In modern time, many people have difficulty with sleep. In this guide we'll walk you through some of the most important factors for promoting healthy sleep, including herbs that can play a supportive role.
Please keep in mind that though what we'll discuss here are foundational things for healthy sleep, for some people they may not be enough. Please consider seeking medical help if needed. And if you are looking for support in working with herbs, we'd suggest talking to an herbalist.
1. Have a consistent sleep and wake schedule
Experts agree that in terms of healthy sleep there are many benefits from keeping a consistent sleep time and wake time, even on the weekends. This can help to regulate our circadian rhythms and natural hormonal shifts that take place relative to sleep and wakefulness.
In the modern day this is not easy! It's common to stay up late and sleep in on the days off from work. For those looking to improve their sleep though, it may benefit to start moving toward a more consistent direction, even if it's a small change (for example 30 minutes closer to the same time).
2. Have healthy daytime habits
Exposure to daylight and daytime exercise are two things that can have an impact on sleep.
Exercising consistently in the morning hours can help stimulate seratonin. Seratonin contributes to feelings of wakefulness and alertness, and it is better for sleep if it's stimulated earlier in the day.
If it's not possible to exercise in the morning, then consider getting at least a chance to spend time outside in the daytime hours.
Additionally, a lot of people are not able to sleep restfully due to the effects of stress. How are you managing your stress during the day? Are there additional tools you could be utilizing? People you could call on for support? If sleep is an issue, consider looking further into ways to support yourself during the daytime hours so that you feel more relaxed and ready to sleep at night.
3. Consider the effects of food on sleep
Consider eating a breakfast and lunch at consistent times during the day. Including protein in your breakfast meal will help to increase feelings of wakefulness because protein can promote the synthesis of dopamine. Also, protein takes longer to break down than carbs and can provider longer lasting energy.
At nighttime, it's best to avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime. If you do feel the need to eat closer to bed, choose higher-carbohydrate foods which can digest more quickly and easily, and which naturally may promote feelings of sleepiness.
4. Be aware of stimuli
The obvious stimuli are substances like caffeine and tobacco (but alcohol too can interfere with good quality sleep even though it may initially promote drowsiness). Consider limiting or avoiding these substances, especially in the evening, if you are having difficulty with sleep.
Light is another major stimulus when it comes to feelings of wakefulness. The big one is screens, which due to their blue light may interfere with melatonin (a sleep promoting hormone). Ideally, limit exposure to screens for at least 1 hour before bed. If you like to read on a screen, consider reading printed material in low light instead.
Additionally, consider reducing other indoor, artificial light sources as the sun goes down in order to promote natural circadian rhythms.
5. Utilize relaxation techniques
In addition to the many tools and support mechanisms for managing stress during the daytime hours, there are some specific techniques for promoting relaxation and rest at night:
- Take a hot bath or shower 1-hour before bed
- Do meditation or yoga to unwind
- Journal with pen and paper to process emotions
- Write down lists of things you need to do, and maybe even put them on a calendar
- Chat with a loved one or friend
- Drink a cup of herbal tea
If you're not sure where to start, consider picking just one thing and giving it a try for some time.
6. Optimize your sleep environment
If you have the means available, consider optimizing your sleep environment starting with your bed itself. How comfortable is the mattress itself? Could it be more comfortable by replacing it or adding a mattress pad? Also consider the bedding and sleep clothing you're utilizing to optimize comfort.
Also consider eliminating light sources in your bedroom by using heavy or blackout curtains, and by reducing or eliminating electronic sources of light. Why do you need to see the digital clock? If you are setting an alarm anyway, it probably doesn't actually help to know what time it is if you wake up during the night.
One sleep expert suggests that if you can see your hands in front of your face with the lights out in your bedroom that's too much light - keep on trying to reduce it even more.
For people sharing their bedroom space with others, there may also be issues to address when it comes to the way that others are affecting their sleep. Though it is doubt not easy, keep in mind that that snoring, etc. of others may ultimately may need addressing too.
And also if possible consider optimizing the bedroom itself for relaxation and comfort. The bed should really be for only two things: sleep and sex. How can you change what's in the bedroom so that you're not doing other things there like watching TV, working, etc.?
7. Utilize herbal remedies that promote sleep
As you can tell from this whole blog post, herbs are just one part of the equation and they are not a magic fix all on their own. But they can play a big part in promoting healthy sleep!
First of all, please keep in mind three things when it comes to herbs and sleep:
1) The proper dose is needed to have effects. If you are less sensitive to herbs, you may need more than expected, for example two tea bags instead of one
2) There are many reasons that cause people to do better with some herbs for sleep than others, including individual constitution, underlying health conditions, individual differences in metabolism and more. If you don't find effects from one herb, don't give up! And rather than simply trying things on your own, we'd strongly recommend doing an herbal consultation to get guidance in finding the herbs that are most likely to work for you.
3) While herbs can play a big role in healthy sleep for so many people, in some cases, herbs just may not work. This may include people with long-term, chronic and/or severe insomnia, people with underlying health conditions or people using certain medications. If you think you may be one of those people, we would suggest seeking medical advice to support sleep.
There are two main issues with sleep: falling asleep or staying asleep. Here are some gentle herbs that may assist with falling asleep:
Oftentimes people like to take them as an herbal tincture 30-60 min. before bed. Some people like them as an herbal tea, however be aware of how fluid consumption may create a need to wake and urinate.
No matter the form consider consuming the herb in a mindful way: noticed the smell, the taste, the feel in your mouth and in your body. Allow your body, mind and spirit to relax and be open to the ways that this plant may provide a sense of comfort and support. Doing so amplify the effects you feel from working with this plant.
Another strategy is to take the first dose of herbs 1 hour before sleep, and another dose right before bed. This can sort of prime the body to begin winding down, and then give an extra relaxation boost when it's time to fall asleep.
If the problem is not falling asleep but staying asleep that can be more difficult. Some people like to have a tincture by their bedside for if the wake during the night. Two herbs that might help with staying asleep when taken before bed are:
- California poppy
In modern times, for many reasons, sleep issues are common. There is a lot we can do in the realm of diet and lifestyle to improve sleep. There are also herbs that can play a role. We'd suggest speaking with a clinical herbalist for guidance. And if your sleep issues are severe, or due to an underlying medical condition, we'd suggest speaking to a medical doctor.
We are here to help - please let us know if you have any questions!
Winter, W. C. (2018). The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It. United States: Penguin Publishing Group.
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