Looking for natural insomnia cures? You wouldn’t be alone, as the problem of insomnia plagues many people. It’s not so bad if you can sleep in next day, but if you have to rise at the sound of your alarm and head out into the world and perform at your best, then not being able to sleep at night can be a big problem.
Sleeping pills are big business. About 1 in every 25 Americans take prescription medications to help them sleep, at a national cost of $41 billion in 2015 – and that number is rising. Drugs can be an instant solution if you use them infrequently, but generally speaking, they are not good for your health.
Others resort to alcohol to help them sleep. But science has proven that alcohol disrupts normal sleep patterns, often waking you up within a few hours so that you need more of it to “put you out” for another few hours. Not only so, but the quality of sleep is also diminished.
The Dangers of Not Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation is such a chronic condition these days that you might not even realize you suffer from it. Science has now established that a sleep deficit can have serious, far reaching effects on your health.
For example, interrupted or impaired sleep can:
- Dramatically weaken your immune system.
- Accelerate tumor growth – tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions
- Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight
- Seriously impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep -meaning sleeping only 4 to 6 hours – can impact your ability to think clearly the next day
- Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem solving ability
When your circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces less melatonin (a hormone AND an antioxidant) and has less ability to fight cancer, since melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to cancer. This is why tumors grow faster when you sleep poorly.
Impaired sleep can also increase stress-related disorders, including:
- Heart disease
- Stomach ulcers
- Mood disorders like depression
Sleep deprivation prematurely ages you by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as Peak Fitness Technique). Growth hormone helps you look and feel younger.
Try These Natural Insomnia Cures
There are some great natural insomnia cures on the other hand, which not only help you sleep, but actually nourish your body at the same time.
In an attempt to avoid drugs, some have taken to melatonin supplements, thinking that because melatonin is the sleep inducing hormone that the pineal gland in our brain secrets, it might be a natural insomnia cure. Strictly speaking, it’s not an herbal remedy. It’s a hormone.
Melatonin appears to be important in helping regulate the internal body clock’s cycle of sleep and wakefulness. Other claims that are made for it, include anti-oxidant and free radical scavenging properties and some say it has anti-cancer and anti-ageing effects, but there is no proof for this in humans.
Children usually have much higher levels of melatonin than adults. And as you grow older, your levels typically continue to decrease. Researchers believe this may explain why many older adults tend to experience disrupted sleep patterns.
Melatonin is available in pill or liquid form and you can get it at any health food store or pharmacy. Use low doses though – there’s concern that too-high doses could cause toxicity as well as raise the risk of depression or infertility.
Getting natural melatonin production back on track is the most sustainable scenario, says Dr. Daniel Barone, neurologist at New York-Presbyterian and Weill-Cornell Medicine. But taking an over-the-counter brand might do the trick short-term. Barone recommends taking between 1 and 3 milligrams 30 to 60 minutes before bed if you have trouble falling asleep, and immediately before if you have trouble staying asleep.
Foods that Contain or Assist With Melatonin Production
If you prefer to ingest melatonin naturally through foods, you can eat the following:
Tart Cherries are actually one of the few natural sources of melatonin itself. One small study showed that people who drank one cup (8 ounces) in the morning and one cup in the evening slept better. These cherries are also excellent sources of vitamin C, which is important for converting tryptophan into serotonin.
Bananas are rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is converted in the brain to 5-HTP. 5-HTP is then converted to serotonin (which in itself aids in the sleep process) and of course – melatonin.
Bananas are also a great source of potassium and magnesium, which amongst other things are both natural muscle relaxants. You can snack on a whole banana or make some healthy banana ice cream as a dessert.
Add some berries, seeds and almond milk to a cup of oats to make some healthy porridge or muesli to finish the day with. Oatmeal cookies are great for a bedtime snack. It also helps with weight loss, so you can even have some if you wake up during the night.
The 4-7-8 Method
Sometimes when you’re trying to sleep, your mind decides that it’s time for action and it seems like it’s working overtime. This method not only helps you to phase out all that “noise” in your head, but will gradually settle your body into being ready for a deep, refreshing sleep.
Here’s what to do:
- Breathe normally through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Then take a break from breathing for 7 seconds (this doesn’t mean ‘hold your breath’ – just stop breathing and count to 7).
- Start breathing again, only this time, through your mouth, for 8 seconds. You may find that these breaths will be deeper, after holding your breath. That’s good!
- Repeat the process until you fall asleep.
Sound too good to be true? It works like a charm and many have benefited from it. Some even describe it as being so effective that it’s as if they’ve taken a sleeping pill. The method slows down your heart rate and calms your nerves, while at the same time, creates a state of “mindfulness” – i.e. focusing only on what you’re doing in the moment.
If you happen to wake up during the night and can’t fall asleep easily, just try this method again.
Herbs and Supplements
If you’re under a lot of stress (or going through something emotional) and consistently wake up in the middle of the night, holy basil’s for you. It’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and creates a sense of calm by lowering anxiety and depression.
How it works: Stress disrupts cortisol’s regular rhythm. Often cortisol spikes between 6 and 8 a.m. to wake us up, but stress causes this spike to go backwards, waking us at 3 or 4 a.m. and holy basil can moderate this cortisol response.
Valerian is one of the most common sleep remedies for insomnia. Numerous studies have found that valerian improves deep sleep, speed of falling asleep, and overall quality of sleep. However, it’s most effective when used over a longer period of time. Bear in mind however, that about 10 percent of the people who use it actually feel energized, which may keep them awake. If that happens to you, take valerian during the day. If not, take 200 to 800 milligrams at least one hour before bed.
5-Hydroxytryptophane (5-HTP) Supplements
If you struggle with the winter blues and depression, mood-boosting 5-HTP might help add some extra hours of sleep. A more modern supplement, for decades Europeans have used 5-HTP to treat sleep and depression.
How it works: This amino acid is the building block of melatonin and it converts to serotonin, the “feel good” hormone. Because 5-HTP is the precursor of serotonin and necessary for melatonin formation, it’s very beneficial for mood and sleep.
Natural Sleep Inducing Techniques
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Insomnia is often due to emotional issues – you know, when you’re lying there awake and your mind just won’t turn off. You can address the emotional component of insomnia by using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture for more than 5,000 years to treat physical and emotional ailments.
EFT can help balance your body’s bio-energy system and resolve some of the emotional stresses that are contributing to the insomnia at a very deep level. The results are typically long lasting and the improvement is remarkably rapid.
Other “natural insomnia cures” that are useful as calming agents more than being specifically supported by human trials for insomnia, include warm herbal teas such as chamomile tea, which soothes and calms – and the aroma of lavender oil. However, a 2016 study published in the journal Explore found that college students who inhaled a lavender-scented patch before bed reported better nighttime sleep and more daytime energy, compared to those who inhaled a placebo patch.
The blue light from electonic devices “tricks” our brains into thinking that it’s daylight and time to be awake, so shutting down those devices and spending a few minutes in mindfulness and meditation before you close your eyes, may help. Focus on soft music while breathing deeply for about 10-15 minutes. You can even download sound file for this very purpose to your mobile device.
Some say that we are wired to sleep better when we hear the “sounds of nature” around us, such as gentle rain or a babbling brook. Playing an audio file of such sounds overnight while you sleep may also be helpful.
Lifestyle Suggestions to Help You Sleep
Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible. Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, may adversely affect sleep. In most cases, the condition causing the drugs to be taken in the first place can be addressed by following guidelines elsewhere on my web site.
Avoid caffeine. At least one study has shown that, in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects long after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine (for example, diet pills).
Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
Make certain you are exercising regularly. Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake. Studies show exercising in the morning is the best if you can manage it.
Minimize electromagnetic energy in your bedroom as much as possible, as this interferes with your brain’s ability to produce melatonin. Ensure that all electronic devices, including clock radios, are at least one metre away from where you lay your head.
Lose excess weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of sleep apnea, which can seriously impair your sleep. Please refer to my nutrition plan for recommendations.
Avoid foods you may be sensitive to. This is particularly true for sugar, grains, and pasteurized dairy. Sensitivity reactions can cause excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset, bloating and gas, and other problems, which can keep you awake at night.
Have your adrenals checked by a good natural medicine clinician. Scientists have found that insomnia may be caused by adrenal stress.
If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, get checked out by a good natural medicine physician. The hormonal changes at this time may cause sleep problems if not properly addressed.