Insomnia can cause fatigue, irritability, and loss of concentration. To beat it, practice healthy sleep habits consistently. You can also try sleep restriction, light therapy, and relaxation therapy. Meanwhile, drinking chamomile tea, valerian tea, or nutmeg and milk can help. So can aromatherapy with lavender or vetiver oil and acupressure.
Do you spend restless nights tossing and turning in bed unable to get to sleep? Insomnia can leave you feeling fatigued and sleepy during the day as well as cause irritation, impaired concentration, and even depression. But if bouts of sleeplessness are getting you down, there are plenty of natural and alternative remedies you can try.
Sleep, like many other bodily functions, ebbs and flows cyclically in accordance with the 24-hour circadian rhythm. That is, your sleep-wake cycle is regulated by your internal clock which, in turn, is influenced by the natural cycle of darkness and light. And melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep is produced by your brain during night time.
Psychological problems like stress, anxiety, or depression, sleep disorders like sleep apnea, or medical conditions like asthma, gastroesophageal reflux, or conditions that cause chronic pain like fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis may lead to insomnia. While it is important to identify and treat any condition that lies at the root of your insomnia, some natural remedies, and healthy habits can also help you.
Follow Healthy Sleep Habits
If you often have trouble getting a restful night’s sleep, you might need to make changes to your bedtime habits. Following healthy sleep habits consistently can help you sleep better regularly. Here are a few ideas that you should incorporate into your nightly routine.
- Stick to your sleep schedule: Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day trains you to fall asleep at a specific time.
- Reserve your bedroom for sleep: Use your bed only for sleeping or intimacy. That means no taking your work to bed with you. If you are not able to sleep, go into another room to do something that’s relaxing and come back to bed when you feel sleepy. This conditions you to associate your bedroom with sleep.
- Wind down before going to bed: Try to wind down with some relaxing music or a good book before bedtime. Or you might want to try a soothing bath. Avoid getting on the computer or the phone.
- Avoid stimulants: Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can keep you awake so avoid them before bed if you have insomnia. According to research, caffeine or alcohol consumed even 6 hours before going to bed can disrupt sleep.
- Create the right environment: The right temperature, lighting, and sound can all help create an atmosphere conducive to sleep. Keep your room at a temperature between 60–67°F as that is considered ideal for a good night’s sleep.
Try Sleep Restriction
If you have insomnia, you might think that spending more time in bed may be helpful. However, though counter-intuitive, the opposite is true. In fact, a technique known as sleep restriction, which is often used to tackle insomnia, restricts the amount of time you spend in bed. Here’s what you do.
You limit the amount of time that you spend in bed to time that you actually sleep. But don’t get up earlier, instead stay up later. So if you get up at 6 in the morning and you plan on spending 6 hours in bed, make sure you stay up till 12 in the night. Once you start sleeping soundly for those 6 hours, you can spend 15–30 minutes more in bed and maintain your new bedtime for about a week, and so on. Carry on this way, till you get a refreshing amount of sleep a night. It’s generally recommended that you don’t restrict the time you spend in bed to below 5 hours.
Practice Relaxation Therapy
One of the reasons that many of us have trouble falling asleep is that worry and stress crowd our mind just when we go to bed. Relaxation exercises can in many cases help manage stress and promote restful sleep. Here are a few techniques that you can try:
- Deep breathing: Deep breathing is one of the easiest relaxation techniques to practice. Here’s how you do it. Get comfortable and inhale for about 4 seconds, then hold the breath for around 7 seconds and slowly exhale for 8 seconds. This can help clear tension and stress.
- Guided imagery: Guided imagery is another technique that can lower stress and help you sleep. The powerful connection between your mind and body helps you relax when you imagine a relaxing scenario. So spending a few minutes visualizing soothing scenes such as floating in a peaceful lake or being rocked gently in a hammock while a warm breeze blows. Just make sure you picture a scene that you find calming and soothing.
- Progressive relaxation: This technique involves tensing and then relaxing different parts and muscle groups of your body one at a time. This makes you aware of mental and physical tension and helps you release it. Typically, you start at your feet and slowly work your way up your body
Use Light Therapy
Light therapy, which essentially involves exposure to light, can also be helpful in some cases of insomnia. As we’ve already seen, your biological clock which controls your sleep patterns is influenced by the cycle of darkness and light.
For people who have trouble getting to sleep early and waking up early (delayed sleep phase disorder), morning bright light therapy can help shift the circadian rhythm. Get exposure to sunlight between 6–9 am in the morning for around 30 minutes to an hour. If you don’t have access to naturally bright sunlight in the morning, you can place a commercial fluorescent lamp at arm’s length. Keep to dim light in the evenings and stick to relaxing activities such as listening to calming music or reading a book. You should see an improvement in 2–4 days though you’ll need to continue your new pattern for about a month for it to get established. And remember to stick to your regular bedtime schedule on weekends. Sleeping in can rob you of exposure to morning light and cause your body clock to shift.
If, on the other hand, you can fall asleep early in the evening without trouble but wake up too early in the morning (advanced sleep phase disorder), evening bright light therapy may help. Here you get exposure to bright light in the late afternoon, early evening, and even late evening.
Take a walk and spend time outdoors in the early evening. Use artificial light if natural light isn’t available in the evening, such as during winter. Continue to keep the lights on as you watch TV or go about activities in the evening. Avoid bright light in the mornings and wear sunglasses if you go out. Light exercise in the early evening can also be helpful. In a week or two, you should feel less sleepy in the evenings, be able to sleep for a longer early morning and get more sleep overall.
Have Chamomile Tea
Chamomile tea has traditionally been used for promoting sleep. And research shows that it does help you get to sleep faster. It contains a flavonoid known as apigenin which binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain and induces sleep. Treat yourself to a calming cup of chamomile tea an hour before bedtime so that you can fall asleep effortlessly.10 To prepare a cup of chamomile tea, steep 2–3 teaspoons of dried chamomile for around 10 to 15 minutes in boiling water.
Sip On A Nutmeg And Milk Drink
Another popular remedy for sleepless nights, nutmeg has also been found to have sedative powers in scientific studies. It also helps ease the anxiety that is often at the root of insomnia. Stir 1/8th a teaspoon of nutmeg into a glass of warm milk and take this an hour or two before going to bed.
Drink Valerian Tea Or Inhale Its Fragrance
Another well-known remedy for insomnia is valerian tea. Research indicates that this sleep aid binds to GABA-A receptors in your brain to exert a sedative action. To prepare valerian tea, steep a teaspoon of chopped roots in about 8 ounces of cold water for a night. Experts recommend not using hot water for preparing valerian tea as the heat may diminish its beneficial properties. Drink up about 30–45 minutes before you go to bed for a sound night’s sleep.
Try Aromatherapy With Vetiver
Studies show that like valerian, the scent of vetiver too can have a sedative effect. Add vetiver essential oil to a diffuser to inhale its sleep-promoting fragrance.
You can also make a signature sleep fragrance blend by adding the essential oils of vetiver, valerian, lavender, and clary sage. This blend can even be diluted in a carrier oil and added to your bath water for a soothing bath that lets you drift off easily. Aromatherapists suggest that applying a tiny amount to your abdomen may be helpful too.
Inhale The Fragrance Of Lavender
Here’s another sleep-inducing fragrance. Research indicates that compounds present in lavender such as terpineol and linalool have a relaxing effect. A few drops of lavender oil added to your diffuser should do the trick. Interestingly, studies show that aromatherapy with lavender works better as a treatment for insomnia in women than in men though it’s not yet clear why this is so.
The ancient technique of acupressure can also help you tackle insomnia. Studies show that applying pressure to certain points in your body known as acupoints can not only help you fall asleep quicker, it can also improve the duration and quality of sleep. Stimulating the following acupoints has been found to help promote sleep:
- Shenmen Point (HT 7): This point is about on your inner wrist about 1/5th of the way towards your little finger. Applying pressure here, gently, for around 2–3 minutes can help.
- San Yin Jiao Point (SP6): This point is located on the inside of your leg at a distance of 4 finger widths above your ankle. However, do keep in mind that this acupoint should not be used while you’re pregnant as it can induce labor.
- Anmian: This point is behind your ear near the earlobe. The small protruding bone there is known as the “mastoid process.” Move your finger along this bone till you get to a small depression and then slide your finger till you get to the base of the skull. That point is known as the Anmian point and this can be stimulated for a couple of minutes
Insomnia, Sleep and creativity, Sleep deprivation, light therapy, fatigue, sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, sleep disorders, advanced sleep phase disorder.