Nothing quite starts your day on the right foot like waking up feeling refreshed! On the other hand, experiencing one sleepless night after another is a sure fire way to turn a lot of us into a metaphorical porcupine. If you’re tired (literally) of not getting enough of it, check out these simple natural remedies for better sleep.
Practice Daily Yoga and Meditation
If you often find yourself laying awake at night with all of the events of your day racing around behind your eyelids, relaxation techniques may be your key to better sleep. Take time out of your busy schedule – preferably at the end of the day – to tune out the rest of the world. Perform some of these calming yoga poses to stretch tired muscles and relax your body in preparation for sleep. Then meditate for at least fifteen minutes. This will give your mind a chance to process and store the information it has gathered throughout your day.
Again, it’s best to perform these relaxation exercises as close to bedtime as possible. That way you can sleep when you close your eyes instead of listening to your own mind ramble on about its day.
Make Some Noise… (White Noise, That Is)
If you’re the kind of person who startles awake at the slightest noise, consider investing in a White Noise Generator. These handy little devices produce a continuous loop of soft uninterrupted sound – often with several different settings to chose from, ie: ocean waves, fan, raindrops, etc – that magically drowns out all of the creaks, squeaks, and bumps in the night.
Regulate Your Light Exposure
As diurnal animals, our sleep cycles are affected very heavily by the rising and setting of the sun – or more importantly, by our exposure to light. If you have a job that requires you to be awake when it’s dark outside and sleep during the daylight hours, this could be a big cause of insomnia for you. Fortunately, there are ways to “fake out” your circadian rhythm using artificial light. Right after you wake up – no matter what time of the day that may be for you – try sitting in a room lit with bright natural daylight bulbs. Then, when it’s time to go to bed (or during your mediation / yoga time) spend at least thirty minutes in a room with very low, shaded light. After a few days of this kind of light exposure therapy, you may find that your circadian rhythm is back on track and your sleeping troubles are no more.
Analyze Your Diet
Certain foods can make you feel sleepy while others wake you up. Knowing which culinary choices are which can help you to not only sleep better, but also to be more alert throughout the day.
Oatmeal – triggers insulin production which raises blood-sugar levels and makes you sleepy. Also naturally contains melatonin (see #11 below.)
Whole Grain Bread – also triggers insulin production, followed by a hard sugar-crash. (Most high-carb foods like bread are the cause of postprandial somnolence, aka the food coma!)
Cherries – another good source of melatonin.
Almonds – contain tryptophan and magnesium which both naturally relax muscles and calm nerves.
Hummus – another natural source of tryptophan.
Honey – one tablespoon gives you just the right amount of glucose to essentially signal your brain that it’s time to shut down.
Dark Chocolate – naturally contains serotonin which makes you feel happy and relaxed.
Hard Cheeses – Parmesan, Asiago, Romano, and many similarly-textured cheeses contain high levels of tyramine, and amino acid that wakes you up!
Cayenne Pepper – is a stimulant and can also give you heartburn that will keep you up all night. (This goes for most spicy foods!)
Processed Meat – also contains high levels of tyramine.
Soy Products – contain even higher amounts of tyramine. (That includes soy sauce for all of you late-night, weekend sushi lovers!)
Milk Chocolate – contains the amino acid tyrosine which our bodies convert into the stimulant dopamine.
Lavender is a very versatile herb, and one of its many powers it to promote relaxation. Use lavender as an essential oil, dried herb, or hydrosol. Apply directly to bedsheets and pillow cases or create a lavender-infused sachet to keep on your bed side table.
Lavender oil is also mild enough to use around children and infants. If your baby is having trouble sleeping, add a couple of drops of lavender to his or her evening bath. Alternately, you can sprinkle a few drops onto a favorite stuffed animal or blanket for similar effect.
You may also want to try dried lavender blended with your favorite tea for a relaxing “sleepytime” drink.
Besides lavender, there are plenty of other herbal extracts and essential oils which can be used to calm the mind and relax the body. A short list of some of the best candidates for the job include: Neroli (orange flower), Lemon Balm, Roman Chamomile, Clary Sage, Rose, Valerian essential oil, Sweet Marjoram, Catnip, and Hops flower oil. Try one (or a combination) of these essential oils added to bath salts or an aromatherapy
Remember, if you’re going to apply essential oils directly on your skin, it’s always a good idea to first dilute them with a carrier oil. Jojoba, coconut, or grapeseed oil are all great choices for topical use.
Ditch Your Minty Toothpaste
When you brush your teeth after dinner, you may be secretly sabotaging your own sleep efforts. Peppermint is a powerful natural stimulant and if it’s in your toothpaste, it’s probably helping to wake you up right before bedtime. Set the minty stuff aside and try this Squeezable Homemade Toothpaste compliments of Wellness Mama! Try orange, bergamot, or lemon extract for flavoring. Or if you must have minty toothpaste, use the more mild spearmint instead of invigorating peppermint.
(Further reading: 50 Things You Should Stop Buying & Start Making)
Avoid Alcohol Before Bed
While it may make you feel tired, excessive consumption of alcohol actually prevents your mind and body from entering the deepest stages of sleep. This is the reason that most people will wake up after a night of heavy drinking and feel as thought they didn’t sleep at all. Remember the one drink per hour rule: One serving of alcohol takes approximately one hour for your body to process. Make sure you allow your system enough time to flush out what you drink before it’s time to sleep, so you can wake up feeling refreshed!
Teas That Make You Sleep
Chamomile tea is one of the most popular and effective beverages for relaxing before bed. Enjoy the classic apple-like flavor and fragrance of this Fair Trade Certified Organic Chamomile Tea made by Stash.
One of the oldest herbal aids for a good night’s sleep, Valerian root has been used for thousands of years. The next time you find yourself unable to sleep, brew yourself a cup of Valerian tea.
Alternately, you can take Valerian root as a supplement or extract.
Boost Your Melatonin
Another supplement that is widely used as a natural sleep aid is melatonin. While melatonin is a hormone that our bodies naturally produce to let us know that it’s time to sleep, sometimes we just don’t make enough of it. In many cases this is due to exposure to light at the wrong time of day (see #3 above.) However, that may not always be the case. For a better night’s sleep, try this melatonin supplement by Nature’s Bounty!
(Remember, always consult with your doctor before starting any new natural remedy. Persistent insomnia may be symptomatic of a more dangerous condition such as sleep apnea.)