Insomnia - Part 2:
Natural Remedies for a good night sleep
Sound sleep helps the body to kick start the next day with energy and vigour. As we sleep, our body gets into that all-encompassing mending mode – repairing damaged tissues, building bones, secreting growth and repair hormones, storing energy and consolidating memories. What happens if you don’t get enough sleep? Part 1 in this series, titled ‘How Bad Can Insomnia Get’ covers the health risks associated with insomnia in details.
In this part, let’s look at the possible ways we can infuse some balance into our disturbed circadian rhythm.
Dreading another long night of tossing and turning in search of ever elusive sleep? If reaching out for the sleeping pills sounds better, we understand how you may feel. In fact, the mere thought of approaching bedtime can fill you with dread and anxiety. But don’t just write this off as another problem you must learn to live with. And relying on sleeping pills is something you just don’t want to get used to. Some practical and amazingly effective tweaks to your daily routine can help bring your zzzzs right on track.
Create a sleep schedule
Sunrise is the time to wake up and sundown is a signal for the body to start winding down and preparing to rest. Exposing our body to a regular pattern of light and dark will help us tune into our biological clock – which is basically summing up the essence of circadian rhythm. So, pick a time to wake up as well as sleep, and stick to it. And life may have a way to topple this schedule but try not to deviate from it too much, even on weekends. And if you think taking small afternoon naps may be the reason why you feel like a wide-eyed zombie during the night, it may be time to forego your lunch time siestas and other power naps.
Sleep in total darkness
Our brain is conditioned to perceive light as a signal to wake up. Even small amount of light such as the blue glow coming from the laptop, iPad, smart phone and other electronic gadgets can disrupt the release of melatonin, the hormone that signals it is time to sleep. A dark room is the cue to your brain to produce more melatonin – helping you to doze off fast. Did you know that melatonin is one of the most amazing anti-aging hormones we have?
Wondering what the temperature of your room has to do with good or bad sleep? Research suggests that a healthy body lowers its core temperature when it is getting ready for sleep. It is believed that people who struggle with falling asleep have warmer core body temperature  .
Sleep Foundation recommends that the bedroom should be kept between about 15 and 20 Celsius (approximately 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit) for optimal sleep conditions. The cool environment also helps the brain to produce more melatonin.
Be regular with your exercise
Studies support the claim that people who exercise regularly not only sleep better but also feel less depressed and more energetic throughout the day  . There are several possible ways exercise may promote sleep; for example, it first increases the body temperature followed by a post-exercise drop, helping to bring on sleep faster. Exercise reinforces the circadian rhythm – endorsing alertness in the day and drowsiness at night. Research also show that exercise not only improves the amount of sleep we get but also influences the quality; it encourages longer durations of slow-wave sleep, considered the deepest and most healing phase in the sleep cycle.
Exercise also helps the body to release hormones that alleviate depression and stress. However, any kind of exercise (be it jogging, swimming, cycling or cardio) within four hours of bed time can have long-lasting stimulating effects. It also doesn’t give the body sufficient time to cool down, an important requisite to initiate sleep. For this reason, early morning or evening is the best time to squeeze in a jog or a workout. Be patient with the outcomes as studies also show that exercise may not immediately bring relief to people who have been sleep deprived for a long period. It may take the body some time to adjust and experience positive changes in sleep patterns.
Top up your magnesium levels
Magnesium is the ‘must-have’ mineral if you are looking to relax your body and mind after a day of whirlwind activity. It is one of the most important minerals our body needs to perform a wide range of functions – including energy production, calcium regulation, glutathione synthesis, protein synthesis and so much more. One of the lesser known but unarguably important functions of magnesium is to help the body deal with stress.
Healthy levels of magnesium in the body helps to nourish the nervous system, promotes restful sleep and keeps depression and stress at bay. Magnesium works on many levels to fight stress; it keeps stress hormones within a healthy range, keeps the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis balanced and keeps a check on calcium levels in the intracellular matrix, an overabundance of which can send your nerves in the firing mode making you hyperexcited and highly strung.
Despite being such an important mineral to us all, most of us are magnesium deficient. Poor diet and changing agricultural practices are mostly to be blamed for this deficiency trend. Eating a well-balanced diet comprising of nuts, grains and seeds should take care of your magnesium requirements but given our fast-paced lifestyle and time crunch we face to focus on healthy eating, magnesium supplements – magnesium oil in particular – can be a great way to achieve a boost in this relaxation mineral.
Indulge in aromatherapy
Studies show that essential oils, especially lavender, help in promoting deep sleep. Use it in the diffuser, or spray it directly on your pillow using a spritzer – the relaxing aroma will signal your mind and body to slip into a peaceful slumber. You can also add a few drops of lavender or your favourite essential oil to your bath. Can you feel your stress ebbing away already?
Get something warm to sip
Whether it is a cup of warm milk or some chamomile tea, the routine of something warm and soothing welcoming you in the night is a relaxing thought. It may help you wind down both physically and mentally, priming your body for a deep, restful sleep.
Jiaogulan tea is another herbal aid you can consume to relax yourself and kick away any kind of stress from the system. Jiaogulan is an adaptogenic herb that works on multiple levels to bring harmony and balance in the body. It has a calming, restorative effect on the hyperactive nervous system and as such contributes towards reducing anxiety and depression while promoting healthy sleep.
Say no to…..
……smoking and any alcoholic and caffeinated drinks within four hours of sleep time. For some people, a glass of wine or sherry may help them snooze faster but alcohol interferes with REM sleep, a deep sleep stage that is more likely to make one feel rested. In addition, alcohol and coffee both are diuretic and you will more than likely find yourself waking during the night to relieve yourself every now and then, giving you a less than fitful sleep.
Take time to wind down
When sleep is elusive, take it easy. Don’t immediately hit the bed if you know it is going to take you some time to doze off. Instead take some time to prep for the next day, relax in bed cosying up to your favourite book or listen to relaxing and subdued music. Anything that soothes your mind will help you take one step closer to your dreams, in a literal sense. And finally, go in for some slow, deep breathing. This should relax your body and further primes it for a deep, restful sleep.
- Lack et al. The relationship between insomnia and body temperatures. Sleep Med Rev. 2008 Aug; 12(4): 307-17.
- van den Heuvel C, Ferguson S, Dawson D. Attenuated thermoregulatory response to mild thermal challenge in subjects with sleep-onset insomnia. Sleep. 2006 Sep; 29(9): 1174-80.
- Hartescu I, Morgan K1, Stevinson CD. Increased physical activity improves sleep and mood outcomes in inactive people with insomnia: a randomized controlled trial. J Sleep Res. 2015 Oct;24(5):526-34. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12297. Epub 2015 Apr 21.
- Reid et al. Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Med. 2010 Oct; 11(9): 934–940.