Natural Insomnia Treatments To Try
Updated August 27, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
Anyone who has struggled with even one night of insufficient sleep has experienced the uncomfortable symptoms that come along with a shortened sleep cycle. Irritableness, difficulty concentrating, and daytime fatigue are all effects of not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep. These symptoms can make it difficult to interact with peers or perform adequately at work or school. For many, these nights are few and far between. However, for 10-30% of the world population, sleepless nights may strike more frequently. Those struggling with sleeplessness are described as having insomnia, a disorder that can affect many parts of an individual’s life. While effects are widespread, it is not incurable. Many effective remedies can aid in the control and prevention of insomnia.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is defined as a disorder characterized by irregular (nocturnal) characteristics of sleep, as well as daytime symptoms that can be attributed to the low quality or lack of sleep at night. Irregular characteristics of insomnia are difficulties with the onset of sleep, which is the act of falling asleep for the first time at night. Insomnia can also affect the maintenance of sleep. Or, in other words, staying asleep throughout the night. With maintenance issues, individuals either wake up multiple times throughout the night or have difficulty falling back asleep after they are awoken. Other symptoms include fatigue, behavior issues, mood swings, low energy levels, an inability to concentrate, and at times, depression and anxiety.
Types Of Insomnia
Experts usually separate the umbrella term of insomnia into different types of the disorder. These include acute insomnia, chronic insomnia, or comorbid insomnia. Acute insomnia is brief insomnia related to an irregular incidence or life event. These may be stressful work or school situations, traumatic news or experiences, or even simply a time change when traveling. Additionally, a high intake of caffeine, especially in the late hours of the day, can also cause acute insomnia.
Chronic insomnia is longer lasting and may have many different causes. According to SleepFoundation.org, insomnia is considered chronic if an individual experiences onset or maintenance difficulties three or more times a week for at least three months. On the other hand, comorbid insomnia is defined as insomnia that occurs due to a different illness or condition. For example, those with chronic pain often experience insomnia due to an inability to sleep through their discomfort. Or, someone with severe anxiety may struggle to fall asleep if they tend to have night anxiety, as many people do. In this case, it is best to see a counselor, such as one from BetterHelp, to help you address the anxiety that is causing your insomnia. This can help you to get to the root of the problem, rather than trying to fix the surface-level problems.
Insomnia is a difficult disorder to cope with, and it may seem like it is taking over your entire life. Luckily, there is a vast array of treatments and mechanisms that can help ease the symptoms of insomnia. While doctors usually recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication, whether it be prescription or over the counter, natural insomnia treatments also work wonders at combating insomnia. These natural treatments include natural “home remedies” and lifestyle changes that do not involve a doctor’s visit to obtain. Many people feel more comfortable starting out trying some home remedies before relying on therapy or medication. If you fall into this category, consider trying some of the insomnia treatments listed below.
Natural Insomnia Treatments
While conventional sleep pharmaceutical medications may have been specifically designed to knock you out every night, they can also come with a plethora of unappealing side effects, including headaches, dizziness, and others. Even if you do not experience side effects, they are only designed for short-term usage, as tolerance is quickly built up, and they become less effective. For those who have acute insomnia, this may be an easy fix. However, for those with chronic or comorbid insomnia, pharmaceuticals do not promote healthy sleep habits or long-term mechanisms to beat insomnia, so they are generally not considered to be very useful.
Many people need to establish healthy sleeping patterns without having to rely on heavy doses of sleeping medicine for the rest of their life. Luckily, there is a vast array of natural home remedies that may be implemented into a daily sleep routine without nasty side effects or intolerance. The herbal remedies mentioned below have proven to be just as helpful for chronic insomniacs than conventional medications.
The mention of chamomile tea may conjure up the image of a teddy bear printed “Sleepytime” tea box, often given to young children before bed. However, chamomile tea is not just for youngsters-it has been used for centuries to ease anxiety, calm nerves, and induce fatigue. Using more than one bag may prove to have the same effects as a light sedative, as one study found, but without the uncomfortable and harmful side effects as sedatives produced in laboratories. This is excellent news for people who want to avoid sedatives when treating their insomnia.
Melatonin may be one of the most popular natural remedies for insomniacs. Melatonin supplements can be found in almost every health aisle nowadays, and even Sephora has started selling a specific brand on its shelves. Melatonin is the hormone made in the pineal gland of your brain that induces sleepiness and fatigue. Taking a melatonin supplement before bed can make up for your body’s lack of natural melatonin production. There are many ways to take this supplement, including pills, gummies, sprays, liquids, or chewable. The vast array of options people have to take melatonin ensures that every insomniac can find a method that works for them.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort may not have the most attractive name, but it does have an attractive potential to aid those suffering from all different types of insomnia. It is taken for a wide variety of uses such as depression, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. The flower can be boiled and steeped into a tea, and drinking; it can ease anxiety and depression, two conditions that can cause insomnia in many individuals. St. John’s Wort also comes in liquid or pill form. However, the liquid is known to have an unpleasant, strong taste. So, if you are sensitive to that, it is an excellent idea to try the tea or pill form.
Essential oils can be used for a variety of natural remedies, but lavender oil is one of the most versatile oils. According to one study published by the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, lavender can ease anxiety and helps sleep maintenance. It can help to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. To use lavender oil to ease insomnia, use a diffuser in your room, take a bath with drops of lavender oil added in, or dab the oil on your pillow or wrists before you attempt to sleep. Harvesting lavender flowers to put in a vase or bowl by your bed may also help promote healthy sleep. Other oils associated with sleep include chamomile, ylang-ylang, and patchouli.
One of the first treatments many experts recommend for insomnia is lifestyle changes that may affect sleep habits. Lifestyle changes are not a quick fix, and you may have to work hard to form healthy sleeping habits. However, these changes in your routine can leave you feeling better all-around, not just well-rested. Throughout the day, creating some basic healthy habits may aid you to sleep faster and better at night. Likewise, creating equally healthy nighttime habits and instituting correct sleep hygiene will also help ease your symptoms.
First, you should consider creating a sleep schedule. A sleep schedule involves attempting to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent from day to day, including weekends. While you may struggle with falling asleep at consistent times at first, waking at the same hour every day will eventually help your body to regulate its circadian rhythm and allow you to fall asleep at a consistent time every night.
Creating a healthy sleep schedule also involves limiting or avoiding naps entirely. While naps may seem like an attractive option to those struggling with insomnia, they can disrupt the normal schedule that you are attempting to create. Taking naps may make you less tired at night, which will shift your planned bedtime to a later hour and interfere with your circadian rhythm. However, sometimes naps are necessary for concentration and performance. If you feel that you absolutely must take a nap, limit them to just 10-20 minutes, and do not sleep after 3:00 PM. Studies show that 10-minute naps are the most helpful, as they improve alertness and cognitive function more than either 20 or 30-minute naps. In fact, you should avoid 30-minute or longer naps as much as possible. This is because they can cause sleep inertia, grogginess, and a loss of cognitive performance for some time after you wake up.
Staying active may also aid you in falling asleep faster and easier each night. Regular exercise is touted as keeping you healthy in every aspect of your life, but you may not see the direct connection between activity and sleep. Exercise releases endorphins, which is a chemical known to improve happiness and relieve stress. The relief of stress, known to cause acute insomnia, may aid you in falling and staying asleep. Regular exercise may also cause physical fatigue, which helps to induce sleepiness at night. However, the chemicals released by exercise can often be stimulating, which is why it should be scheduled at least a few hours before bedtime.
Speaking of stimulation, limiting or avoiding the ingestion of stimulants as much as possible may help prevent onset issues at night. Common stimulants include caffeine and nicotine, and effects may last for hours. Drinking coffee or tea in the morning will most likely not affect your bedtime, but a 4 p.m. espresso should be avoided. Likewise, attempt to avoid ingesting nicotine altogether-it has no real health benefits-or restrict it to earlier hours. Checking your medications to see if they contain other stimulants (like pseudoephedrine) may prove helpful in knowing what medications to change or avoid taking too close to bedtime.
Sleep hygiene consists of healthy sleep habits centered around your sleeping schedule or activities associated with sleep. Your bedroom, especially at night, should serve as a place of comfort. Before bed, turn off all lights and close window shades to limit light exposure from outside. Set your temperature to one that is comfortable for you (although 72° is generally understood to be the “perfect” sleeping temperature, you may have other preferences). Keeping your bed centered as a place only for sleep may help your subconscious to associate getting in bed with becoming sleepy and falling asleep faster.
Avoid getting in your bed to relax, read, or play on your phone throughout the day or even right before you sleep. Only get in bed when you are planning to sleep. Likewise, if you find you cannot sleep when you do get into bed, do not spend time trying to force yourself to sleep. This creates unhealthy subconscious associations in which your bed is linked to stress and lack of sleep. Instead, migrate to another area and engage in relaxing activities to calm your mind and your body. Taking a bath, reading a book, or meditating are all great habits to try before bedtime or in the case of an episode of insomnia. Additionally, avoid using your phone, computer, or television for at least an hour before bed, as the blue light in many screens keeps you from feeling fatigued and may make it harder for you to engage in healthy sleep onset.
Using Natural Insomnia Treatments
Insomnia can have effects far beyond being unable to fall asleep. Mood swings, low cognitive ability, and decreased performance levels can affect daily life and work for many individuals. Depression and anxiety may accompany chronic insomnia and make it difficult for an individual to experience life to the fullest. However, there is an incredible array of remedies that can help an insomniac get back to a healthy sleep cycle. Some of the most helpful are completely natural-either herbs, oils, supplements, or lifestyle fixes and the introduction of sleep hygiene into one’s daily routine. They do not cause unattractive side effects, nor do they quickly lose effectiveness like prescribed pharmaceutical drugs. Rather, they create natural fatigue, promote healthy sleep habits, and form subconscious associations that will help any insomniac produce long-term treatments that will help them construct a lifetime of healthy sleep. So, if your doctor says trying a natural insomnia treatment is safe in your specific situation, consider trying them out.
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