Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult for people to fall asleep, or sleep through the night successfully. It can have a negative impact on your health and your general wellbeing, increasing your risk of high blood pressure, as well as conditions like depression and anxiety. Those who suffer from insomnia report that their general quality of life is impacted enormously.
Unfortunately, insomnia is more common than you might realize. Around 30%-35% of Americans report brief symptoms of the condition. 15%-20% of these people experience short-term insomnia, which tends to last less than three months. But around 10% of people have long-term, chronic insomnia, which can occur for much longer.
With so many people suffering from insomnia, the search for a treatment or a cure is on. Many people shy away from prescription sleeping pills, and would instead prefer to find a home remedy for sleeplessness. Fortunately, there are many natural treatments out there – you just need to find the one that works for you.
In this guide, we’re going to look at some of the best natural treatments for insomnia, to help you reap the rewards of a better nights sleep. Well also look at some other important sleeping tips and tricks to help you get the rest you need.
What is Insomnia?
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Insomnia affects your ability to get the sleep you need to feel refreshed each morning.
It can manifest in many ways including:
- Finding it hard to fall asleep at night
- Waking up regularly during the night
- Waking up early each morning, unable to get back to sleep
- Feeling tired, grumpy and irritable on waking each day
- Finding it hard to nap during the day, despite being exhausted
Many people find it hard to fall asleep from time to time and spend a few hours staring at the ceiling before they eventually drift off. We’ve all had those evenings where you can’t seem to settle – but for most, they’re occasional incidents. Those with insomnia experience these issues regularly. It may end up affecting their general health and their mental well-being enormously.
What Are the Causes of Insomnia?
Insomnia can be caused by a multitude of factors – in fact, in some cases, doctors aren’t entirely sure of the reason. This can make it difficult for insomnia sufferers to get the help they need.
Some of the most common causes of insomnia include:
- Hormone fluctuations or conditions like hyperthyroidism
- Chronic pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Sleep apnea
- Certain foods and drinks – alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, etc.
Insomnia can also be caused and exacerbated by lifestyle factors. Taking naps during the day can make it hard to sleep at night. Many shift workers have irregular working hours, which can confuse the body’s internal clock and make it harder to sleep. These are all things that can compound the issue, and make existing insomnia worse.
Natural Treatments for Insomnia
Now that we’ve taken a look at what insomnia is, and what causes it, we can move onto looking at some of the best natural treatments out there. Each of these is recommended as ways to help you get a better nights sleep – though they may not work for everyone. It’s important to try as many different remedies as possible to find one that works for you.
1. Valerian Root
Valerian root has been used as a remedy for insomnia and anxiety for centuries. References to this flowering grassland plant have been found as far back as the Greeks and the Romans. It’s important to remember that it’s not the plant itself which fights insomnia – its the root. You can now buy the root in its natural form, or you can pick it up in capsule and oil form from a variety of health stores.
Valerian root works by stimulating the brain’s GABA receptor – this is something of a gateway for the chemicals and hormones that induce sleep. It works similarly to benzodiazepines (common types of sleeping pills), but in a more natural way.
Many studies have been conducted to verify how effective valerian root is when it comes to treating insomnia. A study in 2015 in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal found that there are a few ‘high-quality studies which report there are tangible benefits of using valerian for those with insomnia.
Another study of young children with sleep problems found that 81% of those who took a herbal blend of valerian and lemon balm confirmed they got a better nights sleep.
Valerian is extremely safe. However, if you’re taking other medication, you should consult your doctor before using it, as it can interact with other drugs.
The best way to take valerian, in our opinion, is in tea form. Simply add one teaspoonful of dried valerian root into your tea infuser, then pour over a cup of boiling water. It should be steeped for up to ten minutes, then enjoyed before bed.
Lavender (lavandula) is another natural ingredient that’s been used to help with sleep problems for centuries. The results are proven, and its a very easy ingredient to get hold of. Not only is it available in its purest form, but you can also buy lavender-infused teas, creams, oils, tinctures and a multitude of other products.
Lavender has also been subject to plenty of studies. In 2016, one study gave a group of college students lavender-scented patches to inhale before they got in bed. Many of them reported better sleep and more energy the next day, compared to those who had a placebo patch.
Another study in the UK gathered ten adults and tracked their sleep patterns. Half slept in a room with a lavender essential oil diffused into the air – the other half slept in a room diffused with sweet almond oil. The groups switched rooms after a week. By the end of the study, all the volunteers confirmed that the quality of their sleep was on average 20% better in the lavender room.
Taking a whiff of lavender is thought to increase slow-wave sleep. This is the type of deep sleep where the brain can get to work organizing your memory and helping recharge your batteries. Your muscles relax, and your heartbeat gets slower. You wake up feeling rested after this type of sleep.
So how can you introduce lavender into your sleep routine for optimum results? The good news is there are dozens of ways.
Sprinkle a few drops of lavender essential oil onto your pillow before bed. Bathe using a lavender soap or body wash. Invest in an essential oil diffuser, like the one in the study, then fill it with lavender oil. Lavender hand and foot creams are also said to be helpful, and there is a range of lavender herbal teas on the market. Your options are endless when it comes to this useful ingredient.
3. Chamomile Tea
This ingredient has long been advocated as a way to get a better nights sleep. It’s regularly included in before-bed herbal tea blends, and its been used like this for thousands of years. Chamomile has also been used as a treatment for everything from acne to sore throats, so it’s a useful herb to have around the house.
Chamomile contains flavonoids, mucilages, and coumarins, which can have a calming effect on the whole body. It can also be combined with other proven sleep remedies (such as lavender and lemon balm) to help promote a better sleep cycle in those with insomnia.
The best way to ingest chamomile is by making tea. All you’ll need is a cup of boiling water and two or three tablespoons of dried chamomile. Add the herbal chamomile to the tea using a tea ball or bag, then steep for up to fifteen minutes. Drinking a warm drink before bedtime is thought to be very calming, and the light flavor of chamomile will not stimulate the taste buds too much.
Melatonin is the hormone produced in the body which prepares your body to go to sleep. If your body is not making enough of this hormone, you may struggle with issues like insomnia.
It’s thought that the modern lifestyle interferes with our body’s melatonin production. The blue light that comes from smartphones and TVs with backlit displays tricks our bodies into thinking its still daytime. This affects the body’s melatonin production and can make it harder for us to fall asleep when its time.
Melatonin supplements are one of the most commonly recommended natural treatments for insomnia. You can purchase them over-the-counter at most pharmacies or online. These supplements (available in liquid or pill form) should be taken up to an hour before bed, ingesting between 1mg – 3mg per night.
Over time, your body’s natural melatonin production should get back on track. You may still need to boost your melatonin now and then if you’ve spent a day sitting in front of a screen. It’s probably worth keeping some melatonin supplements around the house for occasions when you struggle to sleep.
Striking the right balance of electrolytes within your body is essential for proper overall health. It may also help you to sleep better at night. Studies have found that taking magnesium transdermally (which means absorbing it through the skin) can have a quick calming effect on the body. This may help you get to sleep more easily when you need to.
One of the best ways to absorb magnesium into your body is to take an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt isn’t the same as table salt – in fact, its high in magnesium. Magnesium helps to boost the efficiency of our GABA receptors so that our brains can switch off better. It also helps with relaxing your muscles.
By adding a few cups full of Epsom salt (available in most pharmacies and online) to your bath, you could help increase your chances of a good nights sleep. Baths are great for helping you to relax anyway – the added magnesium is a great bonus. Soak in your magnesium bath for up to twenty minutes, then get out and get ready to climb into bed.
Hops are one of the critical ingredients in various beers – they give it its unique flavor and help to stabilize it. But when dried in a tea or taken in a supplement, hops can also provide some relief for any insomniacs struggle to get some rest. Its been used for a multitude of ailments over the years, including sleeplessness – and there is a small body of evidence to suggest it may have a sedative-like effect.
A study from 2012 gave women non-alcoholic beer with hops before they went to bed. Those who drank it experienced better quality sleep than the women who didn’t. Beer is naturally one of the most common ways you might consume hops, but be careful – alcohol can affect your sleeping patterns. If you’re going to consume hops in beer, make sure it’s alcohol-free.
Hops supplements and dried hops teas are available as alternatives for those who don’t like to drink beer, alcoholic or otherwise.
8. Yoga And Meditation
The ancient art of yoga and meditation is one of the best things to incorporate into your sleep routine. A study at Harvard Medical School found that daily yoga practice can lead to broad improvements in both sleep quantity and quality. Its benefits include improved strength and flexibility, less chronic pain, reduced stress, better breathing and enhanced focus.
Another study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that adults spending around two hours each week learning meditation techniques reported less insomnia. Other side effects included less fatigue during the day. Mindfulness and meditation are key to getting a good sleep each night.
9. White Noise Machines
Not all people enjoy the total silence when they’re trying to sleep. In fact, our bodies are somewhat programmed to enjoy a little background noise while we sleep. This goes way back to our time in the uterus when the noises of the body’s function all around us provided a steady whooshing in the background.
This is why many babies sleep better with white noise machines – and adults can reap the benefits too. White noise machines can help soothe you enough to send you to sleep. They can also block out any background noises that may be disturbing you. If you live near a busy street or you work shifts and need to sleep at odd hours of the day, a white noise machine may be the perfect addition to your bedroom.
10. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This technique can help you change any thought processes that might be causing depression or stress – leading causes of insomnia. A study at Harvard University found that CBT was more effective at curing insomnia than regular sleeping pills. Sleep quality was improved by 17%, and the time it took participants to fall asleep was halved. You can practice CBT at home, or speak to a professional therapist about regular sessions.
Insomnia can be incredibly frustrating at times – and if its a long-term condition, it can cause a range of severe health problems. Sleep is essential for all of our bodily functions and daily activities. If we’re not getting enough, it’s easy to see how our bodies might start to malfunction.
Fortunately, there are plenty of natural remedies out there which you can try in your fight against insomnia. Valerian root and lavender are both popular options. They’re available in most health food stores or online, and you can incorporate them into your routine relatively easily. Just a simple cup of valerian root tea before retiring to your bedroom with a lavender oil diffuser can work wonders.
Other remedies include taking magnesium baths and sipping chamomile tea. Then there’s melatonin, a crucial hormone which your body needs to sleep. What works for you may not work for the next person – the trick is to keep trying different combinations to see which is most suitable for your body.