Insomnia, characterized by the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep soundly, affects as many as 55 million Americans. According to federal statistics, 3 in 10 Americans experience occasional sleeplessness. Being unable to fall asleep can stem from innumerable different factors, both mental and physical, such as fluctuating hormones, racing thoughts, and/or stress. No matter the cause, anyone who has ever experienced insomnia knows just how frustrating it can be lying in bed for hours continuously pleading with your body to fall asleep.
To fight what can become an exasperating night-time occurrence, many Americans turn to sleeping pills. In 2009, 42 million sleeping pill prescriptions were filled, equaling a 60% increase from the year 2000. However, while sleeping pills may do the trick in putting you to sleep, they often don’t come without numerous negative side effects. Many also prove to be highly addictive. What’s worse, these pills fail to ever treat the underlying problems causing sleeplessness, so the minute a sleeping pill-user discontinues use, insomnia often returns.
Instead of resorting to pills that can cause equally frustrating results comparable to those perturbing sleepless nights, try these 5 natural sleeping-aid methods that work to calm and balance the body and bring on the ZzZz’s without the need of any pharmaceuticals.
1) Roll Out a Routine: Maybe that bedtime your parents used to set for your wasn’t so bad after all. Setting yourself a consistent time to hit the sack as well as a regular time to awaken helps to keep your body from becoming confused and keep its circadian rhythms in check. Circadian rhythms are the human body’s 24 hour cycle of biological changes. When your sleep schedule gets thrown off, such as those late nights when you keep yourself awake much later than usual, your circadian rhythms get thrown off as well. By keeping a consistent sleep schedule, your circadian rhythms will cue your body when it’s time to go to sleep and when it’s time to wake up, resulting eventually in less time wasted tossing and turning as you remind your body it’s bedtime.
2) Unplug: Shut the computer and turn off the TV at least one hour prior to sleeping. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that staring at a bright monitor or playing video games before bed not only affects your ability to fall asleep, but may also affect the quality of those ZzZz’s you get once you actually do manage to get to sleep. The light emitted from the electronic monitors lowers melatonin, a hormone associated with our sleep/wake cycle. While morning light is beneficial in lowering melatonin and waking us up, it’s damaging when trying to cue the body to go to sleep at night. Unplugging will also help to calm the mind before hopping in bed. The TV and computer may slow down the body, but their stimulation can also speed up the mind. This stimulation immediately prior to sleeping can result in racing thoughts that are hard to slow down once you hit the pillow. Instead, try relaxing in candlelight with some calming music instead, or engage in one of the activities mentioned below.
3) Teatime Before Bedtime: Having a cup of tea before bed can warm and relax the body. However, make sure to choose a tea that is free of caffeine (meaning no black, green, or even white tea). Try sipping on a tea that contains chamomile, an herb that has long been used to calm the body. One of my favorites: Celestial’s Sleepytime tea.
4) Yoga Your Way to Yawning: Engaging in a few gentle yoga poses prior to going to sleep is a great way to calm and slow down the body. A study performed by Harvard found that those who did daily yoga for 8 weeks improved total sleep time. Start with a few gentle poses, such as the seated forward bends, spinal twists, and the shoulder stand. While in the pose, bring your focus to your breath and begin to deepen and lengthen the inhalation and exhalation. This will help to settle both the mind and body.
5) Mental Relaxation: While lying wide awake in bed, instead of resorting to the toss and turn game you may play too often, try resisting the urge to shift around. If you find yourself wired up or just unable to fall asleep, try doing a mental relaxation. Lie on your back with your arms along your sides, palms facing up, and legs hip distance apart. Starting at the base of your body, begin to bring your awareness to your feet, and relax each part of your feet. Slowly draw this awareness and relaxation up the legs. Really focus on relaxing each individual part, maybe observing a subtle tingling sensation as you do so. Shift your awareness to your hands, relaxing each part of the hands, and then continuing the relaxation up the arms. Shift your awareness to the torso and continue drawing the relaxation to the remaining parts of the body, relaxing each part of the front and back of the body, the head, and the face. This process helps to focus and quiet the mind, while keeping the body still and relaxed. If after 15 minutes or so you still can’t seem to let go of those racing thoughts or urges to move, hop out of bed and grab a journal. Alleviate all your thoughts on paper, and then try the relaxation again.
What tricks do you use when you can’t fall asleep?