An estimated 32 million Americans suffer from insomnia, and as we age, we're even more likely to suffer the effects: difficultly falling asleep, inability to stay asleep, and fatigue upon waking.
Our bodys natural sleeping patterns are affected by biochemical rhythms. Melatonin, the central biochemical for sleep, is affected by light, diet, mood, activity, stress, and age. As we grow older, melatonin levels fall, making us more susceptible to sleep disorders like insomnia,
Achieving restful sleep can increase heart health, reduce stress, increase your memory, and has even been linked to weight loss and reducing cancer risk.
But before you ask your doctor to reach for the prescription pad, try some changes on your own! Natural remedies are simple and safe and without the risk of drug dependency that come with pharmaceutical sleep aids.
1. Have an evening snack. The amino acid L-trytophan produces serotonin, which converts into melatonin. Trytophan-rich foods like milk, sunflower seeds, spinach, rice, and peanuts help us feel sleepy. But be careful not to over-indulge: huge meals right before bed can actually have the opposite effect on sleep and wake us up!
2. Eat breakfast. We probably aren't thinking about getting to bed as soon as we wake up, but studies suggest that eating foods that contain melatonin-producing chemicals earlier in the day can encourage sleep hours later. Breakfasts and mid-morning snacks that include pumpkin seeds, cottage cheese, cooked beans, oats, bananas, and tomatoes can help us feel sleepy at bedtime.
3. Get your vitamins. B vitamins, calcium, and magnesium all help maintain serotonin levels. A vitamin supplement right before bed can help relax your body so you can fall asleep.4. Decaffeinate. Foods and drinks like coffee, soda, black tea, and chocolate contain refined sugars that disturb sleeping patterns. Avoid them in the evening.5. Go herbal. Several research studies suggest that certain herbs can promote sleep. On the list: valerian, passiflora, hops, skullcap, wild lettuce, poppy, lavender, and sage. You can buy tablets or make hot herbal teas using these herbs.6. Soak up the sun. There is a reason that a day at the beach can feel exhausting! Taking in just 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day alters our melatonin cycles to make us feel sleepier earlier in the evening.7. Get moving. Exercise earlier in the day to increase the quality of your sleep. You don't have to join a gym: pick-up a low impact sport, go for a walk, or chase little kids around for a few hours.8. Get romantic. Run yourself a warm bath (bonus points if you include some aromatherapy candles) to relax and sooth your muscles and prep them for sleep. A light body massage, ideally performed by a parter, can melt away anxieties that might otherwise keep you up at night. No need to splurge on a professional; rigorous massages can actually stimulate the body and keep it awake.
9. Stretch and bend. A 20 to 30 minutes session of low-impact yoga before bed will not only benefit your strength and flexibility, but it can also get your body and mind comfortable for sleeping.10. Put the house to bed, too. As you start to get ready for bed, slowly dim lights, turn off appliances, and remove or shut down electronics in your bedroom. Make sure your bedroom is a place of relaxation: tone down the clutter and over stimulating colors or images. Some people benefit from some white noise. If the sleeping house seems too quiet for you, invest in a white noise machine, fan, or even small indoor water feature to help lull you to sleep.Deep breaths and sweet dreams!