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15 Natural Sleep Remedies for Insomnia That Are Backed by Science

15 Natural Sleep Remedies for Insomnia That Are Backed by Science

Insomnia is something of a modern curse. Our lives are more hectic than ever before. When not working overtime, we’re at home staring at our smartphones right up until the moment we try to go to sleep.

With the stress of modern life, we’re doing ourselves no favors by also ensuring we don’t unwind properly at night. Our natural slide towards sleep suffers thanks to disruptive issues such as social media, video games, Netflix, and family life.

How do you find time to ensure you get a good night’s sleep? Here are 15 science-backed natural sleep remedies to help you nod off in style.

1. Get comfy

Make sure your bed is comfortable. This can vary person to person, but do whatever it takes to ensure your bed helps you drift off to sleep properly.

Trying to sleep on a mattress that’s like a plank of wood will not help your insomnia. So invest in something comfortable to reap the benefits. Here are a few ideas for you:

  • Experiment with pillows to find what works best for you, but you can also add fun and inviting new pillows in to make your bed look more inviting.
  • Make your bed – don’t leave it looking like a mess.
  • Try out a heated mattress if the cold winter months are a bit too much.
  • Try out some essential oils to make your bedroom more relaxing.

2. Drink herbal teas

I’ve championed tea for the last decade thanks to its health benefits and relaxing qualities. Herbal teas are the way to go as they lack caffeine. It helps you to relax and unwind.

What varieties should you consider? Well, here are a few:

  • Chamomile
  • Valerian root
  • Mint
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon

You can get cheap organic herbal tea with a mix of herbs to add some variety to your nighttime routine. Nettle and mint, for example, I’ve always found particularly useful for easing anxiety and aiding relaxation.

The science backs it up. In 2011, a paper published on the US National Library of Medicine titled Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future stated:[1]

“Traditionally, chamomile preparations such as tea and essential oil aromatherapy have been used to treat insomnia and to induce sedation (calming effects). Chamomile is widely regarded as a mild tranquillizer and sleep-inducer. Sedative effects may be due to the flavonoid, apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.”

3. Switch off your devices

Do smartphones cause insomnia? Dr. Andrew Weil answered this question back in 2015. His response:[2]

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“One problem is that the blue light these devices emit can suppress production of the sleep regulating hormone melatonin, promoting insomnia. This effect is more pronounced than exposure to the light from a television screen in the bedroom because we hold smartphones and other electronic devices close to our faces, intensifying the light exposure.”

Whilst it may seem like a modern luxury to lounge around in bed watching YouTube or Netflix on your smartphone, the reality is it disrupts your sleep.

4. Read

Whilst it’s tempting to lounge around in bed watching Netflix or YouTube clips until you pass out, you’re doing yourself no favors. Staring at those devices suppresses melatonin.

The solution? Read!

Reading a book for an hour before you go to bed is a brilliant way to get through some novels you’ve been meaning to get through. It’s also a great way to calm down your brain and get it ready for a night of sleep.

5. Get napping to a T

Launching into napping without a plan isn’t a good idea. If you head off and nap for a few hours, you may emerge feeling great, but you’ll mess up your sleep pattern for your proper rest at night.

Getting napping to a T isn’t difficult, though. It just takes some good timing.

Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan’s book Fast Asleep, Wide Awake points out that you should take “controlled naps”. Her advice is to take a nap of no more than 20 minutes to lift some fatigue off your mind. It can help you feel recharged. And it also won’t disrupt your night’s sleep later in the day.

6. Get your timing right

If your sleeping pattern is all over the place, then you can wave goodbye to any hope of sleeping properly. Consistency is key when it comes to sleep. Although this does mean you’ll have to kick the concept of a weekend lie-in.

Going to bed, and waking up, at the same time every day is an absolute must if you want to avoid sleep troubles.

As reported on Bustle:[3]

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“Scientists who work in sleep health have a term for the period of time it takes you to get to sleep: it’s called your sleep latency. And it turns out that maintaining a regular sleep schedule, according to several small studies, may cut down on the amount of time you spend tossing and turning before drifting off.”

You can try this out yourself to see the benefits. On my schedule, I go to bed at 11pm every day. I wake up at 7am each morning. Once you’ve got your routine set, you’ll notice differences such as:

  • Getting to sleep faster
  • Improvement in your mental abilities (essential for work, studying etc.)
  • Mood improvements
  • Health improvements (sleeping well is essential for weight loss, for example)

7. Lay off the alcohol

This may seem a bit unfair if you want to unwind after a day of hard work with a glass of wine. But the unfortunate truth is alcohol disrupts sleep patterns.

Are your drinking days over, then? Well, according to The Sleep Doctor:[4]

“Does this mean you need to abstain from drinking altogether? Nope. But part of a smart, sleep-friendly lifestyle is managing alcohol consumption so it doesn’t disrupt your sleep and circadian rhythms … Circadian rhythms regulate nearly all of the body’s processes, from metabolism and immunity to energy, sleep, and sexual drive, cognitive functions and mood.”

A circadian rhythm is a naturally occurring process every 24 hours. As it turns out, although it’s not too surprising, alcohol disrupts this process. But as The Sleep Doctor confirms, the more you drink, and the closer this is to bedtime, the more you’ll disrupt your sleep pattern.

It also greatly increases your chance of snoring. So, consider skipping alcohol most nights, or keep your intake to a minimum.

8. Monitor temperatures

This is kind of obvious. If it’s searing hot (often the case during summer), it’s difficult to sleep. Similarly, if you’re freezing cold you’ll struggle to stay asleep.

Getting temperatures right is a big part of a sleeping routine, then, so experiment around with finding the right temperature to suit you.

Take a look at how body temperature can seriously affect your sleep here:

The Relationship Between Body Temperature and Sleep

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9. Take up regular exercise

The National Sleep Organization (great to see there is such a thing!) champions regular exercise for better sleep. It states on a guide titled How Exercise Affects Sleep:[5]

“Want to fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more rested? Get moving! As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can dramatically improve the quality of your nighttime sleep, especially when done on a regular basis.”

10. Embrace magnificent magnesium

In another excellent piece from The National Sleep Organization, magnesium receives a recommendation for improving your sleep.

Promote better sleep with magnesium – it’s an essential mineral for keeping us health.[6] It can also, potentially, help us fall to sleep.

“Other research shows that magnesium increases the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, which is responsible for slowing your thinking down and helping you fall asleep. If you are curious about the effects of magnesium, consider focusing on your nutrition first.”

Foods rich in magnesium, which is a good starting point to get more of the stuff into you, include:

  • Green, leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach
  • Vegetables in general!
  • Dark chocolate
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruit such as bananas
  • Whole grains like brown rice

11. Try out other sleep-promoting supplements

Healthline backs mag nesium, too, but there are other supplements that are worth considering.[7] These include:

  • Valerian root (as with the herbal tea mentioned above)
  • Lavender
  • Passion flower
  • Glycine
  • Ginkgo biloba

12. Treat your bed as a bed

It’s tempting to turn your bed into a piece of everyday furniture. You can lounge around on it, take in the latest films, eat your meals, call friends.

But if you aim to associate your bed with just bedtime, then this can help you speed up your sleep cycle.

13. Meditate

Harvard Medical School, in 2015, were quick to point out that mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep.[8] It states:

“Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. It helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response, using whatever technique feels right to you.”

There are plenty of modern apps that can help you start off on your mindfulness path. There’re plenty of meditation apps for sleep. Why not try a few out?

You can also take a look at this guide on how to meditate before bed to supercharge your sleep.

14. Embrace the shadows

In the great Japanese writer Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows (1933), the author lamented the arrival of electric lights into the world.

Architecture, natural light, shadows, and a well-placed candle, he championed, are what it takes to send a person towards a natural night of sleep. His famous quote reads:

“If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty.”

Tanizaki certainly would have hated the modern world, but we can take his wisdom and embrace the shadows in our home. Get some candles on the go, turn off the lights, and let the natural flow of evening surround you. Some candles have relaxing scents in them, too, such as lavender or vanvilla.

15. Try a 30 day sleep challenge

 

The Sleep Council has a 30 Day Better Sleep Plan you can try. Over the course of a month, this free starts with a brief questionnaire on your sleep pattern, health, and lifestyle:

The site also provides various sleep tools, such as free leaflets, stress tests, a sleep diary, and bed MOT (basically, to see if your bed is up to the task of providing you with a good night’s sleep).

Featured photo credit: Jessica Flavia via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Alex Morris

Creative Writer, Copywriter, & Journalist for Business, Culture, Lifestyle, & Work

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Feeling tired all the time?

Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

What Happens When You’re Too Tired

If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

  • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
  • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
  • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
  • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
  • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
  • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

Unfortunately, yes!

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

  1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
  2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low stamina
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Low motivation

These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

  1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Using stressbusters
  4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

  • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
  • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
  • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
  • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

L — Living Healthy

Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

1. Unplug

Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

2. Unwind

Do something to relax.

Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

3. Get Comfortable

Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

E — Exercise

Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

That’s what happened in my case.

But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

That made sense to me.

So, I decided to swim.

I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

A — Attitude

Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

Breathing.

But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
  3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
  4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
  5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
  6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

N — Nutrition

Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

  1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
  2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
  3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
  4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
  5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
  6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
  7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
  8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
  9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

The Bottom Line

If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

  • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
  • Regular Exercise You Love
  • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
  • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

More Tips to Help You Rest Better

Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
[2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
[3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
[4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
[5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
[6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
[7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
[8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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