Insomnia can become a real nightmare as the clock ticks on into the night and you’re awake to notice. Try these natural approaches to help you get some rest:
• Have a slice of sandwich, or a banana before heading to bed. These foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid that’s used to make serotonin. And serotonin is a brain chemical that helps you sleep.
• Carbohydrates help trytophan enter the brain. Try a glass of warm milk (milk contains tryptophan) and a cookie, or warm milk with a spoonful of honey.
• Avoid big meals late in the evening. You need three to four hours to digest a big meal.
• Spicy or sugary food, even at suppertime, is usually a bad idea. Spices can irritate your stomach, and when it tosses and turns, so will you. Having a lot of sugary food—especially chocolate, which contains caffeine—can make you feel jumpy.
Call on herbs for help
• Valerian helps people fall asleep faster without the “hangover” affect of some sleeping pills. It binds to the same receptors in the brain that tranquilizers such as diazepam bind to. Take two capsules of valerian root an hour before bed.
• Take 4,000 to 8,000 milligrams of dried passionflower capsules. Passionflower is widely used as a mild herbal sedative.
Smell your way to sleep
• Lavender has a reputation as a mild tranquilizer. Simply dab a bit of the oil onto your temples and forehead before you hit the pillow. The aroma should help send you off to sleep.
• Put a drop of jasmine essential oil on each wrist just before you go to bed. In studies conducted at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, researchers discovered thatpeople who spent the night in jasmine-scented rooms slept more peacefully than people who stayed in unscented—or even lavender-scented—rooms.
• Wake up at the same time each day, no matter how little sleep you got the night before. On weekends, follow the same schedule, so your body adheres to the same pattern all week long. You’ll fall asleep faster.
• Every morning, go for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a long walk, but it should definitely be outdoors. The presence of natural light (even if the day is overcast) tells your groggy body it’s time to wake up for the day. With your body clock set by the great outdoors, you’ll sleep better at night.
• Try not to nap during the day, no matter how tired you feel. People who don’t have insomnia often benefit from a short afternoon nap. However, if you’re napping in daytime only to turn into a wide-eyed zombie at night, there’s a good chance that that afternoon snooze is disrupting your body clock.
• Once you get into bed, imagine your feet becoming heavy and numb. Feel them sinking into the mattress. Then do the same with your calves, and slowly work your way up your body, letting it all grow heavy and relaxed. The idea is to let yourself go, in gradual phases.
• If you’re still awake after this progressive relaxation exercise, count sheep. The point is to occupy your mind with boring repetition, and, not to cast aspersions on sheep, there’s nothing more boring or repetitive than counting a herd of them. Any repetitive counting activity will lull you.
• If you just can’t sleep, don’t lie in bed worrying about it. That will only make sleep harder to attain. Get up, leave the bedroom, and grab a book or watch TV.
Prep your bedroom
• Turn your alarm clock so that you can’t see it from bed. If you’re glancing at the clock when you wake up—and it’s almost impossible not to—you’ll soon start wondering how you can function tomorrow on so little sleep tonight.
• Turn your thermostat down a few degrees before heading to bed. Most people sleep better when their surroundings are cool.
• If you share your bed, consider buying a queen- or king-size mattress so you don’t keep one another up. Or consider sleeping in separate beds. (Be sure to emphasize that your wish for separate beds is based on pragmatism rather than preference.)
Check the label
• Be cautious about taking an over-the-counter painkiller before bed. Some of them, like Excedrin, contain caffeine. Read the label first.
• Check labels of decongestants and cold remedies too. In addition to caffeine, they may contain ingredients, such as pseudoephedrine, that rev up your nervous system and leave you unable to fall asleep.
More “don’ts” for better dozing
• Avoid exercising within four hours of bedtime—it’s too stimulating. Instead, exercise in the morning or after work. An exception is yoga. A number of yoga postures are designed to calm your body and prepare you for sleep.
• Avoid caffeinated beverages, particularly within four hours of bedtime. Though people have varying ranges of sensitivity to caffeine, the stimulating effects can be long-lasting.
• Also avoid alcohol in the evenings. While a glass of sherry might help you fall asleep a bit faster than usual, the effects soon wear off, and you’re more likely to wake up during the night.
• If you smoke within four hours of your bedtime, look no further for the cause of your insomnia. Nicotine stimulates the central nervous system, interfering with your ability to fall asleep and stay that way.