Insomnia is a common condition. Those experiencing insomnia who wish to avoid medication, such as sleeping pills, can try several remedies to encourage the onset of sleep and improve its quality and duration.
The Australian SleepHealth Foundation found almost 60 per cent of people regularly experience at least one sleep symptom (like trouble falling or staying asleep), and 14.8 per cent have symptoms which could result in a diagnosis of clinical insomnia.
This article looks at some natural remedies, relaxation techniques, exercises, sleep hygiene, and behaviors that can improve the symptoms of insomnia.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that the brain produces to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Liquid or capsule dietary supplements of melatonin can help people with insomnia fall asleep more quickly. Melatonin can also help improve the quality of sleep. It may be most useful for shift workers, people experiencing jet lag, or people with sleep disorders.
Anyone thinking about taking melatonin should speak to their doctor about the best dosage to take, how long to take it for, and whether it is safe for them to take.
There are no guidelines for melatonin dosage, but experts consider a safe dose in adults to be 1–5 milligrams (mg).
Lavender oil is a type of essential oil derived from the lavender plant. People have used it for thousands of years as a natural remedy to improve sleep and induce feelings of calmness.
A 2015 study found that lavender patches, when combined with good sleep hygiene, improved the sleep quality of college students, while a 2020 review of plant extracts for sleep disorders found that lavender improved the onset of sleep, sleep duration, and quality of sleep.
People with insomnia can use lavender oil as a pillow spray or in a patch, massage oil, or aromatherapy diffuser.
Lavender is usually safe for people to take as a dietary supplement, but it may sometimes interact with other medications. Anyone already taking sleep medication or medication for high blood pressure should check with their doctor before taking lavender oil supplements. Look for supplements with around 80 mg of lavender oil for a safe and effective dosage.
The 2020 review also highlighted other plant extracts — valerian and chamomile — that research showed to be effective in improving the symptoms of insomnia.
A 2015 systematic review found that valerian was associated with improved sleep, but there was significant variability among the studies, and the quality of evidence was low.
People can take valerian in the form of a tea, tincture, capsule, or tablet. Speak to a qualified herbalist before preparing and taking valerian, but a typical dose would be 400–900 mg shortly before bedtime.
People can take chamomile as a tea, or they can use it as an essential oil or take it as a dietary supplement. A 2017 study in older people with insomnia found that chamomile extract can significantly improve sleep quality.
The positive effects of mindfulness on well-being are well-documented and include reducing stress, boosting resilience, improving mood, and even enhancing immunity. However, mindfulness may also have an improving effect on sleep.
A 2014 study on mindfulness techniques in people with chronic insomnia found that mindful meditation interventions reduced total wake time in subjects. The study authors recommended mindfulness as a viable treatment alternative to traditional treatments.
Countless free and paid-for mindfulness apps, videos, and podcasts are available online. People wishing to try mindfulness may also prefer to do a course, join a local weekly class, or go on a retreat. They can also build this practice into physical exercise, such as yoga or tai chi.
An online course to help you sleep better and overcome insomnia, using the evidence-based, proven treatment approaches of CBTi and mindfulness, is A Mindful Way, created by Dr. Giselle Withers. DPsych. M.A.P.S.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), sometimes called Jacobson relaxation, is a technique that can help the whole body relax and promote feelings of sleepiness. It focuses on tightening and then relaxing the muscles in the body, one muscle at a time. People who find it hard to drop off at night may find that this helps them get to sleep.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend relaxation techniques, including PMR, as effective treatments for chronic insomnia. However, it can take a while to get the hang of the technique. Practicing during the day may help for the first few weeks, before trying it at night.
Magnesium is a mineral that the body produces. It helps muscles relax and reduces stress. Many experts think that it can also help to encourage a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
A 2012 study found that taking a daily magnesium supplement can help people with insomnia sleep better and for longer. However, more research is necessary to confirm whether it is truly effective.
Choosing foods that are rich in magnesium, especially in the evening, may help induce feelings of sleepiness. The American National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommend a magnesium-rich snack, such as a banana, a mug of warm milk, or a small bowl of whole grain cereal, about an hour before bedtime.
Regular exercise will boost well-being, mood, and fitness levels and can even help people get a better night’s sleep. A 2015 trial by the European Sleep Research Society found that 150 minutes of exercise a week significantly improved symptoms of insomnia for participants and reduced depression and anxiety, which have a knock-on effect on sleep.
The NSF recommend low impact fitness programs, such as walking, swimming, or yoga. Exercising outdoors also exposes the body to natural light, which is important in establishing a good sleep-wake cycle.
For maximum sleep results, people may benefit from scheduling an exercise session for the morning or afternoon rather than the evening. This allows the body temperature to rise, and then fall, at the right time for sleep. Boosting well-being and fitness through exercise also helps reduce depression and anxiety, which can affect sleep.
At its simplest, sleep hygiene describes a person’s routines and activities around bedtime. Good sleep hygiene may help boost a person’s chances of having consistent, uninterrupted sleep.
People can increase the likelihood of good sleep hygiene by:
- having a consistent bedtime routine, which means going to bed at the same time in the evening and rising at the same time in the morning, even on weekends
- avoiding screens, laptops, cell phones, and TVs at least an hour before bedtime
- keeping the bedroom dark and quiet with dimmed lights, thick curtains, and blinds or by using earplugs and eye masks
- using the bedroom only for sleep or sex
- making sure that mattresses, pillows, and blankets are comfortable
- avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and caffeinated beverages in the evening
- having a warm bath or shower about 1.5 hours before bedtime
- refraining from eating big meals late at night
People with insomnia may benefit from evaluating their usual bedtime habits and practices and incorporating some of these tips into their routine.
Insomnia is a common complaint in Australia, with up to a third of adults experiencing it at some point.
There are lots of remedies and activities that a person with insomnia can try to improve their sleep.
Anyone already on medication for sleep or high blood pressure should speak to their doctor before trying dietary supplements.
Research has shown that meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques can be helpful for people with chronic insomnia.
Exercise can help boost well-being and fitness, but it is most effective when people do it in the morning or afternoon.
Good sleep hygiene can be helpful in promoting a consistent bedtime routine, which may, in turn, promote a good night’s sleep.
Adapted from Joanne Lewsley on October 5, 2020 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com