October 04, 2021 7 min read

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    Sometimes the only thing standing between you and a good night's sleep is a bed. Other times, it's a bad meal, embarrassing memories, babies that need to be fed, jet lag, an aching back, anxiety, looming work projects, or a jackhammer. For the most unlucky individuals, it's all of the above. It's common for the day's stress to spill over into sleep time. As Tupak Shakur once said, "The only time I have problems is when I sleep.”

    According to the National Sleep Foundation, "common causes of insomnia include stress, an irregular sleep schedule, poor sleeping habits (or sleep hygiene), mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, physical illnesses and pain, medications, neurological problems, and specific sleep disorders." More specifically, things that come between you and healthy sleep in both the long and short term can include:

    • Menopause: The symptoms of menopause can include restlessness, hot flashes, and discomfort, all of which can interfere with sleep.
    • Caffeine: Consuming caffeine too close to bed can give you more energy than you bargained for. Even up to six hours after caffeine is consumed, half of it can still remain in your body. Avoid after-dinner caffeinated beverages and stick to water instead to support the body's natural detoxification.
    • Alcohol:While many people think that alcohol, a downer, can help you fall asleep faster, it does not promote restful sleep. Oftentimes, alcohol disturbs the sleep cycle and results in nonrestorative, poor sleep.
    Alcohol Disrupts the Sleep Cycle
    • Heavy foods: Eating large meals and lots of spicy foods causes the digestive system to go into overdrive, and when consumed close to bedtime can keep you from sleeping.
    • Excessive napping and sleeping in: Research shows the optimal length of a nap is 10-20 minutes. Pressing the snooze button too many times or taking a long post-lunch nap can disrupt the body's natural sleep patterns, making it difficult for your body to differentiate between sleep and wake hours.
    • Jetlag:Jetlag, or hopping between time zones, also disrupts the body's sleep-wake cycle (AKA circadian rhythm) and can cause short-term or chronic insomnia.
    • Too much stimulation before bed:Research on blue light's effects on the brain is controversial, but many experts agree that scrolling on your phone and over-stimulating the brain before bed can inhibit the production of melatonin, the body's "sleep hormone".
    • Pain:Pain also makes sleep a challenge. Taking OTC pain relievers before bed, massaging the sore or painful area, relieving pressure, and exercising can all help to relieve pain and contribute to an uninterrupted, more restful night of sleep.
    • Stress is the ultimate stimulant:Short-term stress, like worrying over a presentation or having too much on your plate, as well as chronic stress such as post-traumatic stress disorder, can cause serious sleep problems. Stress is perceived as a threat and signals the brain to be on high alert. If at all possible, try simple things like writing a to-do list, turning off phone notifications, meditating, or journaling to dump stress before hitting the hay.
    Stress and Sleep Issues
    • Anxiety and mental health disorders: It is estimated that 40% of people with insomnia have some sort of mental health disorder. Conversely, lack of sleep can induce anxiety and other mental health issues. Thus, addressing and managing your anxiety in the morning is just as important as before bed.

    Natural Sleep Aids vs. Medication

    If you're looking for a solution to sleep better, you have options! It's up to you whether you choose to go the route of natural home remedies, over-the-counter sleep medicines, or a combination of both.

    Many OTC sleep medications or "sleeping pills" contain antihistamines that may cause morning drowsiness. These include common drugs such as Benadryl, Aleve PM, and Unisom SleepTabs. While these drugs may promote sleep in the short run, it's extremely easy to build a tolerance to antihistamines, so taking them nightly to manage insomnia is not recommended.

    Drug interactions and side effects such as daytime grogginess are not uncommon, so you should speak with a doctor before adding a sleep medicine to your daily routine.

    Herbal supplements are another natural route to better sleep. Though studies on the effects of these supplements are typically sparse and many of the below remedies are not monitored by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), many people find they have calming effects that can help to strengthen your pre-sleep routine.

    All in all, natural remedies like the ones listed below often come with fewer side effects than non-prescription sleep aids. However, if you have any specific health conditions that you're concerned about, consult a doctor before taking something new.

    • Melatonin:Melatonin supplements are another common, sleep-promoting supplement. Since melatonin is produced naturally within the body, it is generally considered safe to use to treat jet lag and mild insomnia. However, the effects are typically mild, and taking melatonin before bed has been known to cause grogginess and headaches the next day. Studies show that consuming as little as 0.1 to .3 milligrams of melatonin may be enough to induce sleep. Tart cherry juice contains trace amounts of melatonin and may make for a gentle "sleep cocktail"!
    • Tryptophan:Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for producing healthy sleeping patterns and boosting mood. It's also the amino acid found in turkey that induces the classic, post-Thanksgiving dinner crash! Studies dating back to the 1970s have mixed results regarding tryptophan's ability to safely induce sleep and it continues to be tested today. You can up your tryptophan levels by consuming foods like turkey, cheese, nuts, beans, eggs, and milk.
    • Valerian:Valerian or valerian root, a natural extract, is another common, natural remedy for insomnia. However, despite its popularity, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive DataBase stated there is not enough proof to show it is effective in treating insomnia or anxiety. With that in mind, valerian is still considered safe to use daily for up to six weeks.
    • Chamomile:Many people report a calming and soothing effect from consuming chamomile tea before bed or even smelling it in the form of a candle. It has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for sleeplessness and is safe to consume, although no studies have proven its efficacy in treating insomnia.
    Chamomile Calming Effects
    • Kava: Kava is another natural ingredient that is said to have a sedating effect. It is generally used as a tea, but kava bars have been popping up throughout the US due to its "intoxicatingly calming" effects. But buyers beware: the FDA has now warned consumers that Kava can be associated with liver damage. It's on the market, but use it at your own risk and consult with a healthcare professional before you do.
    • Lavender aromatherapy:Lavender is another common herb used to treat anxiety and induce a state of calmness and serenity. Rather than consuming lavender, which can irritate the stomach, diffusing and inhaling lavender essential oil may help to reduce stress and anxiety during and after sleep. Alternatively, slipping a lavender bud sachet under the pillow as a form of aromatherapy may slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease body temperature to avoid overheating throughout the night.
    • Passionflower: Dried passionflower powder, the flower from the passionfruit plant, may help relieve insomnia and anxiety. Passionflower appears to boost levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which temporarily lowers brain activity so you can bid anxious thoughts goodbye.
    Calming Effects of Passionflower
    • Boswellia Serrata: Although it's not known to help promote sleep per se, Boswellia is a natural supplement that can help to decrease pain and inflammation without the harmful side effects that often come with NSAID use. Consider swapping aspirin or ibuprofen for a Boswellia Serrata supplement to promote more restful, pain-free sleep.
    • Magnesium: Another popular wellness supplement that may help you nod off to sleep is magnesium. Studies on older adults have shown that magnesium supplements may improve slumber quality in those with restless leg syndrome.
    • CBD Oil:CBD oil is another supplement that is growing in popularity as a way to manage anxiety and sleep more soundly. Many people report that consuming CBD oil helps them to feel calmer and more tired. Additionally, topical CBD creams may help to relieve pain and tension so you can sleep pain-free.

    Sleep "Cocktails" and Recipes You Can Whip Up At Home

    If you're looking for ways to ease into a nightly routine and set yourself up for a good night's rest, look no further.

    • Herbal tea:Perhaps the greatest "sleep cocktail" is a nice warm mug of non caffeinated tea. Try brewing up some tea that contains chamomile, passionflower, and a dash of CBD honey for sweetness. Many "sleepy time" teas contain chamomile among other herbal ingredients to help you feel calm and sleepy.

    • Mulled tart cherry juice:Rather than sipping on mulled wine, try mulled cherry juice instead. Heat up tart cherry juice in a saucepan on the stove along with other "warming" spices such as clove, cinnamon, and star anise for a non-alcoholic, mulled beverage that uses melatonin instead of alcohol to help you fall asleep.

    Tart Cherry Juice for Sleep
    • Lavender sleep sanctuary:Instead of a beverage or consumable, try making your room a sanctuary for sleep with lavender! Lavender pillow mist is a great way to infuse your sleeping area with the soothing scent of lavender. Alternatively, using a natural, non-irritating, lavender-scented detergent leaves a delicate smell that will help you nod off to dreamland. If you prefer to take a warm bath before bed, consider adding 10-12 drops of pure lavender essential oil to your water as you soak.
    • Blueberry Gummies with Beef Gelatin & CBD Oil: Looking for a light midnight snack that will help you hit the hay? Try making these blueberry gummies infused with CBD oil! Pure gelatin may help to ease an upset stomach while CBD oil helps you to feel calm and relaxed. Plus, they satisfy a sweet tooth, without the extra sugar!

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