According to Dr. Matthew Walker, MD, author of Why We Sleep, insomnia affects over 40 million Americans. However, the number of insomnia sufferers goes even higher when you count those who have trouble falling or staying asleep at least one night a week. A variety of physical, medical, psychological, and environmental factors lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Fortunately, there are several at-home natural remedies and behavioral changes that treat insomnia and prevent it from becoming a regular cause of sleep disturbance. Implementing these solutions calls for an ongoing effort and focus on your sleeping conditions, nighttime habits, and abnormal stressors that might be keeping you up at night.
Knowing how to handle bouts of insomnia and taking preventative action to normalize your sleep-wake cycle is beneficial to your overall health.
Improve Your Sleeping Conditions
Maintaining a calm space for sleeping is important. Remove as much clutter and distraction as possible to improve your environment. By optimizing your sleeping conditions, it automatically sets you up for a better night’s sleep and relaxation night after night.
Minimize Blue Light Triggers
Part of creating the ideal sleep space includes keeping electronics out of the bedroom to avoid blue light. The blue light that’s emitted from smartphones, tablets, and TV screens signals your brain to stay awake. It inhibits the brain from producing melatonin, a hormone that prompts sleep. The smallest light or notification sound can trigger the mind to be on the alert. By keeping your phone close by, it’s a harmful distraction both physically and psychologically.
Research has shown how technology use is linked to symptoms of insomnia, and influences the relationship between anxiety and sleep. In one sleep study performed by the University of Rhode Island, 47 percent of participants reported nighttime disturbances to answer text messages and 40 percent woke up to answer phone calls. Analysis indicated that frequent use of technology after the onset of sleep led to poorer sleep quality.
Other studies have revealed that smartphone use before bed leads to sleep deprivation and/or insomnia symptoms due to the constant stimulation of reading emails, chatting online, and scrolling through social media. Although many statistics relay the effects it has on teens, in particular, it’s important to note these habits apply just as much to older adults experiencing poor sleep.
Optimize Sensory Effects
Another part of creating a comfortable space is to maintain a cool, dark, and quiet bedroom. It should feel like a respite from the constant online and in-person interactions that occur throughout the day. But what is the optimal sleeping temperature? It’s recommended to adjust the thermostat to achieve a lower room temperature set somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees.
Symptoms of insomnia have been linked to abnormal body temperatures, which, along with light, is a core part of the body’s circadian rhythm. Elevated core body temperatures put the body into awake mode and often results in difficulty sleeping. In addition to changing the temperature of the room, take advantage of the mattress technology available through features of the Eight Sleep Pod and Smart Bed.
Unique features personalize temperature regulation on each side of the bed and adjusts to your body’s biometrics to raise or lower to your preferred temperature without disrupting your sleep. The Pod produces air flow with the perforated Active Grid to maximize ventilation. When synced with 8Plus, the sleep fitness membership, you can track your sleep patterns, have access to personalized coaching, and earn rewards based on your individual sleep performance and results.
Reviewing information about how you sleep and the quality of sleep you’re receiving can help prevent problems like insomnia from becoming worse or recurring.
Establish Healthy Nighttime Habits
Although setting up a comfortable bedroom space is important, achieving optimal sleep starts hours before your scheduled bedtime. When the sun goes down, your body begins to shift into “nighttime mode” as part of the body’s circadian rhythm, which means your activities should mirror this relaxing period. Limit high-intense activity and replace it with calming alternatives to establish a healthier nighttime routine.
Unwind with a Warm Bath or Low-Intensity Exercise
Taking a warm bath or shower is a good way to allow your body to unwind. It warms up your core body temperature temporarily, but as it cools down, it causes you to become sleepier. A similar cycle occurs when you exercise in the evening.
As you exercise, metabolism and heart rates are elevated, as well as your body temperature. Once it begins the cooldown period, it promotes deeper sleep. The key is to work out at least two hours before bed or participate in a less intense workout like a gentle yoga flow or a moderately paced walk.
Steer Clear of Certain Foods and Alcohol
Avoid eating spicy or acidic food late in the evening, since these may lead to heartburn or acid reflux, which can keep you awake. Opt for choices like bananas, cottage cheese, or oatmeal, if you’re hankering for a before-bedtime snack. These foods contain melatonin, which allows your body to relax.
Chamomile tea is another effective aid often used to help with insomnia. Per a medical report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, chamomile has been regularly used as a mild sedative to reduce anxiety, calm nerves, and treat insomnia and other sleep problems.
Additionally, monitor your alcohol consumption. Eliminate drinking alcohol altogether if you have trouble sleeping, since it can prevent you from reaching the deepest stages of sleep. Since not every metabolizes alcohol in the same way, a glass of wine on a nightly basis may work for some, but can cause restless nights for others.
Follow a Set Sleep Schedule
Set a regular bedtime and wake up at the same time every day. This aligns with your body’s internal clock that allows you to feel awake and refreshed during the day and sleepy and calm at night. If you lie awake in bed for 20 or 30 minutes and cannot fall asleep, go to another quiet space and read or listen to soft music for a while.
The longer it takes you to fall asleep, the more anxiety builds up as you clock your lost hours. Plus, there will be a link to being in bed and awake that you’ll want to break. Create a routine that transitions you from the activity of the day to the comfort of being at home and eventually going to sleep.
Adapt your mindset to begin to unwind near the end of the day. Consistency creates the habit, which means finding the right activities that work for you are key.
Alleviate Chronic Stress to Sleep Better
Everyday stress is typically environmental. Driving in traffic, daily work problems, and other relatively normal stressors are a given for many. When these start piling up or an unforeseen stressor takes effect, it can cause disruptions to your sleep patterns. Significant life changes like a move to another state, divorce, or death can each have its own impact on how well you’re able to sleep.
Try Valerian Root
When you experience chronic stress, the brain releases a surge of cortisol or what’s referred to as the “stress hormone.” Overexposure to cortisol disrupts your body’s processes, such as sleep, and puts you at risk for other sleep-related disorders like anxiety and depression. When the body is in overdrive, reducing stimuli allows the body to release tension.
Additionally, medical evidence extracted from 16 different studies and presented in the American Journal of Medicine showed that valerian root is a natural remedy that may help people fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. Talk to your sleep doctor to see if it’s a practical option for you.
Focus on Self-Care
Fighting back against stress includes fostering healthy relationships among friends and family. Practicing meditation and adding in daily exercise are additional ways to alleviate stress. Allowing yourself to recharge when under extreme pressure is important. Eliminate as many stressors from your life as possible. Focus on practicing self-care and introducing ways to feel energized and more peace into your life.
Understanding Insomnia and Achieving Better Sleep
Insomnia is defined as the inability to get to sleep (and stay asleep) despite allowing yourself time to get enough sleep. There is no single qualifying factor that causes insomnia. Current medical or sleep conditions can lead to sleepless nights. Your lifestyle or sleep habits may also be a culprit that may alter sleep habits and eventually lead to insomnia. In general, the causes of insomnia comes down to your sleeping environment, regular nighttime habits, and levels of stress.
A sleep doctor officially diagnoses insomnia, but there are symptoms and events that characterize the sleep disorder. These include difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or feeling unrefreshed and fatigued the next day. By relying on natural remedies to make changes to these areas, it will help you understand what’s most impactful.
While it’s likely you’ll experience times of insomnia periodically, when you’re experiencing it several nights a week on a continuous basis, you may need prescribed treatment for the chronic condition. Insomnia is an exhausting pattern, but you don’t have to stay in this chronic cycle of sleep deprivation.
Evaluate what current behaviors may be causing your lack of sleep. Implement and maintain at-home remedies and track if and how each work. While change may not happen overnight, the more you set yourself up for a good night’s sleep, the better success you’ll have.
Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5363971/; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/#R33; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4394901/#__ffn_sectitle
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/analysis-teens-are-sleeping-less-why-smartphones; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18603220; https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037;