If you’re part of the 30 percent of adults who struggle with insomnia, it’s important to know that you have other options besides taking prescription sleeping pills . These drugs come with a number of unpleasant side effects such as amnesia, sleepwalking, and increased risk of falls, which is especially dangerous for seniors and people who have mobility issues .
Some sleep issues can’t be easily addressed and no amount of subtle herbal remedies are going to turn things around. Nonetheless, we recommend at least trying some of the safe and natural ways to address your issues before resorting to pharmaceuticals or expensive solutions. For example, try melatonin before you try a prescription medication and try a new pillow before you try a new mattress. Below are some of the easiest approaches to try before considering more involved steps.
The body naturally produces melatonin, which is a hormone that tells your brain it’s time to go to sleep. Your melatonin levels naturally fall in the morning to help you feel alert as you start your day and rise in the evening to help you wind down.
The problem, though, is that it’s easy for our body’s cycle of melatonin production to get thrown off, especially since we have access to so many devices (TVs, computers, and even regular electric lights) that keep us wired and trick our bodies into thinking it’s daytime even after the sun has gone down.
People who travel frequently and experience jet lag are also more prone to having their melatonin cycle disrupted.
Taking a melatonin supplement can be helpful in regulating this cycle and improving your sleep quantity and quality. Talk to your doctor about this option. Research shows that melatonin supplements decrease the amount of time it takes people to fall asleep and increase the amount of time they actually spend sleeping  .
Many people struggle to fall asleep at night because their mind keeps racing. Whether you’re thinking about all the things you have to do tomorrow or are recapping your day, all these thoughts tend to keep you tense and alert, two things you don’t want to be when it’s time to go to bed.
To help calm your mind and body, try doing a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. This exercise helps people who are feeling anxious or stressed let go of the things that are keeping them awake to get better sleep. It’s been proven to be especially beneficial in helping cancer patients feel less fatigued and get a higher quality of sleep while undergoing treatment .
All you have to do is consciously flex or tense your muscles, then consciously relax them. You can start with any muscle group in the body, but most people either start from the head and work their way down, or start with the feet and work their way up. Don’t overthink it too much — all that matters is that you start somewhere. Remember, the point of this exercise is just to help you let go of any tension that you may not have even realized you had.
There are a number of medical conditions that can hinder your sleep quantity and quality. For example, people with sleep apnea often suffer from insomnia or wake up feeling fatigued because their sleep is so fragmented.
Digestive conditions can also interrupt your sleep, especially if you tend to lie flat on your back at night. For example, if you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you may find that your reflux and heartburn are worse at night.
If you deal with either of these conditions, you’re in luck. There are special pillows out there that can be used to combat sleep apnea and help fight digestive conditions.
A wedge pillow will keep your head slightly elevated as you sleep. This can help prevent the muscle relaxation that leads to snoring and mild sleep apnea. It also helps prevent reflux and heartburn since it’s harder for the contents of your stomach to come back up when your body is at an angle instead of lying flat.
If you’re getting tired of never getting a good night’s sleep, give one of these three natural remedies a try tonight. You won’t have to deal with any of the frustrating side effects that come with prescription sleep aids, but your body and mind will still thank you for finally helping them get the rest they need.
- U.S. Center for Disease Control. “Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 May 2017, www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html.
- Fitzgerald, Timothy, and Jeffrey Vietri. “Residual Effects of Sleep Medications Are Commonly Reported and Associated with Impaired Patient-Reported Outcomes among Insomnia Patients in the United States.” Sleep Disorders, 9 December 2015, www.doi.org/10.1155/2015/607148.
- Ferracioli-Oda, E, et al. “Meta-Analysis: Melatonin for the Treatment of Primary Sleep Disorders.” PloS One., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 17 May 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23691095.
- Costello, Rebecca B et al. “The Effectiveness of Melatonin for Promoting Healthy Sleep: A Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Literature.” Nutrition Journal 13 2014, www.doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-106.
- Song, Qing-Hua et al. “Relaxation Training during Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer Improves Mental Health and Lessens Adverse Events.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine 6.10 (2013), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832338.