Overcome Mild Insomnia: Natural Remedies

Have trouble falling asleep? Still exhausted when the alarm goes off each morning? The most common cause of temporary insomnia is stress. It can be physical stress, work stress, emotional stress, travel stress. Even a good change in your life or an unusually rich dinner can cause temporary sleep disturbances.

Here are some suggestions for getting back on track without taking pills:

  • Set a regular bedtime for yourself, and stick to it as much as possible. Our bodies function best on a predictable cycle. Try to give yourself between seven and ten hours of sleep-time a night, depending on your body's needs.
  • Stop drinking pop, soda, coffee, and caffeinated beverages at least four hours before bedtime. It takes at least that long for your body to finish processing these stimulants. Eight hours is better.
  • If you take a nap, keep it under 20 minutes, and don't take a nap within four hours of bedtime.
  • Stop eating, and drinking anything besides water or decaffeinated tea at least two hours before bedtime. This means no alcohol, no sugar, no fruit or greasy snacks.
  • Stop watching TV, looking at a computer screen, or talking on the phone at least an hour before bedtime.
  • If you live in a safe neighborhood, consider taking a short walk in the evenings to help your body release the day's stress. This can also ease eye-strain and improve oxygen-flow to the brain.
  • Adequate levels of exposure to sunshine* and our natural environment also play an important role in our ability to set healthy sleep patterns. We need access to natural light and fresh air for at least some part of every day for our bodies to function optimally, and sleep to come naturally.
  • Look into buying a white noise maker or slow and relaxing CD to play just at bedtime. Remind yourself that when you hear that music or that low-level fan, it is time to sleep. This trains your body to recognize these noises as gentle cues for bedtime and sleep.
  • Try deep-breathing and meditation after you are ready for bed, but before you actually get into it. Imagine each muscle in your body, starting with your toes, unclenching, and relaxing as you slowly fill your lower chest with air, and then slowly release that air. Focusing on your breath and your muscles will also help your brain to slow down so that you can sleep. Reserve your bed for sleeping in.
  • Herbal tea can be very soothing-- Spearmint and Peppermint aid digestion, but also stimulate circulation. Licorice Root can also aide digestion. Chamomile is relaxing, but take too much Lavender and you're more likely to stay awake. Other natural herbs* that reduce stress and nerve pain, and promote sleep include passionflower, St.-John's-wort, catnip, valerian, lemon balm, hops, lobelia, skullcap, and cramp bark. Look for caffeine-free tea mixes that include some of these ingredients, and follow the directions on the box for safety and for brewing the tea. Try preparing a mug of tea about an hour before bed.

It takes two or three days for the body to adjust to a new bed, a new home, a new system of preparing for bed. Herbalists recommend trying a medicinal tea blend for at least two weeks before deciding whether or not the tea is effective. If you have any side-effects, or any medical concerns, stop treatment immediately and consider consulting a physician.

If you've tried training your body and mind to recognize it's cues for sleep, I recommend speaking with an herbalist or nateuropath, or consulting the natural remedy specialist in your local organic co-op. The folks at New Seasons Markets are particularly well-informed. They may be able to recommend a specific herbal supplement, such as Valerian, that can be taken at bedtime to help you fall asleep.

*Reference: The Family Herbal, by Rosemary Gladstar. Chapter 3: Taming Stress and Anxiety. ISBN: 1580174256.

*Reference: Why Sleep Matters. Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu.

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Mark Cruz
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StaciB
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Geneva Hillis
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Posted on Oct 29, 2008