If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia or sleep troubles of any kind, you know how destructive they can be to your life. Sleep deficits are responsible for a host of health problems, and if you have persistent insomnia you should seek help from a professional as soon as possible. For those who have more casual or occasional sleep issues but don’t want to rely on western meds as a crutch to conk out when they arise, we’ve compiled a list of natural, healthful ways you can help yourself get to sleep (in your carefully curated sleep haven, of course). Click through for seven methods to improve your nightly snooze without a prescription.
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the body, which increases as the day's light decreases to encourage the body to fall asleep. For those who have trouble with insomnia or jet lag, melatonin supplements can be a valuable tool for resetting your internal clock. While melatonin itself probably isn't news to anyone, it's possible you're using it wrong. Melatonin works best when taken no less than 90 minutes before bed, as opposed to once you're already tucked into your sheets and ready to snooze. Note: Most supplements include anywhere from 3 milligrams to 10 milligrams of melatonin, whereas the body naturally works on around half a milligram. There's no proven harm in overdosing, but many doctors recommend you take only around 1 milligram per night for no more than three months at a time. If you're taking any other medications, talk to your doctor before adding melatonin into your regimen.
For best possible results, some experts also recommend you take Valerian extract with your melatonin. Valerian contains 150 compounds that can help calm your nerves and has been used as a sedative for centuries. Modern studies aren't quite conclusive as to the efficacy of Valerian extract for insomnia, but it's safe and therefore may be worth a try if you're struggling to sleep.
Our circadian rhythms are heavily affected by the amount of light we're exposed to on a given day. Natural light is important, and experts say that 30 to 60 minutes of natural light exposure per day can have an anchoring affect on our cycle. Expose yourself to light first thing in the morning to start your cycle off on the right foot—drink your coffee outdoors, go for a quick walk or bike to work. As a bonus, exposure to morning light has also been linked to weight loss. You should try for additional sunlight exposure around noon as well, so grabbing lunch outside or taking a walking meeting are good midday options for optimizing your intake.
The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise
This three-step breathing technique has shown to be effective for some, though it can take practice and patience. You can also use it to calm yourself in times of stress.
1. Breathe in for four seconds.
2. Hold breath for seven seconds.
3. Slowly breathe out for eight seconds.
If you have sleep troubles, it might be helpful to add a strategic snack into your bedtime routine. Experts say to nosh on something that combines carbohydrates with the amino acid tryptophan, which can be found in foods like cheese, milk and turkey, around an hour before bed.
Attention, fellow stomach-sleepers! Experts tend to agree that this is the worst position for snoozing, so if you must sleep on your stomach, invest in a body pillow. If you're a side-sleeper, opt for a pillow that is thick under the neck, so you're getting the support you need there, but thinner under the head so your spine isn't out of alignment. If you're a back-sleeper, place a pillow under your knees, rest a thin pillow under your head and make sure your mattress is firm.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique in which you slowly tense and release your muscles, serving to calm your body and quiet your mind. This should take between ten and 15 minutes, as each part of your body should be isolated, starting with those in your face and ending with those in your feet. For example, when doing your face, you'll want to first wrinkle your forehead, then slowly open and shut your eyes, then tense your jaw muscles, and so on until you've worked your way through every muscle in your body.
Hops—which you may know for bringing the bitter to your beer—have been used medicinally for centuries. Supplements have been shown to bring sleep more quickly and improve its quality. Some specialists recommend blended versions that include passionflower for best results; however, as with any supplement, consult your doctor before adding hops into your routine.