Sleep issues have become increasingly more common, with nearly 30% of adults in the USA stating they suffer from some form of insomnia.
When it comes to resolving insomnia, the cause and how it is expressing itself is tremendously important. Often, from clinical experience, I find insomnia to be multifactorial. By the time insomnia is present, it is because there are both behavioral components as well as physiological components that need to be addressed to produce better sleep.
Let us first look at behavior –
The first behavioral step is to establish and outline a sleep routine. Although many people with sleep issues may have already tried a similar step, it is still important to follow through with the plan of a sleep routine, regardless of the success it had in resolving the problem.
- Avoid screen-time 30 min before trying to lay down and sleep. Use minimal lighting at least 1 hour before trying to go to bed.
- Ensure temperature is ideal and bedding is comfortable.
- Ensure your sleeping space is actually used for sleeping (not studying, hanging out, relaxing etc)
- Engage in fun/meaningful activities in the evening (it can arrest thoughts of feeling unaccomplished which keeps many people up at night)
- Eat a complete dinner (get a good ratio of macronutrients in during dinner and avoid sugary foods and drinks in the evening)
- Have a clean space to sleep in.
- Plan your next day hours before trying to sleep (another method to avoid wandering thoughts before bed)
Listening to sleep cues –
This is such an important step in developing a good sleep routine. A sleep cue is a yawn, a gaze off into the distance, a head nod, rubbing your eyes, a muscle twitch etc. A sleep cue is your body attempting to speak to your conscious self to tell you it is time to sleep. Sleep cues can happen early in the day, and may be ignored. The longer you ignore your sleep cues, the harder it becomes to fall asleep when your body desires sleep.
Journaling, Prayer, Meditation
While these practices can be relaxing, for some they actually raise anxiety. Please do not feel that these practices MUST work and if they do not, then there is something wrong with you. Some people become more anxious/ruminating/tense with these practices. If you find yourself as one of these people, just stop and change your practice.
Now that we have covered some basic behavioral practices, let us look at some natural remedies other than melatonin that supports sleep. Here are some options to consider for sleep (be sure to consult with your Naturopathic Doctor prior to taking these as there are drug interactions and other functions of these herbs that need to be considered prior to usage)
- Lavender capsules – Over the counter lavender capsules can be beneficial at supporting serotonin levels, allowing a person to achieve more restful sleep.
- Lemon Balm – This herb is incredibly beneficial at calming the “wired but tired” mind. Lemon balm is an herb that acts to relax the central nervous system, helping to alleviate anxiousness.
- Skullcap – This herb has excellent properties at relaxing the central nervous system while also providing a little bit of energy. Skullcap has a mildly sedative effect when used in the evening, but traditionally has been used in the morning for those who are addicted to caffeine to help ‘take the edge off’.
- Valerian – Similar to melatonin, valerian is another popular herb that helps promote sleep. Traditionally this herb has been associated with vivid dreams, as it helps induce deeper sleep. Valerian is by far a more sedating herb than the previously mentioned herbs.
- Passion Flower – This herb is similar to a mix between Lemon Balm and Skullcap. It has the ability to calm anxiousness and promotes improved circulation, thereby promoting relaxation. Passion flower is non-sedating and can be used during the daytime as well as the evening to help take the edge off from stressful days.
Of course, there are many other botanical and nutraceutical options to promote sleep. Sometimes, a combination is best indicated to promote a synergistic effect. For example, combining passion flower, holy basil, and skullcap can work extremely well for those suffering from stressful thoughts preventing them from being able to sleep. Valerian combined with lavender and lemon balm can be a great formula for those who have had insomnia for years who are both unable to fall and stay asleep. What you use depends on what you and your provider outline as a goal together.
If sleep issues are plaguing your life, please do not hesitate and reach out today so that we can help you achieve restful sleep.