12 Cheap and Natural Insomnia Remedies
On a rare night when you actually crawl into bed at a decent hour, you stare at the ceiling, eyes wide open, mind racing … and a good night’s sleep feels more like a distant dream with every passing second. You’re not alone. Every year, as many as 40 percent of adults have insomnia, an inability to fall or stay asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. About 10 to 15 percent of people suffer from chronic insomnia, finding it difficult to get enough shuteye at least a few nights a week.
But regaining entry to the land of nod is key for your long-term health; over time, sleep deprivation can reduce immunity, up your risk of diabetes and heart disease and even make you gain weight. Here’s how to get the Zzzs you crave.
What’s Keeping You Awake?
Although some medications and health issues (such as depression) can cause insomnia, the most common factors are anxiety, stress, and diet. If you’re a frequent insomnia victim, you’ve probably already tried the basics, like cutting back on caffeine and alcohol or banishing the TV from the bedroom. Maybe you’ve also turned to the medications, luxury mattresses and pillows, white noise machines, and other remedies that comprise the $23 billion a year Americans spend on sleep aids, according to a 2008 report.
But there are other solutions, say sleep experts. In fact, the latest sleep science reveals a host of low-cost remedies that can help prevent insomnia and reintroduce you to the sandman. Surely, one or two will work for you.
Tune in for Better Sleep
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, listening to calming, soft music as you doze off could be a solution. Research has shown that older people who listen to calming music before going to bed have improved sleep quality during the night than people who don’t. Just make sure you’re picking something soothing, and that you set it to turn off after a while, hopefully when you’re already deep into dreamland.
Relax In a Rocking Chair
It’s well known that babies fall fast asleep when they’re rocked gently back and forth in a carriage or a mother’s arms. Surprisingly, the same trick works with adults, say Swiss researchers. When study participants napped in a hammock-like bed, they fell asleep faster and entered the restorative deep-sleep phase sooner than when they slept in a regular bed. It seems that the gentle swinging sensation primes areas of the brain involved in deep sleep. While you can’t exactly doze off in a hammock every night, try chilling out in a rocking chair before hitting the sheets to mimic the motion and help your body feel sleepy.
Power Down an Hour Before Bed
“Sleep is not an on-and-off switch,” says sleep expert and clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan. “Your body needs time to unwind and ready itself for shuteye.” That’s why Dr. Breus recommends practicing a three-part routine called the “Power-Down Hour.” During the first 20 minutes, complete any chores that absolutely must get done before bedtime. Wash your face, brush your teeth, and get dressed for bed during the next 20 minutes. For the last 20 minutes, lie in bed quietly and meditate. Focus on the rhythm of your breathing and shoo away any negative thoughts during this time.
Count Sheep… Backward
If your mind tends to race as soon as your head hits the pillow, put the brakes on this sleep-stealing habit by distracting yourself from rehashing the day’s events. One tip Breus offers his patients: Count down from 300 in multiples of three. “Because this task is mathematically complicated to do in your head,” he explains, “it forces your brain to focus on something else besides your worries.”
Try Some Gentle Yoga
Practice 15 minutes of simple, yoga-like poses (such as neck rolls, shoulder rolls, and arm and back stretches) to help your muscles unwind before hitting the sheets, says Helene A. Emsellem, MD, director of The Center for Sleep & Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Md. But go slowly. “The goal is to loosen your muscles to prepare your body for a good night’s sleep, not increase your heart rate,” she explains.
Sweat Your Way Sleepy
A 2010 Northwestern University study of women age 55 and older with insomnia found that regular aerobic exercise in particular has the ability to improve sleep quality, mood, and energy. In the study, one group did aerobic exercise a few times a week while the other did recreational activities like attending cooking classes or museum lectures. After four months, the exercisers reported an improvement in sleep quality, fewer depression symptoms, more energy, and less daytime sleepiness. The sleep effect may be pegged to endorphins, which are released during aerobic exercise and may promote better sleep quantity and quality, says Breus.
But Work Out in the A.m.
Exercising in the morning can help you sleep better than working out in the afternoon or evening, In a small recent study, researchers at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., found that people spent 85 percent more time in light sleep and 75 percent more time in deep sleep when they worked out at 7 a.m. compared to later in the day. The study authors aren’t exactly sure why, but believe early-bird workouts decrease levels of stress hormones, which peak in the morning, and this leads to better sleep quality later on.
Make Cherry Juice Your Nightcap
Alcohol is a known sleep saboteur — it may make you fall asleep, but it disrupts normal sleep cycles, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night. Cherry juice, on the other hand, may help ensure restful slumber, because it’s naturally high in melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycles. In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, participants who drank tart cherry juice twice a day fell asleep sooner than when they drank a placebo beverage.
Don’t Turn In Too Early
Even if you’re exhausted, try to stick to within 30 minutes of your normal bedtime. Going to bed hours earlier than usual may throw your body’s normal rhythm out of whack, says Dr. Emsellem. “Sticking to a routine is key to keeping insomnia at bay. While you may hate being locked into a schedule, your brain likes following a pattern.” Likewise, daytime napping, even if you slept poorly the night before, is also a no-no if you’re prone to insomnia.
Avoid Weekend Sleep-Ins
It may sound logical, but you can’t compensate for weekday sleep debt by sleeping in on the weekends, Penn State College of Medicine researchers recently found. Don’t rely on weekends as a sleep safety net, but pick a more reasonable weekday bedtime to stick to. Nudge your bedtime back 15 minutes at a time to help you adjust. If you normally hit the hay at 11:30, for example, go to bed at 11:15 for a few nights, then 11, then 10:45 — until you reach your ideal bedtime, which for most people is about 7 to 8 hours before you need to wake up.
Keep Your Cool
Research shows that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 to 68 degrees. In one recent study, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that when insomniacs wore a special cap designed to lower body temperature, they fell asleep about as quickly as other study participants without sleep issues. Why this works: The cooling cap helped reduce brain metabolic activity, setting in motion a normal sleep cycle. Although the cap isn’t ready for primetime, keeping your bedroom cool and wearing breathable clothing (or even nothing at all!) can help welcome the sandman.