We have all had those nights when we just could not get to sleep, reliving the events of a bad day, or dreading something to come tomorrow. But, for some of us, these restless nights occur frequently and we start to accumulate a snowballing sleep debt. This can be one of the most frustrating problems to deal with, and lack of sleep causes a host of problems from decreased cognitive function to weight gain. If drugs have not been working for you, or you want to avoid that route, here are some more natural interventions that may help.
Doesn’t it seem like meditation makes it on the list of recommended treatments for an eclectic mix of health problems? Well, there is a good reason for that. This simple practice offers a host of benefits for physical and mental health. A study published in 2011 tested the effects of mindfulness mediation versus pharmacotherapy on a group of adults with insomnia and the results were encouraging. Both groups experienced “large, significant improvements” that were comparable to one another, meaning the meditation worked equally well as the drugs. Pretty impressive, and meditation is free and comes with no side effects.
No big surprise here…being physically active has been shown to improve sleep compared to people who get little physical activity. The connection is clear—the more energy you are expending during the day, the sleepier you will be at night; ideally, you want to exercise at least three to four hours before you go to bed. This is all pretty obvious, but being that this would be such an important part of a non-drug strategy, I had to remind you.
Acupuncture is an ancient treatment that operates on the premise that blockages in the energy force that flows through us can manifest as specific health problems, depending on where that blockage occurs. This Eastern practice has been getting lots of attention in recent years and with good reason—many well-designed studies have found it effective for a range of conditions, insomnia is one of them. I can also personally attest to the benefits of acupuncture for sleep troubles.
There are numerous natural substances that may help you get a good night’s rest. Valerian is an herb with sedative properties and has been used for sleeping troubles for hundreds of years; take the suggested dose about 30 minutes before bed. Melatonin, a hormone in our body involved in regulating our sleep-wake cycle, may also help. Some consider sublingual forms best; if you need to use it occasionally, a dose of 2.5 mg is good, but for regular use, you should use a smaller amount—about .25 to .3 mg. Chamomile tea is also highly valued as a sleep aid and settling down for the night with a nice cup may help. If anxiety is a big problem for you, the herb passionflower may help—some research suggests it may work as well as benzodiazepines, a frequently prescribed class of anti-anxiety medication.