Four Natural Sleep Aids That Work
When you think of sleep aids, you might automatically think of natural herbs and supplements. However, there is a lot more to sleep aids than just pills you can pop.
In this article, I outline four natural sleep aids that work, and you might be surprised by some of them. What you won’t find in this article is a list of supplements which are commonly splashed around the internet as sleep aids. While some of them may work for some people, there is not enough science backing them up for me to discuss here, so I’ve left them out.
In fact, only ONE of the natural sleep aids that work that I have included in here is a pill! Read on to find out more.
This is the one and only thing I discuss in this article that you can get as a pill. The irony of that is, the pill version of melatonin is synthetic, not natural.
Melatonin is a hormone our body naturally produces as the day shifts to night. It signals to our body that it is time to go to sleep. There are things you can do to encourage natural melatonin release at the right time, click on the article below for more information.
People who get their body clock all out of order, such as travelers with jet lag or shift workers, may find that their body gets confused about when the right time to produce melatonin, and therefore start feeling sleepy, is. Supplemental melatonin is therefore useful for these people, but it is not recommended as a sleep aid for insomnia. It is no help for insomnia because melatonin is more of a timing signal for sleep, rather than something that will make you go to sleep and stay asleep.
You can read my detailed article about natural and synthetic melatonin here.
2. Sleep Hygiene Practices
Sleep hygiene is about creating good habits around the time you go to sleep and your sleep environment. This will help your body to understand when it’s time to go to sleep, and hopefully help you to easily fall into a good quality sleep. Hygiene sounds like a bit of a strange word to use, but no one is suggesting anything “dirty” here, it’s just the term used to describe setting up good sleep habits.
- going to bed at the same time every day (this helps your body’s internal clock know when it’s time to start making you feel sleepy)
- getting up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends or days off if you can. I know this is easier said than done, I struggle with this one)
- having exercise and fresh air each day: excercise helps you rest better at night but don’t exercise right before bedtime, or you’ll stimulate your body and make it harder to go to sleep
- getting fresh air and light during the day: this helps your body clock with understanding when it is time to be awake and alert, which should help it to know better when its time to feel sleepy, as mentioned above
- making your bedroom restful: this includes keeping at a good temperature for sleeping (read my article about the best room temperature for sleep here)
- Removing distractions such as televisions and devices before bed time
- Avoiding caffeine
- One that might surprise some people is to get up if you are still feeling wide awake after about 30 minutes of trying to go to sleep. try to keep the light dim when you get up, then go back to bed when you’re feeling tired again.
If you want a printable PDF outlining great sleep hygiene practices, this is a great one produced by my local health authority (known as District Health Boards here in New Zealand).
3. Relaxation Techniques
What are they?
These are simple techniques that are designed to help quieten down our busy minds, which should help us fall asleep easier. I’ll show you two techniques, and then refer you to an excellent article for more.
1. Guided meditation. This will be a meditation audio track you can play that will help you to relax and take your mind off all those thoughts zooming around in your head. There are many apps that provide these, I particularly like the meditations you can find on the Headspace app (join here, this is not an affiliate link, just a super helpful one I use myself).
I’ve posted a video below which is an example (not from Headspace) of what a guided sleep meditation sounds like.
2. Deep breathing. Deep breathing helps you to relax your muscles and focus your mind, again calming all those busy thoughts that can prevent us from sleeping. It is also a very important part of many meditations.
This video teaches you how to practice deep breathing for relaxation if it is something you have not done before.
There is a wonderful detailed article on more relaxation techniques to help you sleep over at nomoresleeplessnights.com.
4. Stimulus Control
Stimulus control involves making sure you are not overstimulating yourself before you go to bed, as this can prevent you from falling asleep. Good stimulus control can help you fall into a more relaxing sleep more quickly. Some of these things link into sleep hygiene, which we talked about above.
What sort of stimulants am I talking about?
- Caffeine: avoid it from the afternoon onwards. Caffeine will stick around in your blood stream for hours. It is estimated that in most adults, half of the caffeine you ingest will be cleared out of your system in about six hours.
- Exercise: as I mentioned above, exercise is great in the day, but it releases a lot of endorphins and adrenaline, which leaves you feeling pumped up and energized. This is GREAT in the day and in the morning, but avoid it before bed time if you want to fall asleep easily.
- We live in an age where electricity and lighting things up at night is done without a second thought. But light is actually a stimulus that can trick your body into failing to recognize the right time to start the process of making you feel sleepy. If you can, dim any lights in your house in the evening to help your body make the transition from day to night.
- Technology. We all love our phones, tablets, and assorted devices. It is so common for us to relax in the evening by looking at them. Unfortunately, the type of light that keeps the screens lit up is known to interfere with our sleep. So if you’re using a device in the two hours before bed, use a filter for the screen. Your device may even have one built in. If you’re watching the TV, sit at least 6 feet away from it.