Getting good sleep is the single most important lifestyle choice you can make. Bad sleep or not enough sleep can lead to a huge list of health problems, as well as the usual grumpiness and bleary mornings. But medications for sleep come with a host of side-effects and may not provide the deep levels of sleep you need.
That’s why the best sleep aid is natural.
Herbs and Supplements
When most people think of natural sleep aids, they think of herbs, supplements, extracts, and exotic plants. And there are a lot of them:
is a perennial, tough little plant originally from Europe and parts of Asia. It’s claimed that the root has calming and sedative effects.
Another supposed sleep aid, hops are more famous as a key ingredient in beer!
Originating in the Pacific Islands and Polynesia, Kava, or “Kava-Kava”, was traditionally made into a drink with calming properties.
The classic evening tea! Chamomile is a herbal tea
made of the chamomile blossom – unlike proper tea, it contains no caffeine.
Not actually related to the lemon tree, lemon balm is a medium sized plant that has a pleasant citrus smell and taste. Often used for flavoring, lemon balm cultivars are also effective mosquito repellents.
A version of the plain old eating cherry, the tart cherry is hoped to not only help with sleep
, but also assist in preventing obesity.
And many more. It seems like every year there is a new wonder-plant with sleep-enhancing properties (among more perks). But do they actually work?
Studies, as always, are divided. If a herb does work, the effect is probably not very significant, especially compared to other solutions. However, the best part of these kind of sleep aids is that they have few and minor side effects, compared to Over the Counter or prescription medication. They may be worth a try if you have some bucks to spare.
But the fact is that the best all-natural sleep aid of all isn’t a pill at all: it’s you. Your habits and patterns can do more to fix sleep than any supplement or food extract. The best sleep solution is not an extract or supplement, but a combination of diet and lifestyle.
It may not be as exciting as a fuzzy blue shrub from Borneo, but it really works – and it’s free.
Eating for Sleep
There are some foods that do affect sleepiness. The most well known is coffee and its active ingredient caffeine. But although people know about it, they may not know how much caffeine can affect sleep. Just one cup of coffee in the late afternoon could be enough to impair your sleep tonight. Depending on your body, that 4:30 brew might have to go.
And not just coffee. Thinks like tea, soda pop and chocolate can all contain caffeine as well as added sugar. Try to omit these things from your diet in the evening hours to be sure they don’t keep you up.
Caffeine isn’t the only thing that will disturb your sleep patterns. Alcohol too is a surprising culprit. Although alcohol may help you fall asleep, the effect is only temporary. After a few hours, once your body begins to metabolize the alcohol, your sleep will become restless. Even if you do not wake up your sleep will not be as beneficial as without the drink.
What about food? Is there no natural plant that will help you sleep? Unfortunately, not really. But there are some food types that will help.Your body has a few different hormones involved in sleep, and they can be kick started by a chemical known as tryptophan.
Often thought of as occurring in turkey, tryptophan actually occurs in most protein sources. But in order for this ingredient to be used by the body, it must be accompanied by carbs. And the more carbohydrates the better. So the best bedtime snack is one with a bit of protein and a lot of carbs. This could be cereal with milk, or cheese and crackers, or peanut butter on toast. Any combo of carbs and protein will help get that tryptophan effect to your brain.
How you live can have as much of an affect on sleep as what you eat, if not more. The routines and patterns you build up around sleep help to set your body clock, and a wrong move here will mean long-term sleep problems.
In order to fall asleep at the same time every night, you need to train your body. You do this by going to bed and getting up at the same time – every day. Not just every weekday, and not just nights when you aren’t busy, but every single day. Sleeping in on weekends is one of the biggest causes of sleep pattern problems, and it will have to go. But don’t worry, once you commit to a rock-solid sleeping schedule, you won’t need your traditional weekend sleep-in. Your sleep will be so restful you won’t need it.
This careful sleep pattern also means no more naps.
You can also incorporate exercise into your daily routine, but not right before bed. Vigorous exercise during the day will help to exhaust your body, but leave it too late and you’ll be too pumped up to sleep. Give yourself at least three hours to cool down after a workout.
Finally, make sure your bed and bedroom is a place for sleep and nothing else. This means no reading in bed, no movies in bed, and no exercising in the bedroom. This will help to mentally associate your bed with sleep and rest, and not these stimulating activities.
Your body is cued by light to stimulate wakefulness. Although this is helpful at dawn, it’s not so good late in the evening. Lightbulbs, computer screens, TV screens, phones, and more all emit light that will subtly stimulate you. Although we can’t do without these modern conveniences entirely, try to limit their use before bed and try special apps to limit the effect of that digital blue glow.
During sleep, make your room as dark as possible. Some people like to wear a comfortable sleeping mask to block out all light, but not everyone needs this.
Hurry Up and Relax
Here’s where your brain can really work against you. Stress, worries, and mental preoccupations are a sure cause of 3 AM bedtimes. To counteract this, emphasize relaxation as you approach sleeping hours.
Nothing like a nice hot bath to relax you before bed! There’s no special tip here, just give yourself time for a good long soak and watch your worries go down the drain.
A good pairing with a hot bath is aromatherapy. Either through essential oils or even a nice cup of tea, comforting and relaxing smells can put you in a good mindset for sleep.
Why not ask your partner for a gentle back massage, or head massage before bed? A foot massage is also excellent for complete relaxation. One perk of a deep foot rub is that you can do it yourself, if there are no spare hands to help you out.
Whether through music or white noise, sounds can help to calm the brain. For music, keep things soft and melodious, like classical music. Probably no Ramones before bed. As far as white noise, this can be as easy as tuning your radio between stations on low volume. The static makes effective white noise to block out any other noise in the room.
I’m Never Gonna Fall Asleep!
Anyone who has had a bad night knows that after a while the stress about being up late is what keeps you up. You spend so much time fretting about the little bit of sleep you’ll get, that you get even less. There’ s no easy answer to this, but you try turning your clock around so you don’t fixate on the hour.
Also remember – sleep is for relaxing, not for stressing about. If you find yourself getting madder and madder about not sleeping, just get up for a while. It’s better to put a stop to these feelings so that sleep doesn’t get associated with negative emotions.
Tonight you won’t be taking any extracts or pills to fall asleep.
First, cut out the tea, coffee, and sugary drinks in the early evening. Unplug your devices and gadgets in the late evening. Relax your mind and your body with your favorite chill-out method. Then go for a high carb and protein snack. When you hit the sack, be sure your room is cool, dark, and quiet.
In the days and weeks to come, maintain a regular sleep pattern with healthy sleep habits. That’s your natural sleep aid!