Health · Sleep

20 Natural Sleep Remedies For Staying Asleep

Are there natural ways to make you sleep that actually work?  Millions of people deal with sleeplessness or poor sleep habits every night.  Instead of treating the root cause of their sleep deprivation, many take prescription sleep aids.  From 2005 to 2010, the number of emergency room visits related to zolpidem, a common medication found in Ambien and other sleep aids, jumped up nearly 220%.  Here we will look at some perfectly safe, natural ways to make you sleep which have shown success in overcoming some of the most severe cases of sleep deprivation and sleeplessness.

1.  Use an Air Purifier

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Honeywell AirGenius 5

Dust, Dust Mites, Pollen, Pet Dander, Bacteria, Mold Spores, Particulate Matter, and Viruses are just some of the things that may be lurking in the air you breathe at night.  This is especially the case for those living in metropolitan areas.  A 2010 Harvard study found that higher levels in air pollution increased the risk of sleep-disordered breathing, low blood oxygen levels, and reduced quality of sleep.  Diane Gold, MD, MPH, associate professor of environmental health, Harvard School of Public Health, and a researcher on the study stated that “Inhaled particulates may migrate directly to the brain, causing the central nervous system to malfunction.

If you believe that you may be suffering from breathing problems or allergies during the night then an  Air Purifier with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filter may be beneficial for you.  To qualify as HEPA by US government standards, an air filter must remove (from the air that passes through) 99.97% of particles that have a size of 0.3 micrometers.  Many first time users of an air purifier notice an immediate improvement to their sleep environment, and breath easier during the night.

2.  Aromatherapy

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Donut II Aroma Diffuser

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants for healing purposes.  Whether inhaled or applied on the skin, essential oils are gaining new attention as an alternative treatment for infections, stress, and even sleep.  Essential Oils are concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, seeds, or blossoms of plants. Each contains its own mix of active ingredients, and this mix determines what the oil is used for.  Specific Essential oils, or carefully formulated combinations of essential oils, have been created to help improve sleep.  A small study performed in 2010 showed that the use of lavender oil on people suffering from insomnia showed an improvement in sleep, especially for those with mild insomnia.

Aroma Diffusers which use essential oils come in various sizes and models.  Nebulizing diffusers blow the oils through a blown glass chamber that breaks the drops of oil into microscopic particles which stay suspended in the air for an elongated period of time.  A “cool mist” or “ultrasound” diffuser acts as a humidifier while diffusing the oils with the water vapor.  Your diffuser can also come with features like light therapy and sound therapy for multi-level treatment.  Diffusers are also a natural sleep remedy that can be used for your child’s bedroom.

3. Control Your Sleep Climate

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ChiliPad Cube

Did you know that a slightly cool room and a lower body core temperature actually improve sleep?    Studies show that the sleeping in 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit promote a thermoneutrality zone where sleep time is maximal.  Going above or below this thermoneutrality zone can increase sleeplessness.  Further studies have even found that those suffering from insomnia tended to have a higher body core temperature before bed, thus making the regulation of that thermoneutrality zone even more difficult.  This leads to increased chances for arousal, and difficulty falling asleep while their body tries to reset its internal thermostat.

Luckily there are some wonderful advancements in sleep technology which can help regulate the bedroom’s climate both from inside the bed, as well as outside it.   The ChiliPad Cube is a Mattress Pad with built-in cooling and heating temperature control that can be placed on the mattresses surface while you choose a temperature between 50 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit at the touch of a button.  Air Conditioners, Air Coolers, and Fans can all be used to keep your sleep climate at an optimal temperature as well as space heaters for the very cold months.

4. Stick to a Sleep Schedule

The  National Sleep Foundation acknowledges that our bodies have a natural sleep-wake cycle. This cycle, which consists of roughly 8 hours of nocturnal sleep and 16 hours of daytime wakefulness in humans, is controlled by a combination of two internal influences: sleep homeostasis and circadian rhythms.  Homeostasis is the process by which the body maintains a steady state of internal conditions.  From the time that we wake up, the homeostatic drive for sleep accumulates, reaching its maximum in the late evening when most individuals fall asleep.

Circadian rhythms refer to the cyclical changes — like fluctuations in body temperature, hormone levels, and sleep —that occur over a 24-hour period, driven by the brain’s biological “clock.”  Light and Darkness are examples of these changes that set this biological clock in place that let us know when we should wake up or fall asleep.  So the Homeostatic Cycle makes us sleepier as the day goes on, while the circadian system will keep us awake as long as there is light.

When we disrupt this natural schedule, our physical and mental performances become greatly diminished.  Going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on the weekends, is a key factor in maintaining a healthy sleep-wake cycle.

5.  Light Therapy  

Northern Light Desk Lamp

We all have dark days.  For some of us its the winter months.  For others, it’s working inside for long periods of time without any exposure to daylight.  These elongated periods of darkness can throw off our natural sleep-wake cycle.  A light therapy system is a useful tool which can mimic outdoor light and help adjust your circadian rhythm.  Light therapy systems are designed to use visible light while filtering out ultraviolet rays.  Light therapy is most effective when it is used regularly around the same time each day.  The amount of time you spend using light therapy can differ from each individual based on their needs, but you can continue with your daily activity such as using the computer, work, read, write, etc.

Some Light Therapy systems also have built-in sleep functions such as a progressive wake up light.  Instead of being jolted from a deep sleep with an alarm clock, the wake-up light feature will begin illuminating around 15 minutes prior to your desired wake-up time.  The light will gradually get brighter mimicking a rising sun to wake you up naturally.

6.  Exercise

We are all aware of the benefits of exercising regularly.  You will gain muscle strength and definition, lose weight, get stronger bones, lower your heart rate, improve your mood, and even improve your complexion.  However, there is a unique relationship between sleep and exercise.   Studies have shown that regular exercise can create immediate benefits to sleep quality for those without existing sleep problem, but it may take longer for such benefits to present themselves for those suffering from insomnia or other sleep disorders.

A 2013 study published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that those suffering from insomnia showed no improvement in their sleep within the first 2 months of starting a consistent workout regiment.  It wasn’t until 4 months had passed when their insomnia had improved.  So even though you may not see immediate benefits in your sleep patterns from starting a workout routine, it is imperative to recognize that your sleep quality is a long-term investment.

As for when you should exercise, there is evidence that suggests early morning exercise lowers blood pressure and improves sleep quality.  In comparison, exercise done in the middle of the day or in the evening showed no improvements in blood pressure or sleep quality.  However, if the evening is the only time you have available to commit to a workout routine, do it.  A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that exercise at any time of the day or night is better for sleep than no exercise at all (excluding for insomniacs, who should restrict late evening and night exercise if it is part of their treatment).

7.  Use an Organic Mattress, an Organic Pillow, or Organic Sheets

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Naturepedic Organic Cotton Sheets

Do you have skin sensitivities, allergies, or are just concerned about possible chemicals you may be exposed to at night?  You may want to consider using organic mattressesorganic pillows, and organic sheets.  In 1975 the state of California was concerned about fires injuring and killing people and children.  Technical Bulletin 117(TB 117) was created to require any seating furniture sold to be fire retardant.  This included mattresses, and the law became somewhat of a national standard.  While well-intentioned it had consequences.  In order to comply with TB117, manufacturers used certain chemicals know as Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (“PBDEs”) as flame retardants.

These flame retardant chemicals could be injected into the actual fabric, making it possible for it to build up in your body over time.  Health problems associated with PBDE’s in humans is still under investigation, but animal studies showed detrimental effects to the thyroid and liver when ingested, as well as neurobehavioral alterations and effects on the immune system when exposed to high concentrations.

Luckily, starting in January 2014, a new flame retardant standard ( TB 117-2013) will take effect, eliminating the need for furniture makers to inject the chemicals into upholstered chairs, sofas, and other items.  It sets a new flammability test — known as a “smolder test — that furniture makers can meet without using the flame-retardant chemicals.  This is great news, however, the widespread adoption of this standard will take time, and it still doesn’t forbid manufacturers from using chemicals.

An organic mattress uses all-natural materials, and its construction avoids the use of all glues and adhesives, while its natural design completely eliminates the need for fire retardant chemicals or flame retardant barriers.  These same benefits can be offered to babies with organic crib mattresses as they can sleep up to 16 hours a day on the same surface the first 3 months of their life.

8.  Use a Humidifier

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Honeywell Cool Mist Filter Free Humidifier

Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air, and a humidifier is a device that can create it.  Your humidity levels will change based on season and where you live.  The ideal levels of indoor humidity should remain between 30% and 50%, so it’s important to monitor your humidity levels.  If you are too high, you can get condensation on windows and other areas of the home increasing the risk of bacteria, dust mites, and mold.  If you are too low, you can get dry skin, irritated nasal and throat passageways, and itchy eyes.

When you are sleeping, humidifiers can offer a variety of benefits.  Many people use them as a treatment for cracked lips, bloody noses, and dry skin from the air at night.  Allergy and sinus sufferers are perfect candidates for a humidifier as the water vapor will hydrate dry nasal and throat passageways making easier to breathe.  Some users have even noticed an improvement in their snoring and morning throat soreness.  While a humidifier cannot prevent colds, sinuses, or allergy problems, they can help alleviate the symptoms so that you can get to bed more easily.

9.  Put down the technology

SLEEPSHIELD IPHONE BLUE BLOCKING SCREENLight at night is bad for your sleep quality, but blue light emitted by electronics and energy-efficient light bulbs may be especially so.  Light of any type has the capability to suppress the secretion of melatonin, a hormone naturally produced by your body that tells it it’s nighttime and time for bed (circadian rhythms).  Blue Light, however, is much more severe.  Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much.

It is recommended to avoid any blue light emitting screens beginning two to three hours before bed, so this means turning off the TV and putting down the phones and tablets.  Being that this is easier said than done, advancement in sleep technology have produced blue light blocking screens which can be applied to your phones and tablets to significantly reduce blue light rays.

10.  Sleep in Complete Darkness 

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Glo-To Sleep Mask

We’ve already focused on your bodies natural sleep-wake cycle and the need for getting as much sunlight as you can during the day, but what about at night?  After you’ve put down your blue light emitting technology and are preparing to go to bed within your regimented sleep schedule, be sure to get your bedroom as dark as possible.  Whether you have a nightlight, a phone, or artificial light creeping in through the windows, you can disrupt the production of melatonin in your body.  This can either prevent you from falling asleep or make it difficult to fall back asleep if you are awoken during the night.

Room darkening shades are a fantastic option for promoting complete darkness in your bedroom.  These products offer not only fabrics and materials with maximum light-blocking qualities, but they are uniquely designed to minimize light gaps, seams, and rout holes.  Room Darkening shades tend to require a custom measurement and professional installation, but they are well worth the expense.  Another great option is blackout curtains.   Blackout curtains also block out unwanted light and are cheaper than a professionally installed room darkening shade, but they aren’t made to cover every seam and gap.  Finally, you can always choose from a wide variety of sleep masks.

11.  Limit Caffeine 

Coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, soft drinks, and a wide variety of energy drink all contain high levels of caffeine.  It’s no wonder it’s now deemed as the world’s most popular drug.  Caffeine is a stimulant and most people use it after waking up in the morning or to remain alerted during the day. Hey, we love our coffee too!  What caffeine does is temporarily make us feel more alert by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production.  Moderate caffeine intake has shown benefits including increased memory capacity, detoxing the liver and colon, preventing weight gain, improving reaction time, and has even shown benefits towards preventing Alzheimer’s Disease.

While there are benefits from limited caffeine intake, there are also detriments from over-consumption.  Caffeine can cause headaches, nervousness, and dizziness.  It has also ben known to result in anxiety, irritability, rapid heartbeat, and sleep disturbance.  So when should you pass on that last cup of coffee?  A study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine looked at the caffeine effects on sleep when taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed.  The study found that “caffeine taken 6 hours before bedtime has important disruptive effects on sleep”.

12. Improve Your Diet

There is a symbiotic relationship between your diet and sleep.  Whether you are looking to lose weight, or improve your sleep quality, the 2 really go hand in hand.  In a recent study published in the Journal of Sleep, researchers found that sleep deprivation may cause a form of the Marijuana “Munchies“.  Test subjects who were sleep-deprived felt a strong urge to binge on fatty foods, and this was most intense in the late afternoon and early evening, when snacking is most linked to weight gain.  The study concluded that excessive food intake in a state of sleep debt can contribute to the increased risk of obesity associated with insufficient sleep.

If sleep deprivation can increase the risk of weight gain, it’s not surprising that certain foods before bed can also cause sleeplessness.  Fat-rich foods, simple carbohydrates, sweets, and diets with fewer vegetables have all been linked to patients suffering from sleep deprivation.  There has also been a lot of debate as to when you should eat.  Eating your larger meals with breakfast and lunch before 3 pm, and a lighter dinner tend to give you the best results.  You can eat before bed, but try to focus on slow digesting proteins like cottage cheese, turkey breast, and chicken breast.  Avoid starches high in sugar like candy, chips, and bread.

13.  Meditate

Mindfulness Meditation is a western, non-sectarian, research-based form of meditation derived from a 2,500-year old Buddhist practice called Vipassana or Insight Meditation. It is a form of meditation designed to develop the skill of paying attention to our inner and outer experiences with acceptance, patience, and compassion.

In a recent study published in the Journal JAMA Internal Medicine, 50 adult patients over the age of 55 were treated over a 12 month period between 2 programs.  The 1st group was educated on standard sleep improvement practices like sleep hygiene, better sleep environment, sleep schedules, diet, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol.  The second group partook in a six-week program on mindfulness meditation led by a certified instructor.  At the end of the yearlong study, the people who learned the mindfulness approach had greater improvements in sleep quality and fewer symptoms of insomnia, depression, and fatigue than those who received standard care.

14.  Eliminate Bedroom Noise 

SleepPhones-Wireless
SleepPhones Wireless

While you sleep, your brain continues to register and process sounds on a basic level. Noise can jostle your slumber causing you to wake, move, shift between stages of sleep, or experience a change in heart rate and blood pressure so briefly that you don’t remember the next morning. Whether sounds disturb your sleep depends on factors such as the stage of sleep you’re in, the time of night, and even your feelings about the sounds themselves.  So whether you are being awoken during the night, or being taken from deep to light sleep because of noise, having a silent sleep environment is key towards healthy sleep habits.

If you have subtle noise that you want to eliminate, a  sound machine or white noise machine is a wonderful, cost-effective option. We know what you’re thinking, add noise when we were just told to eliminate all noise?  White noise is different.  White noise is a consistent noise that comes out evenly across all hearable frequencies.  It’s just an equal amount at every frequency, from low to high, that a human being can hear.  A loud, instant noise in the middle of the night wakes you up due to the sudden change or inconsistency in the noise.  White noise can mask these sudden changes throughout the night to help you achieve better sleep.

If you are living in a city or a location where noise is constant, you may need to get some professional soundproofing done.  Sound Proof Windows are an affordable option.  They are custom designed and installed to fit your bedroom window, and have been shown to successfully eliminate up to 75-95% of outside noise.

15.  Track Your Sleep Habits

BEDDIT SMART 2.0 SLEEP TRACKER
Beddit 3.0

You have to understand your sleep habits before you can improve them.  There’s nothing more natural than that.  This is why tracking and documenting your sleep lays the groundwork for what steps to take next.  For many years the best option for tracking your sleep was using a sleep diary.  The  National Sleep Foundation created a very easy sleep diary which you could fill out every morning.  You could track your sleep and wake times, arousals, length of sleep, disturbances, caffeine intake, exercise, and more.  Using a sleep diary takes time and effort.

Now, advancements in sleep technology have produced a wide variety of wearable and non-wearable sleep activity monitors that can monitor things like pulse rate, average respiration rate, total sleep time, time to fall asleep, sleep stages, and sleep efficiency.

There are even baby sleep activity monitors that can give new parents real-time information about stomach sleeping, stoppage in breathing movements, falls, items in close proximity of the baby while they sleep, and unusual activity.  However, various sleep & pediatric societies want to stress that these are in no way medical devices, and cannot prevent SIDS.

Ultimately, these devices will never replace, nor are as accurate as a sleep study performed by an Accredited Sleep Center.  However, the information you gather can be used for sleep improvement.  For instance, if your device shows a restless night’s sleep, examine your bedroom and home to find out if there is a noise or light that could be waking you in the night, or talk to your doctor about potentially getting tested for sleep disorders.

16.  Your Bed is For Sleep

Your bedroom is your calming, comfortable oasis that should be designated for 2 things:  Sleep and Sex.  Dedicate your bedroom to the purposes it’s made for, and eliminate all other uses.  A television in the bedroom used to be the single most significant sleep disturbance device up until the advent of smartphones and tablets (which we’ve already discussed), but millions of people still sit in their bed watching TV right before the try to fall asleep.  Your TV emits the same blue light rays as your smartphones and tablets making it more difficult to fall asleep, so kick the TV out of your bedroom.

Up to 80% of young professionals admit to working in bed.  Your bed is obviously a comfort zone, so setting up a small office space in bed sounds like a great idea.  However, with your mind now focussed on your work, it disassociates your bed from sleep.  On top of that, you likely aren’t able to work without the blue light emitting laptops and smart-phones which we’ve already discussed a huge problem for healthy sleep.  If you have to finish up some work and follow up on your emails, do so in your office or kitchen.

For those of us with pets, it may be time to buy your furry family member their own bed outside of your room.  In a study of people who co-sleep with their pets, 30 percent reported waking up because of their pets at least once a night.  Of pet owners who shared a bed more than four nights a week, 63 percent had poor sleep quality.

17.  Take a Hot Bath or Shower 

If taking a hot bath or shower relaxes you and can be fit into your sleep routine, there are very little negative side effects.  We get that sleepy feeling as our body temperature drops, and our perfect thermoneutrality zone for optimal sleep occurs between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Starting at about 1 pm in the afternoon there is a slight drop in our body temperature with an even more significant drop in the evening.  We get that sleepy feeling as our body temperature drops.  The bath effectively raises our body temperature, and the subsequent drop helps sleep. The bath should be about 60-90 minutes before bedtime.  If you are inclined, you can also use Essential Oils with your hot bath to include aromatherapy treatment.

18. Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a two-step process relaxation therapy which can lower your overall tension and stress levels, and help you relax when you are feeling anxious. First, you systematically tense particular muscle groups in your body, such as your neck and shoulders. Next, you release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them.

For those suffering from sleep deprivation, progressive muscle relaxation has shown to help in  2 ways:

  • Physical relaxation. Many people who have trouble falling asleep get physically tense and restless. “Progressive muscle relaxation can help with physically relaxing the body,” he says.
  • Calming the mind. Are racing thoughts keeping you from sleeping? “When you are focusing on doing this exercise, it helps to relax your mind,”

19.  Avoid Alcohol and Smoking

For some, a glass of wine or a mixed drink is a perfect way to unwind after a long day of work.  Alcohol has even shown to help people fall asleep faster.  The problem is that these few benefits only last for a short period of time, and the correlating detriments far outweigh any perceived value.  As the alcohol begins to wear off, and you come down, you quickly move from different sleep stages reducing the amount of REM sleep you get.  Your REM sleep is crucial for memory and absorbing everything you learned from the previous day.

Sleep after alcohol consumption has also shown the human brain to create both alpha and delta wave patterns at the same time.  Generally, alpha wave patterns are only present when the brain is awake but quietly resting.  The presence of both wave patterns causes disrupted sleep resulting in daytime drowsiness, waking up not feeling rested, and symptoms like headaches and irritability.  If you are going to drink, try to have your last glass at least 3 hours before bed.

Smoking has absolutely no redeeming quality towards sleep or your overall health.  Smokers wake up more during the night, have higher rates of sleep apnea, have trouble falling asleep, and have completely altered their circadian rhythm.

20. Protect Your Bed and Pillows

ZAPPBUG OVEN 2
ZappBug Oven 2 
SLEET TITE Encase Omniphase Mattress Protector
Sleep TITE Encase

Sleep Hygiene is habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis.  The “Physical Hygiene” of your bed and the surfaces you sleep on are also important to good sleep habits.  Allergens, dust, dust mites, bacteria, and bed bugs are all nuisances that can hinder healthy sleep.  As of late, Bed Bugs have become a significant concern.  The bed bug, or Cimex lectularius, gets its nickname from the fact that it often makes its home in people’s beds.  Bed Bugs do bite and feed on human blood leading to instances of allergic reaction, discomfort, infection from scratching

Preventative measures can be taken to ensure a natural sleep environment.   Mattress Protectors and Box Spring Protectors encase both items in a hypoallergenic, waterproof layer of fabric whose membrane allows air to pass for breathable comfort while blocking the passage of bed bugs, liquids, dust mites, and allergens.  Pillow Encasements are also available for protection.bites, and respiratory problems.

If you are ever unfortunate enough to have a bed bug infestation, they must be exterminated as quickly as possible to prevent further spread.  You can have professional exterminators service your house, but the costs can be high.  There are also various sized  Bed Bug Ovens where you can immediately start treatment with an all natural bed bug heating system.  These heating systems kill 100% of all bed bugs, in all life stages, including eggs, nymphs, and adults as a non-toxic and all natural bed bug killer.

20-natural-sleep-remedies

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