offer a more objective perspective along with a variety of tools to not only help you stay sober but also process and ultimately work through any underlying issues that may have caused you to drink in the first place.

Furthermore, in the unfortunate event that you have become physically dependent on alcohol to make it through the day, medical supervision may be needed to help you manage any combination of withdrawal symptoms, including restlessness, anxiety, chills, nausea, and even potentially life-threatening seizures.

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5. Join a Support Group

When you are trying to defend yourself against a cunning, baffling, and powerful opponent, there is usually strength in numbers. Beyond reaching out for professional help to address any underlying issues that may be holding you or anyone else back from staying sober, joining a support group is an excellent way to strengthen your foundation for recovery from alcoholism.

Although caring friends and family may be able to provide you with unconditional love, members of your support group may also be able to offer a much more objective step-building approach for long-term sobriety. Fortunately, there are support group meetings available all over the world, you just have to look for one that meets your needs.

6. Make a Commitment to Stay Sober

After you have owned your issues and learned the tools to stay sober, the next step is to commit yourself to actually staying sober. Breaking a bad habit does not usually happen overnight. Typically, it’s a process that requires time and tenacity. There is no exception when it comes to quitting alcohol.

Nevertheless, many people find themselves frantically trying to stop drinking after any combination of unfortunate, uncomfortable, and sometimes unforgiving events, such as being fired from a job, having an argument with a loved one, getting caught driving under the influence, and experiencing medical complications associated with alcohol use, such as liver failure.

Final Thoughts

In the end, If you truly want to quit drinking, make an open and honest commitment to yourself that you will not only put away the bottle but that you will also take out the tools every day to stay mentally, physically, and spiritually sober.

More on How to Quit Drinking

Featured photo credit: Zach Kadolph via unsplash.com

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Reference

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