If you spend too many nights counting sheep, you’re not alone. According to a recent poll conducted by the US National Sleep Foundation, nearly two-thirds of adults have trouble sleeping a few nights per week or more. “Insomnia is universal. Everybody has it at some point,” says Martin Scharf, director of the Tri-State Sleep Disorders Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, who deems insomnia, “the number one sleep disorder.
But rest assured; by brushing up on what sleep specialists refer to as your “sleep hygiene,” you can help make sleepless nights a thing of the past.
Stay on schedule — even on weekends
Going to sleep and getting up at about the same time every day gives your body the cues it needs to nod off. In order to get the best rest possible, try to turn in early. “Studies suggest that if you normally need eight hours of sleep and you get them between 10 pm and 6am you’ll feel more rested than if you go to sleep at midnight and get up at 8 am,” says David Simon, medical director of the Chopra Center in La Jolla, California.
Working out increases the time your body spends in deep sleep, the stage during which your body repairs its cells and refreshes the immune system. But exercising less than three hours before lights out can leave you too pumped up to sleep, cautions Peter J. Hauri, >director of the Mayo Clinic Insomnia Program and co-author of No More Sleepless Nights.
Say no to nicotine and nightcaps
Cigarettes are a powerful stimulant that can keep you jittery for hours. And though you may feel like nodding off after you have a drink or two, once the effects of alcohol wear off, sleep actually becomes more fitful.
Dine early — and keep it light
Eating a big meal in the evening isn’t conducive to sleep. “The body can’t rest while it’s digesting,” reports Dr Simon, who recommends consuming a light dinner no later than 6.30 pm; but don’t go to bed hungry — it’s hard to fall asleep when your stomach is growling. If you need a snack, opt for a couple of cookies or crackers; carbohydrates are known to increase levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is thought to produce deeper sleep.
Draw the shades
The absence of light is crucial to sleep, explains Daryn Eller, author of Power Up . “It’s darkness — including that provided by your eyelids — that allows the release of melatonin, a hormone produced in the pineal gland when we normally sleep.”
Reserve your bed for sleep
You want your body to associate the bed with sleeping and making love — nothing else. If you like to read or watch TV before hitting the hay, do so on the couch or in a chair — preferably one in the living room.
“In order to fall asleep, you have to get your mind to quiet down,” says Dr. Simon. Some relaxation techniques include listening to calming music, inhaling scents you find soothing, and practicing body awareness, in which you direct your attention to any place in your body where you’re holding tension and, slowly and deeply, breathe into it. “Somewhere along the way, most people will conk out,” says Dr Simon.
Natural herbs can be helpful to the insomniac.
Taken alone, or in combination, these herbs are known to have homeopathic value as sleep aides. Nature provides you with these fine alternatives to dangerous prescription drugs which can cause harmful unwanted side effects.
Top Herbs recommended to Aid Sleep
Valerian root – Valerian Root is a strong of the sleep herbs. It’s effects in higher doses has been compared to the effects of Valium by some. In addition to sleep disorders, Valerian has been used for gastrointestinal spasms and distress, epileptic seizures, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, scientific evidence is not sufficient to support the use of Valerian for these conditions. Valerian is not recommended if you are pregnant, or if you suffer from low blood pressure or hypoglycemia.
Hops – Hops is a wonderful sleep herb. Hops have tonic, nervine, diuretic and anodyne properties. It produces sedative and soporific effects, and the Lupamaric acid or bitter principle is stomachic and tonic. For this reason Hops improve the appetite and promote sleep. American Indians made a sedative from the blossoms, and they also applied heated, dried flowers to relieve toothaches. Many herbal preparations for insomnia combine Hops with more potent sedative herbs, such as Valerian. Hops can be made into a soothing hot tea, or taken in capsule form.
Passion flower – This herb has a tranquilizing effect, including mild sedative and anti-anxiety effects. In studies conducted since the 1930′s, its mode of action has been found to be different than that of most sedative drugs (sleeping pills), thus making it a non-addictive herb to promote relaxation. In many countries in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, the use of passionflower leaves to tranquilize and settle edgy nerves has been documented for over 200 years. You may also be familiar with Passion Fruit, which grows from the same vine that produces Passion Flower. You can also make a hot tea from Passion Flowers, buy it in capsule form, or purchase Passion Flower Extract in concentrated form for dosages.
Try a Weighted Blanket
Weighted Blankets have been used in the special needs community for years and are now being recommended and prescribed by doctors to help the general population suffering from anxiety and insomnia. Eileen Jackson, owner of a company in Montana, DreamCatcher Weighted Blankets, explains ” The theory behind how DreamCatcher weighted products work, is the deep pressure touch stimulation (DPTS) supplied by the weight in our products is believed to release serotonin, which naturally calms and relaxes the nervous system, helping attain a restful sleep. Read more about how weighted products can help you here.