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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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