12 tried and tested natural sleep aids
We all know that we need between eight to ten hours' sleep a night in order to be well rested, focused and energised, but what if you're experiencing problems nodding off or keep waking in the night? It's normal to go through periods where you simply can't sleep, but if it's becoming an increasingly common problem, you may want to try one of our 12 natural sleep aids. Rather than popping sleeping pills, making some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can help you to drift off into a blissful sleep, leaving you feeling well-rested and ready to face whatever the day has in store!
Aromatherapy is a great way to relax, and did you know that Lavender can help to promote feelings of drowsiness and relaxation? (1) You can make a lavender sleep sachet to put under your pillow, sprinkle a few drops of essential oil on your pillow or try adding the oil to your bath. You'll also find pillow mists and room sprays which contain lavender, but make sure you choose one without any artificial ingredients that could be harmful to your health. Or make your own by diluting a few drops of lavender essential oil in a bottle of distilled water.
#2. Chamomile tea
Chamomile has been used as a remedy for insomnia for thousands of years. It can help to relax your muscles (great after a workout) and a substance it contains called apigenin may bind to GABA receptors in the body, affecting the central nervous system and causing sleepiness. Whether this is true or not is the subject of debate, but either way, chamomile tea can help you to unwind; it's naturally caffeine free. Buy teabags at any supermarket or health food store or brew your own using fresh or dried chamomile flowers. The tea tastes best with the addition of some honey for natural sweetness and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
#3. Look at your sleep routine
Putting in place a routine before bed helps your brain to wind down from a stressful day at work. Get ready for bed an hour before sleep, make sure you go to sleep and wakeup at the same time every day and minimise distractions. Switch off your phone, PC, tablet etc. and take a long bath or read a good book instead. You should avoid eating in the couple of hours before you go to sleep, as your body will still be working to digest food – instead, have a hot milky drink an hour before you nod off.
Valerian is a plant which has long been used as a sleep aid and sedative. It increases the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your system, which calms the body. Valerian root is often prescribed as a treatment for anxiety. It's available as capsules which you can buy online or in any health food store, or you can make your own Valerian tea at home. You'll need one teaspoon of the dried root, which takes around 15 minutes to brew.
#5. Check your bedding
Your pillow, mattress and duvet could be causing you to lose sleep if they're not right for you. You pillow plays an important role in how comfortable you are whilst you're sleeping – you'll find specially designed pillows which can help to prevent snoring, as well as ones designed for those who sleep on their sides and ones which can help to reduce pressure points, eliminating back and shoulder pain. Some people can sleep with just one pillow, others need several, so it's a case of experimenting to see which is best for you. Your mattress is also a vital consideration when it comes to getting a good night's sleep, but you don't have to spend a fortune if you're on a tight budget. Pillow topped and memory foam mattresses are available for all budgets and you can often get the best deals online. Finding the right firmness of mattress for you could mean the difference between a restless night and a blissful eight hours of shut-eye.
#6. Tart cherry juice
Tart cherry juice is a natural remedy for sleepless nights, which is packed with tryptophan, an amino acid also found in bananas and turkey. Tryptophan is converted by the body to serotonin and melatonin, which is responsible for regulating our sleep cycle. Melatonin is released in low light or darkness and causes drowsiness, lowering our body temperature in preparation for sleep. Drinking a small cup of tart cherry juice before bed can help you to drift off naturally, and it's also one of your five a day! Just don't forget to brush your teeth.
If you haven't read our post on acupuncture yet, there's no time like the present. Acupuncture stimulates specific points on the body using sterilised needles, which are inserted into the skin. It can help to release blocked energy and is often used to treat chronic insomnia. Acupuncture can also help to release neuro-endocrine chemicals such as tryptophan and melatonin, which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep until it's time to get up for work. It can also help ease shoulder, neck and back pain, which could be preventing you from getting a good night's sleep.
Melatonin is responsible for regulating our sleep cycle and is naturally produced by our bodies, provided we get enough tryptophan in our diets. Melatonin is produced in darkness or low light conditions, which could explain why many people find it hard to drift off with the lights on. You can take melatonin supplements, but it can be hard to get the dosage correct, which could leave you feeling drowsy in the morning.
There are several great sources of tryptophan, which is naturally converted into melatonin by the body. Bananas are packed with tryptophan, as well as magnesium and potassium which help to relax muscles. Try eating a banana an hour before bed.
#9. Get regular exercise
It's recommended that we all move for at least 30 minutes a day and getting more exercise will help you to sleep better, as well as improving your fitness levels. Regular exercise gets your endorphins flowing, boosting your mood and giving you more energy when you're awake. That's why going for a morning run is such a great way to start the day! Don't work out just before bed though, or you could end up wide awake. Vary your exercise routine – pilates one day, a dance class another and maybe a session at the gym – to prevent workout boredom.
#10. Eat more carbs
The amino acid tryptophan, which is converted into melatonin, needs carbs to help it cross the blood-brain barrier. Eating carbs releases insulin, which directs other amino acids to the muscles, which means tryptophan doesn't have to compete to make it through the barrier. A small late-night snack such as a handful of granola or a slice of wholemeal bread around 15 to 30 minutes before sleep can help tryptophan to be converted into melatonin for sleep – forget your low carb diet!
#11. Lemon balm tea
Lemon balm has been used as a natural remedy for insomnia for centuries – in fact, it was once a 'herbal cure-all' which was used to treat asthma, snake bites and other ailments. Today, we use it to instil feelings of relaxation and calmness; it also helps to promote mental health and lift your mood. Depression and insomnia often go hand in hand, due to a lack of serotonin, which is converted into melatonin by the body. Make sure you don't take too high a dose, as it's thought this could increase anxiety. Make your own lemon balm tea with fresh or dried lemon balm, dried chamomile flowers, hot water and honey, and drink around 45 minutes before bedtime.
#12. White noise
If you're the kind of person who can't sleep unless your room is silent, white noise can help. A tap dripping or electricity humming can keep you awake – it's the inconsistency of the noise that disrupts a restful night's sleep. Creating white noise can mask those inconsistencies – white noise is even and consistent. Use a fan, white noise machine or even a sleep app for peaceful, soothing background sound which drowns out irritating noises from housemates and lets you get a great night's sleep.