Table of Contents
- Understanding Insomnia
- Types of Insomnia
- Symptoms of Insomnia
- What Causes Insomnia?
- Treating Insomnia Traditionally
- Treating Insomnia Naturally
- Sleep Habits and Environment
- Diet and Supplements
- Lifestyle Changes
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Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t just something that helps you have a better day.
When you are sleep deprived, this actually impacts your mental and physical health, so getting enough rest is very important.
Falling asleep faster, and getting better quality sleep, can improve your mental outlook, help you deal better with stress, and even stabilize essential body functions.
Our guide shares with you the underlying causes of insomnia and other sleep disorders, how these affect your body, and all the best natural remedies to help you get a good night’s sleep.
In addition to diet and exercise, sleep is a crucial habit that you can cultivate to improve your health.
Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t just about not feeling drowsy the following day.
Sleep is when your body recovers from the day, repairs tissues, processes all the memories and stimuli from your day, and regulates essential hormone levels.
Keep reading to learn about the importance of restful sleep, how to address sleep issues when they arise, and helpful habits you can develop to prevent insomnia in the future.
We share research-based strategies for improving your sleep, including some of the most effective natural sleep aids that exist today.
So, if you’re tired of not getting a good night’s sleep, this guide is here to help.
Nearly 20 percent of us suffer from some form of insomnia in our lives.
Insomnia can be a frustrating, debilitating disorder for many.
Insomnia, a sleep disorder, takes on many forms, including both difficulty getting to sleep, and trouble staying asleep, at night.
No matter the form, insomnia can affect your health and quality of life, so it’s essential to understand it and deal with it when it strikes you.
Your body requires rest, and without adequate time dedicated to sleep, you can have difficulty with cognitive issues and depression (1).
Getting at least seven hours of sleep per night is necessary to maintain your health and well-being.
When you are unable to sleep at least three nights a week for one month or more, you have insomnia.
Severe insomnia can last for months and even years, whereas milder cases may come and go (2).
As an adult, you need at least seven hours of sleep to feel rested, while children require at least nine hours of sleep.
If you are not getting this much sleep at a minimum regularly, you should make changes to your lifestyle, diet, and possibly medication to achieve the sleep you need.
Types of Insomnia
Insomnia occurs in degrees, along with a spectrum from acute to chronic.
The three major types of insomnia are (3):
- Transient insomnia usually lasts a short time, less than a week. Transient insomnia can be the result of another disorder, changes in your sleeping environment, depression, or stress. The results of transient insomnia are similar to those of sleep deprivation, including impaired functioning.
- Acute insomnia means you are consistently not sleeping well for a period of less than a month. This includes problems falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as feeling unrested, even when you were able to sleep. Some refer to this type of sleep disorder as short-term insomnia or stress-related insomnia.
- Chronic insomnia is when your symptoms of sleeplessness last longer than a month. Chronic insomnia can be a primary or secondary disorder. If you have changes in your cytokines or have high levels of cortisol or other stress hormones, you are more likely to have chronic insomnia. The effects of chronic insomnia vary by the disorder’s cause, but symptoms can often be severe.
Symptoms of Insomnia
The symptoms of insomnia can vary by individual, the cause of your sleep disorder, and how long you have been experiencing insomnia.
The most typical symptoms of insomnia include (4):
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up during the night
- Extended periods of wakefulness during the night
- Waking early
- Feeling tired after sleeping all night
- Feeling tired or sleepy during the day
- Changes in mood, including depression, anxiety, and irritability
- Trouble focusing, remembering, or paying attention
- Making more mistakes, or having more accidents
- Anxiety about sleep
- Cognitive impairment
- Troubles at school or work
- Difficulty in personal relationships
Insomnia also can lead to weight gain and decreased immune system function.
Insomnia can even lead to higher health care costs, accidents, increased absenteeism, and loss of productivity, all of which have financial repercussions (5).
What Causes Insomnia?
Many different factors can contribute to or cause insomnia.
There is no one cause, which is why treating it can be difficult.
The most common factors and conditions that cause insomnia include (6):
- Chronic pain, especially back pain
- The need to urinate frequently during the night
- Asthma or other respiratory conditions
- Mental health disorders, like depression
- Hot flashes due to menopause or other hormone fluctuations
- Sleep apnea
- Digestive problems, such as constipation, diarrhea, or heartburn
- Restless leg syndrome
- Working at night or shift work
- Using drugs or alcohol
- Certain prescription medications, including anticonvulsants, decongestants, antidepressants, steroids, and psychostimulants
- Neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease
Older adults and women are more likely to have insomnia, especially those experiencing the onset of menopause or menstruation (7).
Treating Insomnia Traditionally
Treating insomnia can be difficult, and while some doctors will advise prescription medications, most will also recommend non-medicinal treatments to improve your quality and quantity of sleep.
Sometimes, psychotherapy is also recommended, to treat the underlying cause of your insomnia.
If you have a medical condition that is contributing to your sleeplessness, your doctor should also address it.
This includes disorders like diabetes, menopause, and prostate issues.
If you are taking a medication that is causing your insomnia, your doctor may recommend a different medicine, dosage, or other treatment.
Be sure to work with your doctor when considering a change in medication, as this can impact your health.
If your insomnia is transient, often due to stress, trauma, or travel, this usually requires no intervention, as your body will return to normal when you remove the stressor.
Acute insomnia can also resolve on its own, and taking an over-the-counter sleep aid can help you get your sleep schedule back on track.
If you have chronic insomnia, your doctor will likely want to perform a physical examination, as well as discuss your lifestyle, sleep habits and routine, your mental state, and other factors.
You will need to treat the underlying cause of your insomnia if you want truly to resolve the problem long-term.
Some of the most common medications for insomnia include sedatives like Ativan, Halcion, Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata.
Many sleep medications can be addictive with extended use, and while these drugs may help you fall asleep, most do not effectively help you stay asleep.
Taking these medications with drugs or alcohol can be dangerous, and some people have serious reactions to these types of drugs.
All medicines have side effects, so be sure you understand how a sleep aid will affect you before taking it.
Never take a sedative for extended periods, and talk with your doctor about any side effects you experience with these types of medications.
If you are interested in treating the underlying cause of your insomnia, many natural treatments are very effective.
Changing your sleep habits, lifestyle, and diet can be very effective in relieving insomnia and helping you get a more restful, uninterrupted sleep.
Below, we share all the best natural remedies for treating insomnia.
Treating Insomnia Naturally
Getting more restful and plentiful sleep is possible when you alter your sleep habits and environment and make changes to your diet and supplement routine and lifestyle.
Here are the top 20 natural remedies for insomnia.
Sleep Habits and Environment
Stop Using Electronics before Bed
When you lie in bed and answer emails, play games, or watch TV, your mind no longer associates your bed with sleeping.
Make sure your bed is devoted to sleeping, not entertainment or working.
Also, the use of electronic devices before bed interrupts your body’s internal clock, making it more difficult to fall asleep by suppressing the release of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.
The artificial blue light emitted from these devices is the main culprit, so turning off screens at least an hour before bedtime will help you both get better REM sleep and fall asleep faster.
Make Sure Your Bedroom Is an Appropriate Temperature
If your sleeping area is too warm, you are likely to get sweaty, and if it is too cold, you will be restless from trying to get warm.
The ideal sleeping temperature is somewhere between 60° and 73° F, but this varies by person.
When your room is slightly chilly, this lowers your internal temperature, which induces sleepiness and allows you to be comfortable while asleep.
Create Restful Conditions in Your Space
About 30 minutes before bedtime, start dimming the lights, turning down noise, and eliminating distractions.
Your bedroom or sleeping area should be free of excess noise, flashing lights, and any other distractions.
If you cannot eliminate noise, use a white noise machine, calming music, or earplugs to help make you comfortable in your sleeping environment.
Be sure to establish a sleeping routine each night that creates a restful environment to support your sleep.
Create Restful Conditions in Your Mind
When you are ready for bed, you want to reduce your stress level and quiet your mind.
You can settle down with a good novel or spiritual growth book to assist with the unwinding process.
Steer clear of thrillers and other page-turners, instead choosing something that will lull you to sleep.
This restful window of time quiets your mind and allows you to prepare for sleep, rather than just lying down and closing your eyes, which may induce more anxiety.
Reading can also help quiet unwanted thoughts or stress that may keep you awake.
Use Essential Oils to Relax
Aromatherapy using essential oils is an effective way to encourage relaxation and sleep.
This natural and safe practice can improve your quality of sleep, and help you fall asleep faster.
Lavender essential oil is a popular option for treating insomnia.
A natural sedative, lavender calms your mind, lowers blood pressure, and can help you fall asleep faster (8).
Chamomile is another popular essential oil known to promote better sleep.
The smell of chamomile can help relieve depression and anxiety, both conditions that can prevent you from falling asleep (9).
Whether you use these in a relaxing bath, as a part of a nighttime massage, or in a diffuser, the scents from these essential oils trigger relaxation in both your mind and your body.
You can also mix these essential oils with a carrier oil and rub into your neck, shoulders, or temples, or spritz the scent onto your pillow or sheets.
Stick to a Sleep Schedule
Your body has natural circadian rhythms when you get your best sleep.
Sticking to a regular sleep schedule can help you sleep better, stay asleep longer, and feel more rested when you wake.
This means you should go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, not just on days when you work or have appointments.
Sticking to a sleep schedule will help your body stay on track and get better rest, no matter what else is happening in your life.
Create a Bedtime Journal
Your busy and distracted mind is sometimes the reason you are unable to fall asleep, and finding ways to address this stress can be very useful.
Before lying down each night, write in a journal to chronicle your day, express your concerns and worries, and let go of whatever is bothering you.
This therapeutic technique works for many people, and if you have anxiety or other mental health problems, journaling may help you sleep better at night.
Don’t Force Yourself to Sleep
When you go to bed but find yourself unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes, you should get back up.
Lying in bed and trying to force sleep can create more anxiety and sleep difficulties, so it is better to get back up and do something different for a short period.
Worrying about the clock and your lack of sleep can make it harder to relax.
Try reading, journaling, or some other relaxing activity for 30 minutes, then return to bed.
Avoid electronics, work, or anything else that can stimulate your mind.
Make Your Bed Comfortable
If you are sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress, all the sleep strategies in the world will not help.
Be sure your mattress is appropriate for your needs, and if it older than ten years, it may be time to invest in a new one.
Some people find a weighted blanket to be helpful, too.
If you have sleep anxiety or other anxiety issues that are contributing to your insomnia, a weighted blanket can help.
These blankets weigh between ten and 20 pounds and feel like a combination of a comforting hug and a massage.
The weight releases serotonin in your body, which is then converted into melatonin, and this can help you get better sleep.
Diet and Supplements
Avoid Sugar and Carbs before Bed
Spikes in your blood sugar just before bedtime can give you unwanted energy, and also cause you to wake feeling hungry in the night.
Desserts, simple carbohydrates, fruit juices, and other high-glycemic foods should all be avoided within a few hours of sleep.
If you need a snack, try a small amount of protein or complex carbohydrates, which can create a natural release of melatonin (10).
Eating a combination of carbohydrates and protein is also very effective.
Some examples of bedtime snacks that can help you sleep include:
- A slice of whole-grain bread, toasted with nut butter and half a banana
- A handful of nuts and dried fruit with several whole-grain crackers
- Hummus with celery, cucumber, or carrots
- A slice of cheese on a rice cake
Stop Drinking Caffeine at Noon
Caffeine stays in your system and keeps you energized for up to twelve hours, and drinking caffeinated beverages in the afternoon or evening can definitely impact your sleep.
Eliminating caffeine from your diet altogether can have a profound effect on your sleep quality and quantity (11).
If you must drink caffeine, stop your intake midday, and opt for caffeine-free options at night.
Eat Foods that Boost Your Melatonin
Melatonin greatly enhances your natural sleep cycle, and you can eat foods that help your body produce this hormone naturally.
Some foods naturally contain melatonin, while others can boost your ability to produce your own.
A word of caution, though, is in order.
Do not eat a large or heavy meal, or sugary snacks, before bedtime.
These foods should be consumed at dinner, or as a part of a light snack an hour before bedtime.
Foods rich in melatonin that you should incorporate into your evening meal include bananas, porridge oats, radishes, Morello cherries, rice, tomatoes, ginger, red wine, and barley.
Tryptophan is a natural compound found in certain foods that can boost your body’s natural production of serotonin, which is converted into melatonin.
Foods high in tryptophan include seeds like sunflower and sesame, nuts, poultry, fish, dairy products from grass-fed animals, rice, eggs, beans, and sprouted grains.
Get More Magnesium in Your Diet
f you are deficient in magnesium, you may experience insomnia.
Foods rich in magnesium include spinach, black beans, Swiss chard, mung beans, potatoes, cashews, and almonds.
If you are not able to get enough magnesium from your diet, consider adding a magnesium supplement of 500 milligrams per day to ensure you are getting sufficient amounts of this important mineral (12).
Drink Chamomile Tea
Taking a warm drink before bed can help you feel drowsy, and chamomile is a natural sedative.
Drinking chamomile tea before bed can help you both to relax and to sleep more soundly.
Consider Natural Sleep Aids
Several herbs are natural sleep aids that can offer relief, depending on what is causing your insomnia.
Most herbal and natural sleep aids have no side effects, and they can significantly improve your sleep quality.
When you are struggling to get the sleep you need, natural sleep aids like melatonin, valerian root, passionflower, and St. John’s wort can help.
Do not rely on natural or conventional sleep aids chronically, though, as this can damage your health and affect your sleep-wake cycle.
Most of these herbal remedies are available as supplements or teas.
Valerian, like chamomile, has been used for generations to treat insomnia and anxiety.
Valerian boosts your production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), calming neural activity.
GABA creates a calming effect by blocking the signals that cause anxiety (13).
Another herbal sleep aid is passionflower, which also helps to reduce anxiety and promote sleep (14).
If you suffer from depression, this can impact your sleep in many ways. St. John’s wort is a popular and effective natural remedy to treat depression.
Get Your Exercise in the Morning
When you work out at night, the endorphins that are released can keep you awake.
By exercising in the morning, you will ensure both that you are staying healthy, and that you’re not interfering with your sleep.
Regular exercise is also important for overall health and can help reduce symptoms of insomnia (15).
Get Enough Vitamin D
Sufficient Vitamin D is crucial for preventing sleep disorders.
The best way to get Vitamin D is through regular exposure to sunshine.
Sunlight helps to regulate your biological sleep rhythms and balances levels of cortisol and melatonin.
Aim for at least 20 minutes of sun exposure each day.
Take a Bath
A warm bath using relaxing essential oils can reduce pain, relax tension, and soothe your mind.
Try bathing about an hour before bed for best sleep results.
Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and prayer are all excellent for decreasing stress, enhancing mood, and improving your sleep quality.
Focusing your thoughts on relaxation and rest will help you find the right mindset for sleep, and fostering positive thoughts will help you let go of any anxiety and worry that could be keeping you awake.
Breathing techniques can also help you focus on sleep, and reflect on what your body and mind need to get the rest you want.
Guided meditation can be helpful if you have never meditated before, and deep breathing exercises are good for regulating blood pressure and lowering the heart rate.
Work All Your Muscles Throughout the Day
When you regularly exercise all your major muscle groups, you can enhance your sleep.
Both exercising large muscles, like your legs, and doing full-body workouts, exhaust your muscles and make it easier to fall asleep.
Burst training is another effective technique for burning energy, which can help you sleep well, too.
If your sleeplessness occurs more than three nights a week and has been happening for more than a month, you should talk with your doctor to determine the underlying cause of your insomnia.
Your doctor can recommend a treatment plan that works best for your type of insomnia.
For most people, making changes to sleep habits, diet, and lifestyle will both help manage insomnia and you to get better sleep.
Treating insomnia with medications can lead to dependence on these drugs, and many prescription sleep aids have significant side effects, so use these treatment options with caution.
Insomnia can damage your health and reduce your quality of life, so it is important to deal with your sleeplessness promptly.
Without proper sleep, your mental and physical health will suffer.
Some effective natural remedies that can help improve your sleep include creating a sleep routine, adjusting your sleeping environment, avoiding the use of electronics before bed, and making sure you have a good mattress.
You can make changes to your diet to improve your sleep, too.
This includes eliminating caffeine by midday, eating protein-rich snacks, increasing your consumption of melatonin-rich foods, eating more magnesium, and using natural sleep aids like chamomile, Valerian, passionflower, and St. John’s wort.
Lifestyle changes that can improve sleep include meditation, exercise, taking warm baths, and getting enough Vitamin D.