Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: Natural Remedies For Sleep
In our 21st century world of technology, constant connectivity and FOMO (fear of missing out) has made sleep an elusive luxury for many. This point is made clear by the estimated $41 billion dollars Americans spent on sleep aids and remedies in 2015…a number that BBC Research analyst, Natana Raj, estimates will grow to $52 billion by 2020.5 While Michael A Grandner, Ph.D., states that the insomnia epidemic can be treated “pretty effectively using non-medication approaches” 4, data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that 1 in 25 adults have taken a prescription sleep medicine in the last month. The reason being: many of us are totally unaware of the bountiful number of natural remedies at our disposal. Plus, doctors have a penchant to prescribe pills before forcing their patients to at least test out alternative methods of treating their insomnia.
But sweet dreams don’t come in pill form. The truest of sweet dreams are made with a unique combination of natural remedies that vary from person to person. We hope that one of our favorite natural remedies will help guide you to the land of ZZZ's.
Magnesium plays a crucial role when it comes to the body's sleep state, as it is essential for proper functioning of GABA receptors. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter the brain requires in order to turn itself off ². Even a marginal lack of magnesium can hinder the brain from winding down at night, indicating that the inability to fall asleep could be the result of a magnesium deficiency. Combating this can be done by consuming magnesium-rich foods like leafy green vegetables or taking magnesium supplements before bed.
Pass On Caffeine and Alcohol
With its long-lasting, stimulating effects, caffeine is frequently the culprit of a night spent tossing and turning.³ It is important to consider how many cups of coffee you drink a day and just how late in the day you are reaching for your last cup. Cutting down on the amount of caffeine you consume on a daily basis can have a positive impact on your ability to get to sleep. Alcohol is another drink to avoid in the name of good sleep. While drinking some wine before bed can help you reach that desired state of drowsiness, alcohol actually interrupts your circadian rhythm and blocks REM sleep.³ This leads to an overall negative affect on the quality and quantity of sleep you’re getting.
Sip Warm Milk
Ever wondered why your parents gave you warm milk before bedtime when you were little? Well, here’s some science to help explain why: milk is an excellent source of calcium—calcium being a mineral that has a direct effect on the sleep cycle. A study published in the European Neurology Journal demonstrated that calcium levels in the body are higher during some of the deepest levels of sleep like the REM phase. Results of the study indicated disturbances in sleep, especially the absence of REM deep sleep or disturbed REM sleep, are related to a calcium deficiency. By normalizing the blood calcium level, researchers were able to restore the normal sleep cycle. Also highlighted by the research is the crucial role calcium plays in helping the brain use tryptophan to manufacture natural, sleep-inducing melatonin¹.
Use Essential Oils
Each oil (or combination of oils) can have a powerful effect on your emotional, spiritual and physical well being. Check out this blog post to read up on essential information about essential oils.
Ditch All Electronic Devices
Whether it’s catching up on our favorite Netflix show, checking emails, reading on our iPad, or scrolling through Instagram, we all have a nighttime routine that most likely includes various forms of electronic devices. Despite how normal it is to be glued to a screen, this widespread penchant for using technology before bed causes a major disruption in sleeping patterns. Doctor Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School explains that “artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour—making it more difficult to fall asleep” 4. You should aim to be screen-free for at least an hour before getting into bed.
A 2010 study published in Sleep Medicine by Northwestern Medicine suggests that improving one’s quality of sleep, vitality, and mood can be done through regular aerobic exercise. Phyllis Zee, MD, senior author and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Medicine, says that identifying behavioral ways to improve sleep (like exercise) are essential considering a huge proportion of the population is plagued by sleep issues. Similarly, a poll by the National Sleep Foundation showed that regular exercisers were significantly more likely to report sleeping well on most nights than people who were not physically active.
Research from a 2009 study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine indicated that meditation may be an effective behavioral intervention in the treatment of insomnia. Similarly, in a 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, adults who spent two hours a week learning meditation and mindfulness techniques for six weeks reported less insomnia and fatigue than those who’d spent the same amount of time learning basic sleep hygiene. While learning to meditate seems daunting, we highly recommended this 10-Step Mindfulness Practice For Better Sleep as a place to start.
Create A Sleep Sanctuary
Setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep starts with creating the optimal sleep environment for YOU. When it comes to your actual bed, make sure you have a comfortable pair of sheets (a light, silky set for the summer and a cozy jersey fleece set for the winter) and a pillow that suits your sleeping style (side sleeper, stomach sleeper, etc). The National Sleep Foundation highlights the correlation between a cool bedroom temperature and sleep quality.6 While it is truly up to the individual to find the temperature that works best, you should aim for somewhere around 65 degrees.
But all these remedies aside, it is important to figure out and address the underlying cause of your sleep disturbances. Plus, you should always consult your doctor before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
Photo: Matt Hoffman