We’ve all had those nights where we toss and turn and can’t seem to get to sleep. Or, nights where we fall asleep but then awake in the middle of the night unable to return to sleep. It’s frustrating and unhealthy, especially if it goes on for more than one night at a time.
Lifestyle Tips for Better SleepSometimes the problem may be related to stress – problems at work or at home that don’t allow our minds to rest. Sleep issues may also have to do with our sleep environment such as room temperature or the comfort of our beds, or it may be the result of external issues such as noise or lighting. Thankfully there are things you can do to help get you the sleep you need.
Before you try anything else, try the following:
- Keep noise and light to a minimum. Use earplugs, window blinds, heavy curtains, or an eye mask. Small night-lights in your bedroom and bathroom are a good idea.
- Avoid large meals two hours before bedtime. A light snack is fine.
- Don’t drink caffeine (including tea and soft drinks) before bedtime.
- Regular exercise like walking will reduce stress hormones and help you sleep better. But don’t exercise within two hours of bedtime. You may have more difficulty falling asleep.
- Don’t nap late in the afternoon.
- Stop working on any task an hour before bedtime to calm your brain.
- Don’t discuss emotional issues right before bedtime.
- Keep pets outside your sleeping area if you can.
- Make sure your bedroom is well ventilated and at a comfortable temperature.
- Use earplugs to muffle disturbing sounds. Or use a device that emits “white” noise to mask outside sounds.
- Keep your room cool. Don’t wear heavy sleepwear if you tend to get too warm.
- Keep your room dark, but make sure you are exposed to plenty of bright light or sunlight during the day.
- Learn a relaxation technique like meditation or progressive relaxation.
If a good night’s sleep is still illusive, you may wish to try these herbal supplements that may aid in sleep:
People have used chamomile tea for sleep for thousands of years. Studies seem to back up its calming effect. One Japanese study of rats found that chamomile extract helped the rats fall to sleep just as quickly as rats that got a dose of benzodiazepine (a tranquilizing medication). The FDA considers chamomile tea to be safe with usually no side effects. To brew it properly, use two or three tea bags, and then put a lid on the pot to keep oils in the water and maximize the medicinal effects of the tea. Use chamomile cautiously if you are allergic to ragweed (the plants are related). Also, don’t take chamomile tea if you are pregnant or nursing.
Melatonin for Sleep
Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle (circadian cycles). Studies show that melatonin not only helps some people fall asleep, but also enhances the quality of sleep. Melatonin comes in two forms — extended release and immediate release. If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night, you may want to take extended release before you go to bed. If you have trouble falling asleep, try immediate release. A few cautions: Melatonin is considered generally safe for short-term use. However, there have been concerns about risks of bleeding (especially in people taking blood-thinners like warfarin). There also is increased risk of seizure, particularly in children with brain disorders.
Valerian for Sleep
Valerian root has been used as a sedative and anti-anxiety treatment for more than 2,000 years. A review of 16 small studies suggests that valerian may help people fall to sleep faster. It also may improve the quality of sleep. Valerian becomes more effective over time, so it’s best to take it every night for a short period of time. Some people have stomach upset, headache, or morning grogginess with valerian. Taking valerian with sleeping medications or with alcohol can compound its effect, so don’t use it with other sleep aids. Start with the lowest dose, and then increase over several days’ time. Valerian is considered safe to take for four to six weeks.
Kava for Sleep
The Kava plant is a member of the pepper family, and has been shown to help relieve anxiety. One review of six studies showed reduced anxiety among patients who took kava, compared with those who got a placebo. Another small study showed that both kava and valerian improved sleep in people with stress-related insomnia.
The American Academy of Family Physicians says that short-term use of kava is okay for patients with mild to moderate anxiety — but not if you use alcohol or take medicines metabolized in the liver, including many cholesterol medicines. In fact, the FDA has issued a warning that using kava supplements has been linked to a risk for severe liver damage. Before taking kava, ask your pharmacist if kava is safe for you.
For those with persistent problems, it is advisable to make an appointment with your doctor as a more thorough evaluation is needed to determine the cause of your sleeping difficulties.