Are you one of those people that toss and turn for hours every night, only falling into a deep sleep when the alarm goes off? Well you are not alone, as the NHS reports that one in three of us Britons go through periods when we have trouble sleeping and that one in ten of us regularly takes some type of sleeping medication. Shockingly, around 15.3 million prescriptions for sleeping tablets were handed out to patients suffering from insomnia during the last year according to the Economic and Social Research Council. While having a few nights of disrupted sleep causes nothing more than a bit of tiredness, poorer performance at work and irritability for a few days, scientists have conducted many studies that prove that being sleep deprived over a long period can lead to serious health problems such as diabetes, weight gain, strokes, heart attacks and high blood pressure. Chronic insomnia is even believed to be a contributing factor to developing cancer and that if you don’t get enough hours you can expect to have a shorter life.
The stressful, busy life that many of us lead in this modern world is one of the major reasons why we are finding it so hard to sleep. And although sleeping tablets can be very effective for helping with a short term bout of sleeplessness, they are not a long term solution for chronic insomnia. So if you are fed up with feeling weary all the time and dragging your way through the day, don’t despair as luckily there are many natural ways in which you can help yourself get a satisfying night’s sleep. So what can you do to get that quality sleep time that you so richly deserve and wake up in the morning feeling vibrant, optimistic and energetic?
1. Your Bedroom Is Just For Sleep
Your bedroom is where you sleep and spend the greater part of each night, so it has to be just that – a bedroom. Your bedroom should only be used for sleep and lovemaking and nothing else. If you have created a work station in your bedroom, use it to watch TV or do one of your hobbies, stop this right now and move the equipment out into another room if at all possible. If you are really short of space and can’t move these activities elsewhere in your home, try and use screens to create a discrete space for your bed. To sleep well you need a space that spells sleep and rest for you; a space where you can put mentally put the day’s activities away and relax.
2. Creating The Right Environment For Sleep
Have you ever had a good look around your bedroom and assessed whether or not it is optimised for helping you sleep? If you are having trouble sleeping, you may need to make some changes in your bedroom, so that you can enjoy your eight hours of blissful slumber every night. Starting with the bed, check that the mattress you are sleeping on is the right one for you and supports your body properly. What about your bed linen? If yours is old, worn and mismatched, maybe now is the time to invest in some new sheets, pillowcases and duvet covers. We humans are very visual creatures, so if you come into a bedroom that is tidy, well-coordinated and visually pleasing, you are going to find it much easier to relax and drift off to sleep. It also helps to make sure that your bedroom smells nice for when you want to try to go to sleep. Try burning something soothing like lavender oil before you lie down for the night, or put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton wool ball and pop it under your pillow. Ensure that you choose organic cotton bed linen, as commercially grown cotton contains strong chemicals that can irritate your skin as you are sleeping and can even affect your breathing. Also make sure that your bedroom is always properly aired, as this will also help you to sleep well. Leave a window open and turn the heating off even on a cold, winter night, as it is hard to sleep properly in stuffy, hot rooms. If you suffer from the cold invest in a quality, high tog duvet and a hot water bottle to keep you cosy.
3. Keep Your Bedroom Dark
Have you ever thought of how dark your bedroom really is at night? We live in a world full of electrical light sources, so you may think that you are sleeping in a darkened room but actually you may have light coming in from outside, while inside there may be screens glowing or standby lights on electrical appliances burning. These lights, however dim, get mistaken for daylight by our brains, which then confuses our body clocks. Our brains produce a hormone called melatonin which helps to regulate our sleep patterns, but if there is too much light in the room while we are asleep, the brain won’t produce the amounts of melatonin we need. Even though our eyes are closed during the night, our brains can still detect any light in the room through our eyelids. We evolved in a world where we would go to sleep when darkness fell and there were no electric lights, and would wake naturally as the sun rose. So your bedroom is not the place for electrical appliances with flashing lights or screens. Remove as many as is feasible, and if you must keep some then switch them completely off at night, so the standby light is not on. Similarly, if you really must have a computer or tablet in your bedroom, shut it right down before you start to nod off, so there is no glow from the screen. If light is coming in your bedroom window from street lights outside, it is time to invest in some heavy duty curtains or blinds, or sew some blackout linings onto your existing curtains. As you are winding down for the night, gradually dim the lights in your bedroom, so that you brain is naturally led towards the sleep state and you will find that you drop off really quickly when you switch off that one remaining lamp.
4. Create a regular Sleeping Routine
One of the great things about growing up and becoming an adult is that we can now do what we want when we want. Unfortunately, however, having an erratic schedule could be one of the major contributors to your insomnia. Many of us have lives where we get up early for work during the week, stay out late partying and then sleep in at the weekends to catch up. But sleep experts are now saying that one of the best ways to ensure that you get a good night’s rest is to have a regular sleep schedule that you keep to even at weekends. So it is recommended that you get into bed and go to sleep at roughly the same time every night and then aim to wake up at the same time every morning. And you may even be surprised to find that getting up at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning isn’t so bad after all? If dropping off still proves to be a problem, then implement a regular winding down schedule. Stop doing any tasks that require a great deal of thought and concentration a couple of hours before you plan to go to bed, switching off computers and TVs. Listen to some soothing music, take a gentle walk in the fresh air or have a long hot bath. Read a book or magazine and make yourself a hot, caffeine-free drink to sip. Whatever you choose, try and do the same things in sequence every night, so that your mind begins to associate your activities with preparing for sleep. Likewise, if you are one of those people who just lays in bed worrying and fretting instead of sleeping, decide that you are going to put your worries away for the night and leave them outside of your bedroom. While you are cleaning your teeth in the bathroom every night, just visualise or imagine that you have a box on top of the bathroom cabinet for your stresses and worries. Identify what is on your mind and mentally put that worry away in the box for the night. There is nothing you can change in the middle of the night, so what is the point of fretting about it? If sleep is still elusive, try some reverse psychology. Most people lie there telling themselves that they can’t sleep or will never get to sleep, which is a self fulfilling prophecy. Instead, try telling yourself that you intend to stay awake all night, and see how fast you drop off! You can always decide to pick your worries up the next morning if you really have to, but wouldn’t it be much better for you if you decided to pack them away for good?
5. Drink and Eat Yourself Into Sleeping Naturally
We are what we eat and drink, so it stands to reason that what we put into our bodies can either help or hinder our sleep. Many people have a few glasses of wine or beer in the evening in the mistaken belief that it is helping them sleep. In fact, although they may fall asleep faster, they will generally have a night of broken, disrupted sleep and will not go into the deep sleep part of the cycle that our bodies need to become truly rested and refreshed. Traditionally warm milk or a hot milky drink like cocoa has been the bedtime drink of choice for insomniacs. Hot milky drinks help us sleep because they are rich in calcium which relaxes us. They also contains tryptophan, a substance that the body can convert into serotonin in the brain, making us feel contented, relaxed and drowsy. The trouble is that a lot of us don’t like the taste of hot milk, but if you still want to get your dose of tryptophan, why not try snacking on a turkey sandwich during the evening? Turkey is a good source of protein and tryptophan, and the carbohydrate in the bread will make it easier for the brain to use the tryptophan. Another drink that recent studies have shown to be good for promoting a great night’s sleep is tart cherry juice. Packed with antioxidants, Montmorency or tart cherries are rarely eaten as fruit because they lack sweetness, but are often made into a potent cherry juice concentrate, that is now sold in a lot of health food shops. Dilute the cherry concentrate with water to make a refreshing, fruity drink or add to a healthy, milky smoothie and sip during the evening before bedtime. The reason why drinking tart cherry juice can help you to sleep is that is packed full of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our sleeping patterns. There are also some herbs that can be drunk as teas or taken as tinctures that can naturally help you to sleep. One of these is valerian, a flowering plant that has been utilised as a medicinal herb since antiquity. It is taken to reduce anxiety, relieve muscle tension and help you drift into a deep sleep. Valerian is truly one of nature’s natural tranquillisers, and its efficacy is thought to be down to helping increase the levels of gamma amino butyric acid or GABA in the brain, which is believed to boost relaxation levels and reduce anxiety. Having a mug of camomile tea before bedtime is also another natural way of helping you sleep, as it is very calming and will help your body rest. For a stronger infusion pour hot water over dried camomile flowers, and add some honey and lemon for taste. For a relaxing bath, just hold some camomile teabags under the hot water taps as you are running it and then just get in and luxuriate. One of the more unusual natural foods I came across that promotes sleep is lettuce. Apparently, including lettuce in your evening snack gives you a supply of a substance called lactucarium, a natural opiate found in the white, milky sap at the base of the lettuce heart and leaves that soothes and sedates your nervous system.
So, as you can see, if you have trouble sleeping there are many natural ways of aiding sleep that you can try. Everyone is different, so you may find some things work for you better than others, but I’m sure that very soon you will be enjoying a great natural night’s sleep!
Disclaimer: Please be aware that the information given in this article about natural aids to sleeping should in no way be used to replace advice given to you by your doctor or health professional. If you suffer from a serious medical condition or are at all concerned, then you should always consult your doctor before changing your diet or starting to take any form of dietary supplement or natural remedy.