Natural Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Getting a good night's sleep is critical not only for energy, but also to decrease pain related to muscle overuse, improve authority, and support a healthy immune system.
Inadequate sleep can occur for a number of reasons. Many Americans simply do not make enough time for adequate sleep. A hundred and thirty years ago, before light bulbs were invented, the average American was getting 9 hours of sleep a night. Anthropologists tell us that 5,000 years ago, the average night's sleep was 11 hours. When the sun went down, it was dark, boring, and dangerous outside, so people went to bed. When the sun came up, they woke up. The use of candles initially shortened sleep time. Then light bulbs were developed, followed by radio, TV and computers. We are now down to an average of 6 3/4 hours of sleep a night, and this is simply not adequate to allow proper rest and tissue repair.
Some people get inadequate sleep because of poor sleep hygiene, while others have difficulty sleeping because the sleep center in the brain (called the hypothalamus) is not working properly (which is often the case when fatigue is present along with insomnia).
Natural Aids for Restful Sleep
Most of the natural sleep remedies discussed here are not sedating, yet they will help you fall asleep and stay in deep sleep. Some are available in combination formulas as well. I recommend taking an herbal mix that includes the following natural sleep aids:
- Herbal mix (look for the following ingredients):
- Wild lettuce extract (one of the most powerful sleep herbals available)
- Jamaican dogwood extract (helps with sleep and is a muscle relaxant)
- Hops extract
- Passionflower extract (helps both sleep and in alleviating occasional anxiety)
- Valerian extract
- Theanine (from green tea; helps sleep and promotes healthy immune function)
If you're still not getting eight to nine hours of sleep a night, add in the natural remedies below.
- Magnesium. Take 200 mg along at bedtime.
- To further help relax tight muscles, add 2 cups of Epsom salts to a tub of hot water and have a nice soak before bedtime.
- Hydroxy L-tryptophan (5-HTP). Take 200 to 400 mg at night. 5-HTP is what your body uses to make serotonin, the "happiness molecule" neurotransmitter that also helps improve the quality of sleep. The one caution I give is that if you are taking other therapies that increase serotonin (these include anti-depressants like Prozac, St. John's Wort, Ultram, Desyrel, etc.), consult a holistic physician before taking 5-HTP (and limit the 5-HTP to 200 mg at night). It takes 6 to 12 weeks to see the full effect of 5-HTP, and it is more expensive than the other remedies. Nonetheless, it may be very helpful and is worthwhile to try.
- Melatonin. This is our body's sleep regulating hormone. For most people, all it takes to see the optimal effect is 1/2 mg.
All of the above sleep aids can be taken together if needed. With the exception of 5-HTP, which takes 6-12 weeks to work, all of them can also be used either every night or simply as needed.
Good "Sleep Hygiene"
These are some important things to consider that enhance good sleep hygiene:
- Do not consume excess alcohol near bedtime.
- Do not consume caffeine (except perhaps for a little chocolate) after 4:00 P.M.
- Do not use your bed for problem solving or doing work.
- Take a hot bath before bed.
- Keep your bedroom cool.
- If your partner snores, sleep in a separate bedroom (after tucking in or being tucked in by your partner) or get a good pair of earplugs and use them. The wax plugs that mold to the shape of the ear are often the best ones.
- If you frequently wake up to urinate during the night, do not drink a lot of fluids near bedtime.
- Put the bedroom clock out of arm's reach and facing away from you so you can't see it. Looking at the clock frequently aggravates sleep problems and is frustrating.
- Have a 1 to 2 ounce high-protein snack before bedtime. Hunger and low blood sugar cause difficulty sleeping in all animals, and humans are no exception. For your snack, eat high-protein foods such as a hard-boiled egg, some cheese, an ounce of meat or fish, or a handful of nuts.