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Last Updated on April 20, 2021

7 Natural Sleep Remedies (Backed by Science)

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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.

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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

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Leah Borski

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

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Under the Weather? 13 Immune Boosting Foods for a Quick Recovery

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Under the Weather? 13 Immune Boosting Foods for a Quick Recovery

Immunity truly does encapsulate the entire physiology of a person.

When you target your immunity by eating a variety of immune boosting foods, then you really can improve your entire body, both physically and mentally.

The immune system of a human being involves all aspects of one’s physiology and one’s daily experience. Eating certain foods can boost your health in a variety of ways. Below I outline several foods that will get you back on track if you’re feeling under the weather.

In order to even broach the topic of foods good for one’s immune system, it’s important to consider all aspects of the human body and experience.

What I mean by the human experience is one’s day to day mood, energy levels, and many other factors that signify how one engages with themselves and the world around them.

Before indulging in these foods below, I suggest striving for consistency with diet, activity levels, rest, and incorporating the practice of meditation or spending time in nature as part of your daily routine as well.

If you’re ready to feel better, not just when you’re under the weather but all the time incorporate these foods in your diet regularly.

Be sure to stock up on these foods if you’re in need of a boost.

1. Water is a Wise Choice

Yes I know I’m starting things seemingly simple, but one of my most popular YouTube videos discusses the importance of water!

When I ask people how much water they drink a day, the majority of time the answer begins with ‘not enough’.

So if you know you don’t drink enough water, why continue this pattern of behavior?

Now if you’re one that does hit that 5+ and more (pending activity levels) 8oz glasses a day – good for you! Water is life, and that’s where I’ll leave it.

2. Eggs — The Most Complete Protein

Widely regarded as the universally most complete nutritional protein source, eggs are packed with Omega-3 Fatty Acids and 9 essential amino acids.

Egg whites are rich in Vitamins D/E/K, B2, B5, B6, B12, and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper.

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Meanwhile, egg yolks pack the calories and fats along with cholesterol, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and lecithin.

It’s important to note that the average medium egg contains 76 calories, 7.5g protein, 5.1g fat, 1.4g sat fat – so consider this while integrating this near perfect super food in your next dish!

3. Raw Spinach Supports Immunity

This leafy green is a personal favorite of mine due to its versatility and great taste!

Spinach is loaded with vitamin C which helps fight cold, flu, and reinforce the immune system.

It’s also quite high in antioxidants and beta-carotene, which supports our immune system in fighting infection and viruses.

When enjoying this plentiful plant, do so raw. Its nutrients are best absorbed when the vegetable is raw; consider adding spinach as a fresh salad, rather than to a cooked dish, to reap the most immune system rewards.

4. Turmerics Benefit on T-Cells

Gaining popularity for its delicious taste, this powerful spice is also gaining notoriety for its anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin (which also creates the vibrant orange-yellow color).

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology notes that curcumin activates the production of T-cells, which are of the primary cells fighting on behalf of your systems immunity. [1]

5. Garlic is Really Good for You

This popular food not only tastes great but packs quite a punch.

Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which boasts a variety of medicinal properties. Garlic is also not very calorie dense; 1 ounce yields about 42 calories with 1.8g protein and 9g carbs.

Garlic also boasts Vitamin C, B6, Fiber, and Manganese.

The properties mentioned above helps maintain healthy bones, prevent diabetes and epileptic seizures, regulate thyroid, combat osteoporosis, reduce inflammation, boost metabolism, improve cognitive function, and regulate glucose metabolism!

So, forget about garlic breath–eat this food in abundance!

6. Wild Salmon is Wonderful

A personal favorite of mine, wild Alaskan salmon is one of those super foods that covers all your nutrient bases!

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Salmon can be cooked a variety of delicious ways, and yields some of the highest immune system boosting benefits.

Salmon contains fish oil Omega-3’s, which protect against developing heart disease and heart attack. Oils contained within such fish are quite unique in that they have Omega-3 fatty acids that are not present in any other food.

Also consider that wild salmon contains (per 4oz) 128% Vitamin D, 95% Vitamin B12, 94% tryptophan, 62% selenium, 53% protein, 53% omega 3’s, 45% Vitamin B3, 37% phosphorus, 32% Vitamin B6, 19% choline, 14% potassium, and 8%(157) calories.

This is one of those super foods that you could stand to have in your diet several times per week. Beyond the incredible taste, its nutritional benefits make it well worth seeking out.

7. Essential Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Many home cooks consider this an essential ingredient in preparing dinner. But it’s also quite good for you!

Extra virgin olive oil is widely regarded as being a healthy addition to any kitchen, with modest amounts of Vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids.

Per 100g of olive oil you can expect 14% saturated fat, 73% Monounsaturated fat, 10% Omega-6, 1% Omega-3, 72%, and 75% Vitamin K.

It also boasts an impressive antioxidant profile. This includes the anti-inflammatory oleocanthal, as well as oleuropein, a substance that protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation.

8. Natural Greek Yogurt Has Many Benefits

When I talk about natural Greek yogurt, I mean the type that is not flavored in any way. Those added sugars won’t help boost immunity.

Many people have convoluted the immunity and health benefits of natural yogurt with the all too popular sugary treats that flood grocery stores. But it’s the plain stuff that’s the best to include in your diet.

Natural Greek yogurt not only goes great with many dishes, but it contains vast amounts of protein which will leave you feeling satisfied.

The reason why I’ve specified ‘Greek yogurt’ is because one cup of plain, low-fat conventional yogurt typically has 5 to 10 grams of protein, where Greek yogurt averages about 13 to 20 grams of protein.

Greek yogurt also contains essential probiotics (live microorganisms). These are bacteria microbes that help improve digestive function, the immune system, and overall gut health.

Add natural Greek yogurt to your diet, whether as a breakfast food, a substitute for sour cream, or as an addition to a healthy smoothie.

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9. Ginseng Tea — Chock Full of Ginsenosides

Ginseng tea’s primary health benefits are due to the naturally occurring chemicals called ginsenosides present in the root.

One of ginseng’s most widely understood benefits include it’s rich anti-cancer properties. [2]

Studies also indicate that people who drink ginseng tea have a lower risk of developing cancer.

Ginseng tea can also help relieve menstrual cramps, lower blood pressure, and improve brain function; and it has also been shown to help with sexual (erectile) dysfunction in men.

10. Green Tea Fights Aging

Just as powerful as ginseng tea, this extremely popular tea is rich in polyphenols that have effects like reducing inflammation and aiding in the fight against cancer.

Green tea is in fact 30% polyphenols, including large amounts of a catechin called EGCG. Catechins are natural antioxidants that aid in the prevention of cell damage and provide several other benefits.

EGCG, and substances like it can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, helping protect cells and molecules from damage.

Free radicals such as these are commonly known to play a role in aging and all sorts of other diseases.

This wonderful also tea contains small quantities of minerals that are important for overall health, so it may be worth picking up some green tea when visiting your next local tea shop.

11. Dark Chocolate — The Delicious Superfood

Don’t get too excited with this one – everything in moderation, of course!

And I’m not just referring to any chocolate — I’m talking specifically about dark chocolate and cacoa nibs, which are both immune system boosting super foods.

We’ve already covered free radicals in this article, and dark chocolate is one of those wonderful super foods that helps fight against such free radicals.

It does this with its high antioxidant profile which is believed to neutralize free radicals and protect the body from their damage.

Dark chocolate’s antioxidants include vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – helpful plant compounds. Much like other immune boosting foods on this list dark chocolate will also help balance cholesterol, blood pressure, and improve heart health, and cognitive function.

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You now have a healthy excuse to eat some dark chocolate; but, go for the lowest sugar and highest cocoa content varieties you can find to reap the most rewards.

12. Frozen Blueberries for All!

Personally I love adding frozen blueberries to smoothies; however, sometimes I’ll pop over to the freezer just to grab a small handful as a treat!

Frozen blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, which come from compounds called anthocyanins; these give blueberries their purple hue.

One really neat fact about the ice crystals that form when the berries are frozen is that they disrupt the structure of the plant tissue and make anthocyanins even more available – how cool is that? Talk about hacking blueberries!

Even if not frozen, blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits. They have been known to boost memory, cardiovascular system, and eyesight. The fruit also encourages a process called authophagy, or ‘cell clean-up’.

Berries in general (raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries) are extremely high on the ORAC scale. This means they contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals.

Frozen blueberries in particular may aid in defending colds and flu, as they are high in pterostilbene.

Next time you visit your local grocery store, consider how ideal blueberries are for your immune system and general health.

13. Raw Honey — A Natural Antioxidant

Saving the sweetest for last!

Pure natural raw honey follows the rest of this super food list with its antioxidant profile, however it also contains antibacterial and anti fungal properties.

Raw honey contains antioxidants called phenolic compounds, and certain types contain just as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables.

Raw honey can help the body kill-off unwanted bacteria and fungus as it naturally contains hydrogen peroxide, which is a strong antiseptic. Raw honey also contains phytonutrients, commonly found in plants, which provides both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Aside from these wonderful benefits, raw honey can also aid with digestive issues, however this typically varies person to person.

Indulge in Better Health

But also, don’t forget to rest! When considering one’s overall health, it’s important to not only incorporate these immune boosting foods, but also to ensure adequate sleep, and take efforts to reduce stress.

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Eating these immunity boosting foods will enable you to take back control of your health and prevent illness… all while satisfying your cravings!

Featured photo credit: Joanna Kosinska via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Journal of Immunology: Curcumin
[2] NCBI: Ginseng for Fatigue

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