Improve Your Sleep Naturally
Issues with sleep are one of the most common symptoms in conjunction with mental disorders. Failing to get a full night’s rest usually makes our depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or whatever ailment we have worse. But lets face it, even if you don’t have a mental disorder, a poor night’s sleep can make life miserable.
I’ve found that if I’m stressed, I struggle to fall asleep at night. I lay down for bed and my mind starts racing as if it was waiting for me to lie down. So I lie there and watch the hours go by knowing full well that the next day, I’m going to feel miserably tired. But I didn’t want to start taking sleeping pills. I knew they were addictive, the have lots of side effects, and with time they can actually make it even more difficult to fall asleep. So I set out to find as much as I could about improving sleep naturally.
The first 15 items on this list is called sleep hygiene. These are simple things you can do to improve your sleep. Now if you're like me, there will be some items on the list that you don't want to implement, like reducing caffeine intake. I suggest giving ALL these sleep hygiene items a try for at least three weeks, then slowly implement them back into your life one by one. When your sleep gets worse, you will know which items are affecting your sleep.
The following are some sleep hygiene ideas put together by Perlis and Youngstead (2000).
Avoid Naps: I know what you’re thinking, ‘what the heck is wrong with naps. I thought they were supposed to be healthy?’ Why yes, they are healthy but they are healthy for those who don’t have issues sleeping. Staying awake will leave you feeling tired come bedtime. It’ll make it easier to fall asleep if you’re tired.
Avoid Alcohol: I know there are some of you out there that use alcohol to help you fall asleep. This works well for the tense person but you will notice that it often causes you to wake later that evening. Alcohol should be avoided particularly before bedtime.
Smoking: Smoking before bedtime can also disrupt sleep. You may not realize it but nicotine is a stimulant, that’s why so many smokers consider that first cigarette in the morning is the best.
Regular Meals: Don’t go to bed hungry. Instead, eat a light snack, particularly a carbohydrate. Avoid greasy heavy foods. See the comment on honey later in this article.
Stop Trying: Trying will always make things worse. Instead, get up out of bed and do something relaxing, like read a book (not stimulating of course). Go back to bed when you feel sleepy.
Sleep Until you Feel Refreshed: Routinely staying in bed for an excessive amount of time leads to a fragmented and shallow sleep. Get up out of bed at your regular time, regardless of how little you slept the night before. A regular sleep schedule leads to a regular circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle).
Get Up at the Same Time 7 Days a Week: ‘What!?!?! You mean I can’t sleep in on the weekends?’ I know, it sounds rough but a regular sleep/wake cycle will assure that you fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up when you need to. If you do this regularly, you will find that you may not need that alarm clock anymore.
Restrict Your Caffeine Intake: This is a toughie for most folks, myself included. If you struggled to sleep the night before, you need that coffee in the morning to get you through the day. Caffeine affects everyone differently. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people that if I have more than one small cup in the morning, I’m wide-awake at night. Cut this out for a couple of weeks and see how is your sleep improves. Also, be aware that caffeine is hidden in more places than just coffee, like chocolate or many kinds of soda. Check the label.
Address Problems Before Bedtime: Often times, we’re too busy during the day to deal with our problems. So we address them when trying to sleep. This is bad news for a restful sleep. Instead, address problems during the day and make your next day’s plans prior to bed. If a problem creeps into your mind when trying to fall asleep, “say, I’ll address it in the morning,” and let it go. If it persists, get up and address it or write yourself a reminder so you don’t forget it the next day
Stop Clock Watching: Regularly checking the time will only stress you out. You’ll find yourself counting the number of hours sleep if you fall asleep right then. Instead, turn the clock away from you so you can’t see it.
Restrict Bedroom Activities to Sleeping or Sex: Eating, working, checking email, surfing the inter-web, and watching TV in bed triggers your brain to associate other wakeful activities that can impede on your valuable sleep-time.
Avoid Drinking Too Many Fluids Before Bed: This will only lead to frequent trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Exercise Regularly: That sedentary job or lifestyle of yours could be leading to a lack of physical tiredness. Regular exercise helps to initiate and deepen your sleep. Avoid exercise 3 hours before bedtime. This could amp you up too much when you’re supposed to be winding down. Surprisingly this really helped me out. Exercise not only made me physically tired but it also served as a stress release.
Create a Comfortable Bedroom: Turn off lights, shut curtains, turn off phones, put in carpet or rugs, and close the door. If you’re a light sleeper like me, add some white noise. You can turn on a fan (preferably not blowing on you), purchase a noisemaker, or get one of the many free apps out there. I’m partial to Sleep & Noise Sounds.
Comfortable Temperature: Make sure your bedroom is not to warm or not too cold.
For the following, it is suggested that you consult with your prescriber or a Naturopathic doctor to determine if these natural supplements are appropriate for your particular situation.
Try Supplementing With Melatonin: According to Dr. Roger Murphree (2005), melatonin is a natural brain chemical that is converted from serotonin (another natural brain chemical) when we turn out the lights. Melatonin helps our mind and body to slow down and sleep.
Try Supplementing With 5HTP: Dr. Roger Murphree (2005) suggests taking 5HTP before bed on an empty stomach. 5HTP is a naturally occurring molecular compound found in the body that is made from the amino acid L-tryptophan. 5HTP is made into serotonin, which converts to melatonin when we turn the lights out. If we have a stressful or busy day, our bodies use up serotonin during the day, leaving us depleted when we go to sleep at night. 5HTP helped me immensely when I was having trouble sleeping because it addressed the stress by providing my body the nutrients it needed.
Try Supplementing With L-tryptophan: Another Dr. Roger Murphree (2005) recommendation. This natural amino acid is found in many protein rich foods like cottage cheese, milk, meat, fish, bananas, dried dates, peanuts, and especially turkey. Have you ever heard of the ‘post Thanksgiving Dinner coma?’ This amino acid is the primary ingredient needed in the sequence in helping your body produce melatonin (L-tryptophan to 5HTP to Serotonin to Melatonin). Some steps were left out but you get the gist.
Raw Organic Honey: According to Dr. Ron Fessenden (2014), a teaspoon before bedtime can help give your body the tiny bit of energy it needs to repair overnight. This is food for the liver, which is busy while we sleep. If our liver runs out of the nutrients it needs, it triggers a stress response in the brain, waking us up in the middle of the night. Make sure it is raw, organic, and pure honey. Many store brands are full of high fructose corn syrup, heated, and contain other artificial ingredients that lack the same health benefits.
PharmaGABA, Niacin (with flush), and Melatonin: Dr. Prousky (2014) has had success with combining all three of these for his patients. The pharmaGABA is another natural brain chemical that often helps with stress, niacin is a B-vitamin that has been known to have sedating effects, and melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that becomes active when we sleep. Dr. Prousky recommends that you see a doctor particularly if you have and autoimmune disorder or if you’re taking sedative or hypnotic medications.
Hops, Passion Flower Leaf, Chamomile Flower: Dr. Murphree (2005) also recommends considering these helpful herbs to supplement for improved sleep.
Here are some other things that may be impairing your ability to get a full night’s sleep.
Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is pauses in breathing and or shallow/infrequent breathing while sleeping. It is often caused by the tongue and soft palate collapsing upon the airway, impeding airflow while asleep. There are a number of other factors that often contribute to sleep apnea like obesity, acid reflux, allergies, sinus problems, alcohol, sedatives, tranquilizers, and genetics. Most are unaware that they have sleep apnea because it occurs when they are asleep. It is usually observed by someone else that notices the often loud snoring and alarming pauses in breathing.
Sleeping on one’s side often helps to open the airway.
Typical treatment involves a CPAP machine, which offers continuous positive airflow. These machines have made great improvements in recent years but some still complain that they are not comfortable.
Learning to play the Australian aboriginal instrument called the didgeridoo can help. The didgeridoo is a simple instrument that requires a person to learn cyclic breathing. This skill strengthens muscles in the throat and aids in opening airways (Puhan et al., 2006).
A simple exercise routine for your tongue can be done by extending the tongue out of your mouth. With the tip of your tongue, draw a plus sign repetitively. Do this several times a day like a workout routine. This helps to strengthen the muscles in the tongue and may improve symptoms of sleep apnea.
Stress: Lets face it; we’re all busy, everyone can think of something to worry about. Stress can contribute to a terrible night’s sleep causing things like nightmares, sleepwalking, and insomnia. Learning some great stress reducing techniques can really help.
I know you’ve probably heard this before but meditating does really help. You don’t have to make a big to-do about it. Take 10-15 minutes when you’ve got a break and this can create wonders. If you don’t have time for meditation, integrate it. Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour to remind you to breath deeply and relax with whatever you are doing in that moment.
A meditation could be as simple as controlled deep diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing in, while silently counting to 4 followed by and exhale with a slow count of 4. You can increase the count to extend the breaths. Be sure to breath deeply into your belly.
Get organized. There are some great apps and programs out there that can help you remember to do all the things you need to do. I am partial to an app called Wunderlist.
Feeling overwhelmed. Get help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most folks are more than happy to help. Many people love helping other people.
This blog is for informational purposes only, and is educational in nature. Statements made here have not all been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please discuss with your own, qualified health care provider before adding in supplements or making any changes in your diet.
Fessenden, R (2014). Can’t sleep all the way through the night? Try a little bit of this “ideal liver fuel” before bed. N. Meyer (Ed.). http://eatlocalgrown.com/article/13809-sleep-through-the-night.html?c=ngr
Murphree, R. H. (2005). Treating & beating anxiety and depression with orthomolecular medicine. Harrison and Hampton Publishing Inc.: Birmingham, ALPerlis M.L., & Youngstead S. (2000). The diagnosis of primary insomnia & treatment alternatives. Compr Ther, 26, 298-230.
Prousky, J. E. (2014). Sedation, relaxation, and regulation: The clinical application of Gamma-aminobutyric acid, niacin, and melatonin for the treatment of insomnia. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, 29 (109-114).
Puhan, M. A., Suarez, A., Lo Cascio, C., Zahn, A., Heitz, M., & Braendli, O. (2006). Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: Randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal, 332, 266-270.